Friend, Victor

Victor FriendVictor Alonzo Friend (July 21, 1870-January 2, 1952), a well-known Boston-area businessman whose company produced Friend’s Brick Oven Baked Beans, was a prominent Universalist lay leader. He was a trustee of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention and the Universalist Publishing House, and president of the Universalist General Convention.

Victor was born in the small coastal town of Brooklin, Maine to Robert Alonzo and Alona Blanche (Mirick) Friend. His father, a storekeeper, also owned boats for fishing and transporting lumber. By the time Victor went to public school the family had relocated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He and his brothers were raised as Baptists. Their father was so liberal, however, that he was expelled from their church. Victor discovered the Universalist faith as a teenager. “Take my church from me,” he said when he was in his sixties, “and my life would be so shallow!” After High School he attended Bates College, then transferred to the Portland Maine Business College. He graduated in 1892.

Friend worked for several months for a wholesale grocery concern in Portland, saving his money. Then, with his brother Leslie, he moved to the Boston suburb, Melrose, Massachusetts, where they established a bakery. They baked beans and delivered them to their customers by a horse-drawn wagon. Using what they considered an “authentic New England recipe,” they based their business on the longstanding Puritan tradition of preparing baked beans in advance to be eaten on the Sabbath, a day when worked was prohibited. They also began experimenting with canning.

In 1898 Friend married Nellie Louise Eibel. Although they had no children, Nellie was the author of several religious books for young people. In 1945 she was elected to membership in the Eugene Field Society, a national association of authors and journalists. Her publishers included the Murray Press, a division of the Universalist Publishing House, and the Fleming H. Revell Company of New York City.

Victor FriendVictor’s other brother, Robert, entered the business and the brothers were later joined by Robert and Leslie’s sons as well. Eventually they were able to can their beans without sacrificing flavor, which revolutionized the baked bean industry. In 1921 the firm was organized as Friend Brothers, bakers and canners, and in 1928 it was incorporated as Friend Brothers, Inc. They became one of the largest canners in the United States. They had factories in Melrose, Malden, Lynn, and Lowell and ran Friendly Food Shops in forty Greater Boston communities. The “brothers” also processed other New England specialties: cranberries and brown bread. Through the 1950s they nearly monopolized the New England market for their product. Victor was president until his death.

An active citizen of Melrose and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Friend consistently did volunteer work for religious, social, charitable and civic organizations. In 1900 he helped found the Melrose Board of Trade, later called the Chamber of Commerce, and was its first secretary. During the period 1912-20 he served on the Social Service Mass Meeting Committee, which met first at his church and then at Memorial Hall. During the First World War, Friend, as president of the New England Master Bakers Association, worked with Herbert Hoover promoting food conservation. In 1919 he helped start and became president of the Melrose Orchestral Association. He served in that office until his death. Under his leadership the Association became one of leading amateur groups for young people in New England. He was a member of the Masons and the Odd Fellows.

In the 1910s Friend served on the Board of Trustees of his church and was Superintendent of the church’s Sunday School. The school doubled in size during his tenure. In addition he founded and taught the Friend Class for boys. In 1922 he was elected trustee of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention, a post he held for twelve years. He was its president, 1923-24. That same year he was also made a trustee of the Universalist Publishing House. He remained an active member of the organization for 38 years. He was a trustee of the Universalist General Convention, 1928-31, and at the Convention’s meeting in 1931 at Buffalo, New York was elected unanimously its president. Called “in the midst of prolonged applause” to speak to the delegates he said: “I feel our church is the most important thing in our life and the life of the community and if we make the Creator’s business our business, we will go forward.” He served as president until 1935. Beginning in 1931 he also chaired the “Commission to Confer with the Unitarian Commission regarding closer co-operation” of the two denominations. In 1939 he observed that he had “served in many capacities in our Church, from chore boy to the General Convention presidency.”

After Friend left office, during the initial years of Robert Cummins’s General Superintendency, he was a strong supporter of the organizational, structural, and financial reforms that Cummins advocated. In 1939 he wrote a rare short article for The Christian Leader, declaring that “I am convinced that more responsibility over our local parishes should be given the General Convention and our General Superintendent. . . . I believe our State Conventions and our State Superintendents, as they now present themselves, might well be discontinued, and the churches of the denomination divided geographically into districts.”

Friend continued during the 1930s to support the needs of his hometown. In 1934 he presided over the dedication of the new Slayton Memorial Observation Tower at Mount Hood. In 1939 he and Nellie donated funds for the building of a “lethal” house for the Melrose Humane Society. Throughout this period, and almost up until his death, he worked on behalf of the Melrose Hospital, serving as the president of its Association, 1947-49, and then as its president emeritus. The Melrose Hospital was his favorite charity.

Friend firmly believed in tolerance, mutual respect, and active goodwill between men and women of differing religious beliefs. In 1937, with the help of other local leaders, he organized the Massachusetts Committee of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. He served as its Chair for eight years. In 1945 the Committee held a dinner for over a thousand guests celebrating the elevation of Richard J. Cushing as Archbishop of Boston.

Another of Friend’s special interests was higher education. He was a trustee of Dean Academy, 1929-52; of Boston University, 1937-52; and Tufts University, 1943-52. In 1943 Tufts awarded him an honorary Master of Arts degree.

In his seventies and still running his business, Friend ran as the Republican candidate for the Governor’s Council from the 6th District. He served two terms, 1944-48. He was an opponent of the death penalty. He refused to believe that “anyone who possesses a human soul could be interested in the taking of human life for any cause whatsoever.”

In 1948, when Nellie and Victor Friend celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, their friends gave them a public reception attended by more than two thousand people. The chair for the event was Leonard Carmichael, president of Tufts, and the master of ceremonies was Daniel L. Marsh, president of Boston University.

Two years later, when the Melrose Church was remodeled, the Friends funded construction of Friend Chapel, which was to be used for small weddings, services of memory, and meetings. That same year, 1950, Victor retired as president of the Universalist Publishing House. He had been in office for eight years, and a trustee, director, and officer since 1922. He felt that his ability to be of service had come to an end.

After a long illness, he died at home. His funeral, at the Melrose church, was attended by officials from the many organizations he had so vigorously supported. Dr. Cummins, the General Superintendent of the Universalist Church of America, was one of the honorary pallbearers. The state of Massachusetts was represented by its governor, Paul A. Dever.

The Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, has a small file on Victor and Nellie Friend. For other biographical information see his entry in The National Cyclopaedia Of American Biography; Edwin C. Kemp, Melrose Massachusetts 1900-1950 (1950) and “Victor A. Friend Dies After Long Illness,” The Christian Leader (February 1952). Friend wrote “A Layman Speaks,” The Christian Leader (March 3, 1928); “Address,” The Christian Leader (November 7, 1931); and “Liberty is Relative”, The Christian Leader (August 19, 1939). Nellie Friend wrote The S.O.S. Call of Youth (1923), Success and You (1927), God and You Friendly Talks with Young People (1929), Love and You (1933), Triumphant Living (1945), and The Tapestry of Eternity (1951). See also Russell E. Miller The Larger Hope The Second Century of the Universalist Church in America 1870-1970 (1985); “Toward A United American People,” The Christian Leader (July 1945) 312-13; “Retiring President and New President of the Universalist Publishing House,” The Christian Leader (August 1950); and “Melrose Universalists Dedicate Remodeled Church,” The Christian Leader (May 1951). There are obituaries in the Boston Globe (January 3, 1952) and in the Melrose Free Press (January 10, 1952).

Article by Alan Seaburg
Posted October 20, 2006