Leucadia man’s globe-trekking letters become book


For one Leucadia author, the path to writing a book began years ago with a conscious decision.

When former businessman Bob Hemphill moved abroad, he began to write letters to his father. The letters were a means for his father to understand his life abroad.

“He would have strongly preferred if I would have been a junior pilot just as he started out,” Hemphill said. “But I didn’t do that, and the things that I did do were so novel that I thought he would be amused and entertained by the things I was doing.”

Hemphill was one of three who founded AES, a global electric power-generating and distribution company, and spent most of his career working to grow it from a small startup to a $17 billion company.

Throughout his time abroad, he continued to write letters to his father, telling him about his life. Eventually, they became the book “Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine and Commerce From a Globe-Trekking Executive,” published under the name R.F. Hemphill.

“I was having such an interesting time, and I just thought, you know, other people will be interested in this as well,” Hemphill said. “It’s not a didactic book, it’s not a ‘how to make a million dollars in business,’ it’s much more a humorous book about business, of which I would argue there are very few.

“Business isn’t always all that serious, so this is another take on it.”

He started writing the first letters in 1990 and continued for the next 11 years, gathering the letters as he wrote them.

“It didn’t occur to me at first that these could turn into a book, but subsequently I began to think it was a possibility, and I began to save them all,” Hemphill said.

He started compiling the letters last year once he left the company and moved to Encinitas.

“I thought, you know, perhaps it’s time to do something else. Sometimes you just sort of know. You see changes in your friends, you see people come and go, and you decide nobody’s got an infinite amount of time allocated to them and you think about what you want to get done in the rest of the time that is still yours,” Hemphill said.

“I really decided that it was time to get serious about writing books, and I couldn’t do that if I was still working full time.”

The entire process took nine months once he decided he wanted to compile the letters. That process included spending time sorting the letters, editing them, giving them titles and arranging them for the book.

“You have to sit down, and every day you have to do it,” Hemphill said of his process. “There’s no magic; it doesn’t do itself. I would sit down at my desk, I would put them in order, I would edit them, clean them up, add titles, and there’s a whole bunch of other stuff you have to do. It’s just work, but it does take a while.”

Once the process was completed, however, Hemphill said holding the finished product in his hands felt satisfying — a wonderful end to his months of hard work.

“Finally, you have something you thought you’d like and you’ve worked on for a long time — to actually see it in concrete … to be a real thing and to look to all the world like a real book, was really a great feeling,” Hemphill said. “And then to have other people read it, people who are not related to me, and have them say it was pretty funny and they liked it a lot — that was wonderfully pleasant. All of us do our professional work, certainly to earn money, but to also earn the respect and appreciation of other people.”

Hemphill’s father passed away four years ago, and though he never got the opportunity to read the finished book, Hemphill said his dad read the letters and liked them.

“He was not a barrel of effusion and emotion, however, but I think he thought it was nice,” Hemphill said. “I was doing something productive, and he was pleased with that.”

Now that he has conquered his first book, Hemphill plans to compile a second book of letters to his father, or possibly write a mystery series.

You can buy “Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine and Commerce From a Globe-Trekking Executive” on