Wilmington History Society discusses the past to improve future

Phil Shawe (left) and Jacob Jeifa (center)

By Ken Mammerella
Special to Delaware Business Times

A new meetup group hopes to improve the future of Wilmington by discussing its past.

“We’re an idealist-type group,” said Nathan Field of the Wilmington History Society, which he co-founded this spring with Benjamin Rapkin. “We want to generate new interest and excitement about the city and more community spirit. In today’s digital age, people don’t talk like they used to.”

“To fix problems, you need to understand them,” said Rapkin, director of growth at Lightglass in Phialdelphia. “To understand them, you need to research.”

That’s why the Wilmington History Society holds a free monthly program at the Chelsea Tavern in downtown Wilmington in which local speakers discuss history that informs the present.

“History provides the intellectual foundation and roots for society,” said Field, a University of Delaware history graduate and a manager at Eastern Highway Specialists in Wilmington. “We hope our programs will look at core issues and step back with a historical perspective.”

The latest gathering, which took place Wednesday, October 17, highlighted the TransPerfect case and Delaware’s internationally recognized corporate laws. Soon-to-be-law-student Jacob Jeifa recounted the tangled legal drama.

But before the main presentation, TransPerfect CEO Phil Shawe stopped by to offer his perspective. “I’m always up for an intellectual conversation,” he said.

The discussion that followed touched on conflicting legal theories and the feud between Shawe and Elizabeth Elting, the firm’s co-founder and Shawe’s former fiancee.

The fight was over control and money. Shawe noted that the ordeal cost him $250 million for legal and custodial fees and $200 million for the proposed non-compete clause.

When asked if he would have done anything differently, Shawe said, “Absolutely. Be nicer.”

“We had to get along,” he said. There was “no easy way out of the business – no buy-sell agreement.”

In the end, he said, “there were no winners in this fight. Many employees put off their lives” while the case dragged on, uncertain what would happen to their jobs.

This talk is only the latest in a series that has addressed crime, economic development, what happens to company towns when the company leaves, transportation and presidential visits to Wilmington. The November topic hasn’t been selected yet. The two leaders hope that an attendee steps forward with a suggestion.

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