by Len Lear
— This is a new feature for Local Life. Periodically we will run a question-and-answer article with a prominent person in the Greater Chestnut Hill area. The questions will be more of a philosophical nature than about the person’s business or job. First up is Greg Welsh. A one-time sociology teacher, Greg, 68, is currently president of the recently formed Chestnut Hill Community Development Corporation and founder of the Chestnut Hill Book Festival, but he is best known as a restaurateur, owning a handful of restaurants around Northwest Philadelphia over the years including Catfish Cafe, Ogontz Grill, Stella Notte and Takers. His most enduring restaurant has been Chestnut Grill & Sidewalk Café (along with co-owner and chef John Arena), which has been in business for 17 years.
Q: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A: Perfect happiness is dwelling in that place where you truly understand the word “enough.”
Q: If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
A: Writing and producing historical movies.
Q: Which person in the world would you most like to meet and spend an hour with (cannot be Obama)?
A: Ray Kurzweil. If you don’t know who he is, Google him.
Q: When and where were you the happiest?
A: Sometime in August, 1945, when I bonded with the egg that eventually became me.
Q: What talent would you most like to have?
A: The ability to play the violin, my favorite orchestral instrument. I bought one a few years back and took lessons, but it only made me appreciate real violinists even more.
Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
A: Maintaining composure, humanity and humor when dealing with restaurant customers after 40 years.
Q: What is your greatest regret?
A: You mean besides agreeing to answer these questions? Having elected French over physics in high school, which took me off a course in science, thus preventing me from ever realizing a future as a particle physicist. In turn, this prevented me from working in Switzerland with the Large Hadron Collider and discovering the Higgs Boson.
Q: What is your most prominent characteristic?
A: Irreverent humor.
Q: What do you most dislike in other people?
A: Their refusal to try and comprehend others’ reality.
Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Phone solicitations at dinner time and the constant “hustle” to consume in this culture.
Q: What is the best book you’ve ever read?
A: “Fun with Dick & Jane.” It opened the world to me.
Q: What is the best movie you’ve ever seen?
A: As a kid, “Wizard of Oz.” As an adult, any film that motivates me to pursue further reading and research, usually history-based.
Q: What is your favorite song?
A: “Happy Birthday.” It makes everyone smile, followed by just about everything from Steve Tyrell. (Google him; he’s a Sinatra-type singer.)
Q: What is your favorite food and/or dessert and/or wine and/or beer?
A: Italian food prepared in Rome.
Q: If you were able to come back to earth as any person or thing, what would it be?
A: A benevolent “HAL” from Kubrick’s “2001, A Space Odyssey,” so I’d be a computer with consciousness and hopefully watch nature evolve.
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
A: Besides my books, a chess set I’ve used since I was 11 years old.
Q: Who is your favorite athlete? Why?
A: Cal Ripken, of the Baltimore Orioles. He played 20 years with the same team, playing over 2100 consecutive games. There is something inspirational about someone who does a great job every day at work.
Q: What is the quality you like most in a man?
A: Kindness and intelligence.
Q: What is the quality you like most in a woman?
A: Kindness and intelligence.
Q: Who are your favorite writers, living and/or dead?
A: David McCullough, Philip Roth, Irvin Yalom (author of “The Schopenhauer Cure,” “The Spinoza Problem” and “When Nietzsche Wept”), Ken Follett (especially “The Century Trilogy”), Daniel Silva for beach reading, and among my friends, Hugh Gilmore, Kathy Bonanno, Jon McGoran, Don Barlett, Joel Levinson and Lynn Hoffman.
Q: Who is your favorite hero in fiction?
A: I rarely read fiction.
Q: Who are your most admired heroes in real life, living and/or dead?
A: No heroes, but people I admire in the past are Spinoza, Newton, Lincoln, Darwin, M.L. King and Einstein. In the present they are Steven Hawking, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.
Q: What do you most value in a friend?
Q: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
A: Any place devoid of snowflakes (especially after last winter) and Alpha personalities.
Q: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
A: Patience. Life is too damn short.