Thursday, January 20, 2011

Farewell to the Boss

When I was 17, I graduated from high school and began a job as a GS-4 Clerk-Typist-Stenographer at the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). I had been recruited by my high school shorthand teacher's husband who worked there also, and I was pretty excited. It meant taking two buses into downtown Washington, DC from our house in the Maryland suburbs and I thought I was pretty hot stuff with my four-figure salary! (Yes, that would be one digit, then a comma, then three zeros, per year!)

I, of course, had no real idea where I was going or what I would be doing.

Turned out that OEO was the poverty program, a brainchild of Sargent Shriver who had also founded the Peace Corps, and was launched as part of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The idea was to attack poverty in our own country, by helping states and counties and towns to help themselves. I was assigned to  the community action group that worked with North Carolina, and later to the West Virginia/Kentucky group. In the meantime, I was handed over to the Regional Director of the whole shooting match, to churn out typed grant letters.

That's another story in itself, involving inch-high stacks of two-piece carbon paper in various rainbow colors (all of which had to be PERFECTLY typed) and my first encounter with an electric typewriter. Suffice it to say that I'm terribly grateful for the incredible patience shown to me by everyone involved.

But this is about Sargent Shriver, who passed away this week. He died at 95 but the picture above is pretty close to what he looked like in those days. I have to admit to a little shiver even today when I think of how he looked in those expensively tailored suits he wore. I think I was imprinted right at that point toward a man in a nice suit.

Of course, we all knew he was a Kennedy brother-in-law, which was a big deal even to a city used to seeing political celebrities around town. As a child, I remember being in the Senate Office Building and looking down on the Senate from the balcony. One of my friends' fathers was an aide to a senator from Michigan (after whom an office building would be named later!) and I had stared down onto a wrinkly, baggy-suited Lyndon Johnson and a chunky bald Sam Rayburn. Neither of them impressed me in the least, but Sargent Shriver did.

I have to say that Shriver was my first "CEO" and the one who set the standard for all the CEOs I'd work for over the years. He was unfailingly courteous, and knew each staffer's name and a little about them. I'd pass him in the hall and get a "Hello, Diana, how are you liking your job these days?" or "Boy, did you get caught in that big traffic jam at Friendship Heights this morning?" He knew the mentally challenged Xerox operator and was always willing to listen patiently to a long explanation of what might have caused a paper jam yesterday. Each one of us was a person to him and he made us all happy to be at work.  I've heard that he could be a taskmaster but I'm willing to bet that most of the people who worked with him, either closely or peripherally the way I did, will remember him as a fair, kind individual--the kind they'd like to work for again.

So, using the whole Kevin Bacon Seven Degrees of Separation, really that puts me pretty close to Jackie Kennedy, doesn't it? And Maria, and the GuberNator. And let's not talk about Teddy. But I bet none of them were as nice as Sarge. He was definitely a man who motivated us all to do good things.

Goodbye, Boss!

1 comment:

PandaBearofDoom said...

your blog is cute I love it XD