The Mysterious Mr. Attager

By Erica Moser Published on October 18, 2014

When it was discovered that rowers were not eligible to be in the race in which they competed, Charles Attager disqualified them. When rowers grumbled that their late entries were not accepted, Charles Attager was the scapegoat. When D’Arcy MacMahon’s phone started ringing

The Charles Attager Trophy, given each year to an "above-and-beyond" volunteer

later and later into the night, Charles Attager took on more work.

“We always put the black hat on Charles, and he wore it very well,” said MacMahon, who cofounded the Head Of The Charles Regatta with fellow Cambridge Boat Club members Howard McIntyre and Jack Vincent in 1965.

Attager was brought onboard in the 1970s to what was then a small team of volunteers. He was an elusive figure, one who didn’t have his own phone line and therefore had to be reached by mail.

It always seemed that Attager was never around when people called for him. MacMahon would tell callers he would take a message and make sure Attager received it.

“Charles [was] very stoic, and he was very by the rules,” said Fred Schoch, executive director of the regatta. “He was very stiff and rigid.”

But MacMahon said Attager never took any criticism personally and always had a smile on his face.

Attager’s legacy working on the Head Of The Charles was enough for there to be an award named after him.

In 1996, for example, the Charles Attager Award went to Polly Whiteside, who has been volunteering with the regatta since 1988. Whiteside restructured registration so there are four sets of tables around the packets in the center, which “then became the model for registration for other regattas,” she said.

“The award is given every year to a volunteer… who has basically done something that people feel should be recognized,” said Sarah Potts, 2013 recipient of the award.

Another honoring of Attager was that a woman at the Cambridge Boat Club named her cat after him, according to longtime volunteer Molly Upton.

There is also now a Team Attager boat, in which Schoch rows.

The boat is stacked with members of the board of directors, Schoch said, “so we thought it was appropriate to race in Charles’ name.” It has served as a thoughtful way to honor the late Mr. Attager for many years.

Attager died in the 1980s. The story was that a water-skier on the Charles River killed him and it was very much D’Arcy MacMahon’s fault.

Fortunately for MacMahon, there is no law in Massachusetts prohibiting people from killing off fictional characters.

MacMahon created Charles Attager in the 1970s “to take the heat for a lot of things the regatta didn’t really want to waste time on.” As the regatta grew and the façade became more difficult to keep up, he un-created Attager.

“We take the regatta very seriously but not ourselves,” MacMahon said.

Fred Schoch, who entered the regatta 25 years after MacMahon co-founded it, said he thinks anyone around for the regatta’s early years knows who Charles Attager is.

“To this day, it’s not widely known,” he said. “And we playfully throw it out there under the bus once in awhile.”

Attager is still very much alive in that he has a Facebook page – which MacMahon said he did not create – and over 100 friends. Attager also has an active HOCR volunteer registration, but no committee assigned for 2014.

Orthographically speaking, the word “regatta” suited MacMahon’s needs well – there are plenty of words in the English language that would not sound like a legitimate last name if spelled backwards.

Volunteer for HOCR

image description

Make this year’s Head Of The Charles® a success. There are many opportunities to get involved over race weekend and before.