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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    What’s Going On: Next move from New London’s famed Thames Club: exclusive inclusivity

    Ramón Massó-Flores, new president of New London’s Thames Club on State Street, poses in the library next to a chess set. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    John Mason statue, which was removed from Mystic because of controversy surrounding his slaughter of Mashantucket Pequot men, women and children in a 1637 attack. Mason’s story is explored in a play to be performed Aug. 4 by Nicholas Checker at the Thames Club in New London. Photo submitted

    Ramón Massó-Flores marvels at the history of New London, a legacy he is now part of as the first Hispanic president of the 154-year-old Thames Club, the oldest private social club in the state.

    “I want the Thames Club to be the place where good people can get together to make great things happen,” the Waterford resident said in an email inviting me to visit the longstanding venue on State Street. “I want this club to fully represent our diverse community by gathering the best and brightest our city and region has to offer. I want a new generation of professionals to have a place where candid conversations can happen, where ideas flourish, where yesterday and tomorrow meet.”

    The 52-year-old graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law and the University of Puerto Rico, who is a senior submarine program analyst for the Navy after spending two decades on submarines himself, said he likes the idea of having challenging conversations with people who do not think like him but who always keep discussions civil.

    Already shaking things up with a series of public cultural events, including Flamenco dancing and Latin jazz on Friday nights at the club’s downstairs pub, he is looking forward to kicking off a new series delving into local history and contemporary issues that will start Aug. 4 with a 5:30 p.m. presentation by New London playwright Nicholas Checker and his one-man exploration of the legacy of John Mason titled “Elegy for an Icon.” Mason is the 17th century Puritan military leader who led the 1637 slaughter of Mashantucket Pequots at their fort in Mystic, effectively ending the tribe’s local dominance.

    “We want to change the image of the club from a stuffy old rich man’s club to something the really represents New London,” Massó-Flores told me bluntly when I met with him shortly after a Rotary Club meeting. “You can be exclusive and inclusive all at the same time. You have to open your doors.”

    Massó-Flores said he wants to restore the 100-member Thames Club to local relevance and even prominence as the “premier social center in our city.” It’s a vision, he said, that likely has naysayers, but so far there has been no pushback from members, about 90% of whom are still men despite the club’s decision to open up to women three decades ago.

    One of his first orders of business is to try to increase the Thames Club membership from 100 to 150 so that it can become financially stable. This will allow the club to grow from its staff of two, manager Mark Michaud and chef Jon Logan, to a number adequate to serve members more than a few hours a day. Right now, the club serves lunch from noon to 2 p.m. two days a week, and its pub is open for drinks in the evening.

    “We are not a restaurant,” he said emphatically. “We’re a place where people can come and want to be when they’re not home.”

    And to get people to come and hang out, Massó-Flores said, there should be a variety of activities, including music (plans include inviting members of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra to play Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons), duckpin bowling (in the club’s basement are two lanes where members compete) and even culinary experiences (wine pairings, for instance).

    “We just want to be relevant,” he said. “If you’re not relevant, you die.”

    Most of all, Massó-Flores wants to focus on showcasing local talent in a variety of fields. And he loves all of New London history, both the good and the bad, so he has high hopes for bringing in experts to explore the lessons derived from past experiences.

    “I think that this place if nothing else should be a historic hub for the city,” he added.

    He’d like to see younger people, Pfizer scientists, Connecticut College employees and even students who live across the street in the Manwaring Building or international students who stay over during the summer or during breaks.

    “I know what it is to be far from home without anybody,” Massó-Flores said.

    He also likes that the Thames Club is now home to the Connecticut Storytellers Center and Flock Theater, both of which have offices on the third floor. He’d like to apply for historic grants so living quarters on the third floor could be brought up to modern standards, since the club has reciprocal agreements with other similar clubs around the state to house members from out of town at reasonable cost.

    “It’s a good benefit of membership,” he said.

    On a quick tour of the Thames Club, the third floor stands out in need of renovation, but much of the rest of the building still exudes a stately elegance from years gone by. Massó-Flores said he has a five-year plan for bringing the membership back up and restoring the Thames Club to glory once again, and being open to young professionals from diverse backgrounds is the key.

    “We need to not only be open, we need to be seeking,” he said.

    He added that the monthly fees are not too high, between $50 and $200 a month depending on your age, plus a $150 initiation fee. Members have to endorse an initiate before they can join.

    “I think we’re on the right track,” he said. “I want to leave the club in better shape than I found it. If that takes me more than one year, it takes me more than one year.”

    Clubs of all types have had a tough go of it lately, and COVID-19 did a number on the Thames Club, cutting membership by a quarter to a third, Ramón Massó-Flores said, about the same number he is hoping to regain. But with his energy and positive vibes, not to mention a talent for programming, I have a feeling the Thames Club is ready for a turnaround.

    This is the opinion of Lee Howard, The Day’s business editor.

    ‘Elegy for an Icon’

    Nicholas Checker’s one-man version of his play “Elegy for an Icon” will be performed at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Thames Club.

    It’s a solo performance by Checker based on his stage play first performed at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.

    Checker described it in an email this way: “It’s a vivid portrayal of the historical and cultural events leading up to the Pequot War of 1637 that resulted in the brutal attack on a Pequot fort in Mystic ... and the key role of Major John Mason, later commemorated for his actions.”

    The play came back to life in the past year as a one-man show thanks to arts grant funding from the state. He said Kevin McBride, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut and a widely regarded expert on the Pequot War, has deemed it “the most objective and comprehensive account given of these historic events.”

    McBride will deliver brief introductory remarks before the performance.

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