Kindness truly is its own reward, and sometimes the gratitude of a recipient remains alive and re-appears, unexpectedly, decades later.
Below is the story of TWA Public Relations Representative Bill Liss' beneficence toward a 15-year-old Missouri girl who called herself "Ruthie," whom he didn't know but who never forgot him, though nearly 50 years elapsed.
For me, it began with an e-mail I received from the all-grown-up Ruth in August of 2013.
"I recently ran across your article ("Beatles Encounters 1965: Unplanned & Planned") about the Beatles '65 US tour, and I have a personal interest.
"I live in the Chicago area but grew up in Kansas City, where my father worked as a supervisor in the TWA training center. In 1965 when I was a teen-age Beatles fan, my dad came home from work one day and told me to write a letter to Bill Liss, who was going to be the TWA PR rep on The Beatles flight to the U.S.
"He directed me to ask him to get me their autographs, so I wrote my letter and included a stamped, self-addressed envelope for him to mail back to me. Some time later, I received a letter from him in a separate envelope with the four autographs signed on the back side of the return envelope I had sent to him.
"He explained he handed the envelope to 'the boys' as they settled into their seats. Unfortunately, I have lost this letter from Mr. Liss, but I still have the autographs, preserved in an encapsulation and stored in a safe place.
"It would be so interesting to contact Mr. Liss and thank him (again) for getting those precious autographs for me."
I sent Ruth's e-mail to Bill, and he replied to Ruth
"I was enormously flattered that you remembered the flight of The Beatles and the autographs.
"You rekindled a fantastic memory, and I do remember vividly clutching that envelope--as I had promised I would get those autographs--and waiting until all four Beatles were in their seats so I could get them without chasing them through the aisles.
"The fact that you remembered that and wrote was so very generous of you."
Ruth's reply to Bill
"What an absolute thrill to be back in touch after almost 50 years, Bill!
"The Beatles autographs you got for me have remained one of my most prized possessions. Each signature is clear and legible, and they were arranged so symmetrically. I remember I had a lot of fun showing the envelope to my friends and family.
"For a long time I had it framed on my bedroom wall, and even as I moved around through college and young adulthood I always kept it in a safe place.
"In the 1980s, when I began working at a university library and learning about book and paper preservation, I realized I should take better care of the envelope, so I had it treated with a paper-saving chemical and encapsulated for protective storage.
"My boss encouraged me to try and track down how I came to have it. Although I had stupidly lost track of the gracious letter you sent explaining the incident, I have always remembered your name. So I did a Google search and found Ted's article, with your name and picture--consequently here we are in touch after all these years!
"I'm sure it must have been both a huge honor and responsibility for you to represent TWA on The Beatles' flight.
"I told Ted that I will scan the autographs and send them to him, and I would be glad to send a copy to you, too, if you like. It will take a little time since I now have them secured in a vault.
"So here again are my deepest thanks and appreciation for providing me with a rare, unique, priceless gift--one you kindly sent to a young girl you never even met! I will treasure it always."
"Thank you for your most wonderful email. I really look forward to seeing a scan of the autographs.
"Let's keep in touch although its taken almost 50 years to connect in this most unique way!
"The one thing I cannot recall is why I got the envelope to begin with--maybe you can shed some light on that part of it.
"Obviously once I had it, I was determined to get it done, but I'm not sure how I came to get it.
"Looking forward to hearing from you and staying in touch."
"My recollection is that at the time of The Beatles' 1965 U.S. tour, I was a 15-year-old living in North Kansas City and what you'd call a 'Beatlemaniac.'
"I always had an interest in England and was studying music, both singing and piano, so my parents indulged my affection for this new type of rock music. I mainly listened to records in our basement or on my transistor radio.
"My father was a manager of simulator maintenance for TWA and made frequent trips to Aylesbury, England, for equipment checks.
"One day in the summer of '65 he came home and said he knew a man named Bill Liss who was going to be with The Beatles on their TWA flight to America. He directed me to write a letter asking you to get their autographs, and I included the stamped, self-addressed airmail envelope.
"After The Beatles tour, I received a letter back from you in a separate, larger envelope, along with the one I had sent to you. You had them sign on the back side of my envelope.
"Regretfully, I have lost track of the hand-written note you sent. I remember you explained in it that you had given them my envelope to sign when 'the boys,' as you called them, settled into their seats.
"I remember I wrote you a thank you note because I could hardly believe a complete stranger would present me with such a prize!
"One thing I've never understood is just why Dad gave me this opportunity and was so sure you would do this for me. He was a very good father, but not one to spoil me or go out of his way on a whim.
"I hope this explanation fills in some gaps for you, and I would love to hear more about your side of the story. Again, it is such a thrill be investigating this 50-year-old story. I mentioned to Ted that this is almost like an episode of History Detectives!
"I will be sending a scan of the autographs as soon as I overcome a few obstacles, such as retrieving the envelope from the bank vault and figuring out the most secure way to scan it since my home scanner is on the blink.
"But I promise, it will be on its way soon!"
Later, Ruth sent scans (below) of both sides of the envelope with the following
"Please note I also scanned the front of the envelope that I had intended Bill to mail back to me because it helps to date it, since an airmail letter only cost 10 cents then! The signatures are on the verso."
Ruth with cherished envelope
(scroll down for close views).
©2014 Ted Schaar
Autographs signed aboard TWA Flight 703, August 13, 1965.
Note the simple, quickly drawn star under Ringo's name.
Courtesy of Ruth Y.
Stamped, self-addressed envelope 15-year-old Ruth mailed to Bill circa August, 1965.
Courtesy of Ruth Y.
Original Beatles lyrics
Ruth, who works in Northwestern University's Charles Deering Library in Evanston, Illinois, has another surprising connection to The Beatles.
Just down the hall from her office, high-fidelity facsimiles of handwritten lyrics for seven Beatles songs are exhibited.
The originals are owned by the university and stored in a secure, "temperature-controlled room," according to an article in The Daily Northwestern, the campus newspaper.1
Associate University Librarian for Special Libraries D.J. Hoek said they are, "most likely the most valuable materials that the University Library owns."2
Displayed are lyrics for "The Word" from Rubber Soul (1965) and "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Eleanor Rigby," "For No One," "Good Day Sunshine," "I'm Only Sleeping," and "Yellow Submarine" from Revolver (1966).
John Cage, described by Wikipedia as "an American composer, music theorist, writer, and artist" and "one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde"3 donated the sheets along with other materials. Cage obtained them from John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the 1960s for inclusion in a trove he collected of "400 manuscripts by 274 composers."4
Rhyming lines and doodles have been committed to paper for centuries, and all but the smallest fraction vanish into incinerators or landfills.
But these, despite their carefree, even dashed-off appearance, gave birth to songs loved by millions. As this appears on your screen, it's probable all seven are being played and enjoyed somewhere around the world, maybe in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has shown himself to be a Beatles fan.
Frames on the far wall of this Charles Deering Library reading room hold true-to-life
facsimiles of original Beatles lyrics for seven songs (two sheets are for "Yellow Submarine"). A brief explanation of the display is on the far right. Note: Tight shots of the lyrics are prohibited, so if you want to see them up close, you'll have to visit.
©2014 Ted Schaar