Longform

The Last Flight Plan

Page 4 of 6

On January 13, 1992 -- the late Jean Rich's birthday -- Bill Meenan called a meeting of the family at the offices of Harry K. Bender, his dead wife's personal attorney, for a formal reading of her last will and testament. All four children attended. When they arrived, Linda Harrington recalls, Bill Meenan and the airline's regulatory attorney, Gary Garofalo, were conversing in a conference room. That seemed wrong to Harrington. Why was Garofalo present at the reading of the will?

All assembled around a long table, Garofalo at the head, Linda and two of her three brothers sitting at angles at the other end. For the children, the memory of their mother's last birthday and their first Christmas without her lingered.

Bill Meenan got his 40-percent share in Rich International, the household furniture, the Mercedes Benz, the Jeep Wagoneer, and the Bertram yacht. The children were to receive jewelry and 60 percent of the company. Meenan, named in the will as executor of the estate, was to sell the real property -- a million-dollar home in Gables Estates, a Key Biscayne condominium, and a house in Islamorada -- the proceeds from which were to be put into trust for the four children and one grandchild. Meenan would get an additional $500,000.

After the will was read, Harrington recalls, a courier arrived with copies of documents. A somewhat apologetic Garofalo joked about attorneys and explained that in order for the company to retain its military contracts -- in light of Jean's death -- it had to show continuity of management. In brief, he wanted the children to sign a "voting trust agreement" giving Meenan all voting rights they held as company shareholders. The agreement would expire in five years. According to Harrington, Garofalo told them, "This is what your mother wanted." Three of the four -- the three boys -- signed. Harrington put the document in her briefcase and asked for time to look it over.

She never did sign, and spent the next two years trying to invalidate her brothers' agreements. More than four years after that meeting, Harrington remains so annoyed by the episode that when she speaks of it, she feels compelled to stand up and imitate Garofalo. She waves her hands, slams the table, repeats the phrase that angers her most: "This is what your mother wanted."

Harrington believes that she's the one in a position to know what Jean Rich would have wanted. For one thing, she has inherited her mother's stubbornness. The two women had fought fiercely as the domineering Rich tried to control her daughter's life. Harrington, though, was rebellious from a young age. Against her mother's wishes, she married at eighteen. When she was just 22, she handed her baby girl to her grandmother for frequent short periods, and headed across the country to work with the advance teams for rock and roll bands, including Fleetwood Mac. But in time mother and daughter reconciled completely. Harrington keeps boxes of letters from her mother; on birthdays they wrote each other sentimental notes; Harrington herself wrote poems for her mother. Photos show the two huddled together at parties.

The daughter's involvement with Rich International Airways has become a disputed matter. Harrington says she ran the airline's cargo department for several years before heading to England with her second husband, Colin Harrington, a British business consultant. When she returned in 1989, she says, her mother gave her a job and a title, director of marketing. But Bill Meenan's lawyer, Mark Scheer, claims Harrington hadn't worked at the airline for at least a year before her mother died.

Since Jean Rich's death, Harrington has not been employed. Instead she has worked continuously to substantiate the charges made in her lawsuits. As she talks about the subject, her words come slowly and deliberately. She has dissected the company's day-to-day activities, studied volumes of maintenance logs, and knows who her stepfather meets with and when. But as she recites this litany, her voice breaks in anger. She loses her train of thought, repeats phrases, and recites something akin to a mantra: "I'm Jean Rich's daughter first and foremost."

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