SI Vault
Melvin Maddocks
May 23, 1977
Behind the guise of Brahmin gentility lurks Peter Fuller, wade-in brawler
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May 23, 1977

The Inner Life Of A Wealthy Warrior

Behind the guise of Brahmin gentility lurks Peter Fuller, wade-in brawler

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There is a vague, baffled feeling here that life has not stood still for a wade-in fighter who is looking for a showdown—one winner-take-all confrontation. He volunteered as a marine paratrooper in World-War II, but despite character references from then-Governor of Massachusetts Leverett Saltonstall ("a boy of initiative, courage and great energy...a chip off the old block...will make a fighting marine"), Fuller was turned down because he had flat feet and a weak ankle, and never saw combat—a disappointment he still can taste. He never got to fight Rocky Marciano. When he finally got to fight Ali, he was made the stooge of a tin-can act.

The point is, if the Derby and the governor's race didn't work out, they didn't count in the same way either. Despite all those Cadillacs and all those horses and all that money, despite the family (eight children plus one grandchild and two dogs on the Christmas card), despite the Fuller name as civic leader on the very best of letterheads, despite whatever they teach an English major at Harvard, what you do or do not do with your body at the moment of combat is, and always has been, the measure for Fuller. If a man wins, preferably, or at least if he survives, goes the route, nothing else matters. If he doesn't, nothing else matters either.

In Fuller's wallet are two well-worn talismans: his old boxing license, with the identification picture of the young Peter Fuller, and a much-folded piece of paper containing quotations, written in his own hand, from Henry V. Prince Hal had been a son eclipsed by his father. Prince Hal had come into his own at the Battle of Agincourt:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named.

Deeds, feats, honor, fortitude—the archaic words still wave banners inside Fuller's head. It will never be enough that he is a gentle, complicated man who has suffered as his father never suffered, just because he is his father's son. It will never be enough that he has led a decent life—that he has passed the tests he (and his father) would consider meaningful, as successful businessman, good family man, public-spirited citizen.

When he was a boy, his father used to say to Peter, "I feel sorry for you. You'll never know the pinch of economic necessity." But it is more than just that. What Peter Fuller really has never known—what he was looking for in his quixotic meeting with Ali—is the one perfect chance to prove himself. Until his dying day he will be Prince Hal waiting for his Agincourt.

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