Gail's Book Nook

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Looking in the Window: A Brave Man in Trying Times

It was an ordinary Monday at the company where I worked on the twelfth floor in Lenox Towers in Atlanta, Georgia. I sat at my mahogany desk, perused pictures I’d taken at the company picnic -- my favorite, one of a boy, who was the son of a man who worked in the computer room. The youngster swung on a long rope attached to a huge old oak tree. I put it next to the headline for the story, “Employees Have a Swinging Time.” I glanced up to see four strangers, serious-minded looking men in expensive pin striped suits. Without speaking to any of us they walked into my boss, Walt’s, office and shut the door.

The employee relations department sat behind the lobby wall with the busy switchboard, yes, the old kind with the cords. It was the late 1960’s. I gazed at Walt’s secretary, Leigh. She shook her head “no,” which told me she didn’t know who they were. It wasn’t unusual for Walt to keep his door closed, because all day long folks who worked in administration, the computer room and the law department of the high-powered energy company met there. A gentle, soft spoken man, slightly plump, with thinning salt and pepper hair and crystal clear blue eyes, he’d been with the company for twenty-five years. He planned to retire in five years, but no sooner. He adored his wife and five children, some of whom were still in school, and wanted to take good care of them. He quietly dealt with the mound of problems that landed on his desk and made sure mine and Leigh’s daily lives were set apart from the crises, kept a little tonic in the top right hand drawer for the really heated times.

Today, after the four men left he called me in, closed the door and took a swig of the coping liquid. “Gail, the fellows who were here are management efficiency experts. Unfortunately, they told me to cut our company publication.” A sinking sensation fell over me. “But, the administration has agreed to let you stay until you find another job.” Relief. “However, they want to discontinue the magazine immediately, so tomorrow I’m going to move you to the switchboard. You’ll fill in for Mary Jane. For a while she’ll get more breaks and help Leigh with transcription.” I operated the Hasselblad camera and my electric typewriter, but I had no idea how to keep up with the active board. It stayed lit up like a Christmas tree.

The disappointment must have shown on my face, because he said, “I don’t expect you to become a switchboard operator. This temporary position is a way to pay you a salary while you look for work. If one of my girls were alone in a strange city I wouldn’t want her boss to turn her out on the street without wages, so I refuse to do it. You can take all the time you need for interviews and find a good position; then, give your two weeks notice.”

For the next three months I clumsily plugged in the calls, often connected the person on the phone to the wrong party. At times when I hurriedly strung a cord from the far right to the far left while completing the same action in reverse with another cord I thought I might hang myself on one of them. But, I persevered, paid my bills and finally found employment. It was near the end of my two weeks notice when I overheard Leigh and another secretary. Leigh said, “Yes, he could have gotten fired for sticking up for her, but that’s the kind of man he is.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that the company ever would consider letting my boss leave. He was a vice president. However, I soon learned that the title offered no protection. The day before I left one of the other vice presidents packed up the personal belongings in his office and departed. Thank goodness, he owned stock. He got no retirement.

And thank goodness, I worked for a man who lived by the Scripture. To this day when I think of him two Bible verses come to mind. “‘…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27). And, “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.” (Psalm 106:3).