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Random Thoughts: A community conversation with Jack Massa

Jack Massa with his daughters, Kim [left] and Tammi

This week, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine shares its conversation with Jack Massa, owner of the local “Massa’s, of course!” restaurant chain. Jack and his brother Bill opened Massa’s Old Place on North Lindbergh Boulevard in 1974. Before that, Jack was an aeronautical engineer with McDonnell Douglas. Jack and his wife, Linda, celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary in August. The couple has two daughters and one son.

What habit do you have now that you wish you had started sooner?

I have a habit of complimenting people more now or just saying “thank you” more. I did quit smoking. It’s been about 15 to 18 years. I used to say, “When I reach 80, I’ll start smoking again.” Now that I’m almost 74 years old, I don’t think I’m going to take it back up when I’m 80. That’ll be my non-habit.

What’s a memory you’ll never forget?

I was about 10 years old, my brother and my mom and I went up to Chicago and we stayed at the Sherman Hotel. My brother took ballet and he was at a ballet school up there. That meant that I was by myself and could run around downtown Chicago by myself. So, I got in the elevator in the hotel by myself, and it goes down one or two floors. The next time the doors open, a black person walks in the elevator with me. I look up at this guy, and he smiles down at me. He kind of looks familiar, but I didn’t know any black people. We got down to the first floor, and the doors open. We’re walking by the front desk, and the gal behind the desk says, “Sammy, you have a thing here.” I turned around and looked again. It was Sammy Davis Jr.

Have you ever saved someone’s life?

I have. I was out at Edward Air Force Base, and I was a young aeronautical engineer. Being an engineer, I did some work with the pilots in the simulators in St. Louis. There was one area of the envelope where they’d fly so high and so fast [that] when they’d do maneuvers with the stick –  basically a roll – the airplane would diverge and it would basically destroy itself. So, I was out at Edwards Air Force Base and Irv Burrows was the chief test pilot for McDonnell Douglas. He flew first flights in the F-15 and all that. They wanted Irv to go to a specific area and do a half-stick roll and a full-stick roll. Well, that was a bad area [of the envelope]. I said, “Irv, we’re not going to do a full-stick roll. Let’s do a quarter-roll.” So, he did that, and then I said, “OK, now do a half-stick roll.” He did, and it was still tight. Then I said, “Do less than a three-quarter stick roll.” With that, suddenly, the plane started to diverge. Immediately, he got off the stick. It slammed him sideways against the cockpit and [he] really took some lateral G-force. If he would have done a full-stick roll like he was supposed to, he would have been dead. The plane would have been destroyed right there. It would have torn the whole thing apart. If I wasn’t there, we would have lost the plane, but more importantly, we would have lost Irv.

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

One person for sure, because I miss him, is Stan Musial. He used to come into our restaurant, and Stan was the nicest guy you’ve met in your entire life. The last time I saw him was at our old Kirkwood restaurant, and he actually stood up and played the harmonica in front of everybody. His wife was in a wheelchair at the time. That’s the last time I saw Stan. People call him “Stan the Man,” but he really was just the neatest guy you’d ever want to know. Of course, I’ve had two of my best friends die. Certainly, I’d relish being able to have a dinner with both, because I think of them. Those would be my three people, especially my friends. One of them died in 2000 and the other one passed away last year.

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