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Frederick M. Corse

General Manager for Russia, New York Life Insurance Company

Centurion, 1918–1927

Full Name Frederick Merritt Corse

Born 7 September 1864 in Bakersfield, Vermont

Died 20 August 1927 in New Canaan, Connecticut

Buried Lakeview Cemetery, New Canaan, Connecticut

Proposed by James R. Wheeler and Henry Holt

Elected 1 June 1918 at age fifty-three

Century Memorial

One of the men who knew the truth from personal experience and who told it calmly, without a thought of personal grievance, used often to make one of the circle at the Century dinner-table; a fellow-member of quiet manner and unobtrusive participation in the talk but with a certain dogged firmness in the lines of his face and figure. If the conversation shifted to Soviet Russia, some casual remark by Frederick Merritt Corse would at once arrest attention. Corse in his younger days had made good in all of his professional or business undertakings; but Russia exercised a particular attraction for his mind and, having prepared himself by the logical but not very usual expedient of mastering the Russian language, he obtained the Russian agency of an important export house. That was in 1898; during the twenty subsequent years, first in behalf of that company and then of the New York Life, he became the foremost representative in Russia of the American business community. When the Bolshevik revolution swept Russia from its moorings, Corse was described by his associates as “the unofficial ambassador of the United States.” His experience and temperament would have fitted him for the official post. The firmness, tactfulness and judgment with which, in behalf of the business or philanthropic enterprises entrusted to his care, the mixture of truculence and graft which characterized revolutionary Moscow, were needed at the Embassy. No private citizen of that kind could be persona grata at the Communist capital; but it was only when every serious concern of life had become impossible that Corse wound up his company’s affairs, relinquished his long and self-sacrificing supervision of the American hospital for wounded Russian soldiers, and started homeward. The usual impediments were placed in the way of his departure; he swept them aside. Blocked on the outward journey, by a Red camp engaged in active warfare with a detachment of White Russians, his personality again asserted itself. The Bolshevik commander sulkily granted an hour’s armistice; Corse and his party passed with the American flag to the opposing belligerents and thence to their own country.

Half a century ago, the man whom the community in which he lived recognized unanimously as its “first citizen” was a more familiar American institution than today. He was not necessarily the richest man in the community; he might be that, also, but it would not have made him the First Citizen. The town would indulge in local praise over its most eloquent citizen, its most learned citizen, or the citizen who brought it distinction at the state capitol or Washington; but to be regarded as First Citizen something more was necessary. Absolute loyalty to his town or city was indispensable in winning such recognition for any man; so was unsparing gift of time and thought to planning for its interests. But many citizens were likely to meet those qualifications. With them there had to be coupled in the old-time small community, before winning the highest civic recognition, sound and disinterested judgment on which his fellow-citizens, irrespective of church or race or party, knew that they could depend when solving local problems or engaging in difficult civic experiments, and, back of all, the discarding of personal ambition. This picture of the old-time First Citizen is familiar to everyone who knows the country’s early history.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1928 Century Association Yearbook