Shortly after becoming the first female Manufacturing Supervisor at Mead, there was an opening for a Corrugator Supervisor. Nearly all promotions were made from in-house applicants, but this time the Company hired someone from another Company. Sam, the new Supervisor, quickly demonstrated his ability and turned around the Department in a short amount of time. He exuded self-confidence and strode through the plant with quite a self-assured swagger. In addition to that, he was an attractive man.
I seldom had any interaction with Sam, because he spent his breaks in his section. I did not go out to the local "watering holes" after work as most of the other Supervisors did, and neither did Sam. The Corrugator Department finished a half-hour before the other departments and Sam was always long-gone by the time the other Department Supervisors gathered in the mutual office to finish paperwork. The only time that Sam and I would be together was during the monthly inventory, because, as the "newbies", we were thrown together. Sam was all-business, never made small-talk, and was in no way flirtatious. On Inventory Day, the other guys would go out at lunch and have drinks, but Sam said he just wanted to get done as quickly as possible, as did I. Sam lived in Chillicothe.
Within a few weeks of his arrival, the other supervisors began making "catty" remarks about Sam and, I am ashamed of myself NOW, because I did not speak up to defend him. Being the only female and wanting to be accepted by my colleagues was my rationale, but it surely wasn't the person I should have been. It was obvious that all the others were jealous of Sam and I think it was mostly because he was an outsider who had easily proved that he was superior to them and that he neither needed--nor wanted--their approval. However, their real fear was that they saw him as promotable, which was not a fear of mine. Oh, that green-eyed monster! Soon, the nasty comments turned into rumors about Sam. I listened to the rumors, and I admit I enjoyed some of the salacious stories, but I did not repeat them. I berated myself about the sins of commission versus the sins of omission but did not leap to Sam's defense.
One time after Inventory we were all told to meet in the conference room and we all knew it was to be a "Come To Jesus" moment! The Manufacturing Manager started to speak about the vile rumors being circulated throughout the plant on all shifts and it had come to his attention that members of management were involved in spreading the rumors. Several of the Supervisors were looking at their feet and others making sidelong glances at others and everyone was definitely uncomfortable as the boss said that if he found out who was spreading such tales they would be terminated. He ended his furious speech by asking if there were any comments or questions.
Only Sam raised his hand. The Manager, along with all assembled, looked stunned because every person in that room knew he'd been talking about Sam. Sam said that he had only been with the Company a short time, but in that time he'd never heard anything bad said about anybody and that the stories must be coming from the hourly workers because he knew it couldn't be coming from management people!
His magnanimity was so amazing that, at that moment, I vowed to myself that in the future, I would contradict any negative thing ever said about Sam.
Months later, the Blizzard struck and Gerald came in the Scout to rescue me at work. Sam could not get home to Chillicothe and he asked Gerald to take him to a motel. I said, "We have an extra room; you can come home with us and you can probably wear some of Gerald's clothes or I can wash yours!" I was surprised that Sam accepted. He was with us for three days and the Sheriff's Department called to ask if Gerald was the Raypole with a 4-Wheel Drive vehicle because they wanted him to volunteer to help. I told them he was already out helping my brother who was in the National Guard. Sam was out with Gerald helping. Every time they would return home Sam would ask to use the phone to call his wife and kids and I could hear him talking to them. In those three days I really got to know Sam and learned what a wonderful family man he was. My mother, who we characterized as NOT liking anybody, said, "I like THAT guy!"
The last evening he was there, we were alone, sitting around the fireplace and I asked, "Sam, you remember when we had the meeting about the rumors about a Supervisor?" He smiled and responded, "Yeah, why?" I asked, "Did you know Joe was talking about you?" He laughed and said, "Of course I did!" I asked, "Then why did you say those nice things?" He answered, "I wanted them to feel even WORSE than they already did!" Although I had never felt complicit, I told him I had always felt guilty. He said, "Oh, Hell, I knew you were fighting your own battles; if they weren't beating up on me, it was you!"
He said, "All I want is to come to work, do a good job and go home and be with my family." I said, "Then there's a pair of us--don't tell, they'd banish us you know." He looked quizzical and I said, "It's a poem by Emily Dickinson."
He said, "You know, I'm not educated and I keep to myself because I don't want others to know that." I said, "But everyone is envious of your self-confidence and ability." He said, "That's why I keep to myself because ability is all that I have and I don't need others to know that I'm not educated like they are!" I told him the quote: "Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." He said, "That's good, who said it?" I said, "It's been attributed to Abe Lincoln, George Eliot, and Mark Twain in different forms." He said, "Write it down for me."
I said, "Sam, they are all scared of you because they know that you are superior to them!" I continued, "You haven't even been here a year and they're all scared that if somebody retires, you'll get the promotion!" He said, "You're kidding; I'll never get off a Corrugator!" I said, "You should start college; the Company pays 75% tuition!" He said, "I've got four kids and a wife." I said, "Well, you can take a few hours at a time. You got your crew off overtime; you should have plenty of time now!"
After the Blizzard, when we would be doing Inventory, we would talk a great deal and he would always ask for a new quote. I'd told him about a guy at The New York Times who was called "Quote Boy" and Sam began calling me "Quote Girl". The others would see us chatting and they would oftentimes ask me questions about Sam but I always kept his confidence. I would always answer, "Ask Sam if you want to know something about him." I also noticed the coolness toward me after I quit being a "participant" against Sam.
Sam never went to college and he eventually left the Company for the same kind of job with another Company making much more money. We exchanged Christmas cards for a few years and then I lost contact. I clicked on Facebook recently and found his wife and learned of his death. She said, "Sam always called you Quote Girl; he kept a list of your quotes." I was glad it was a telephone conversation as I would have been embarrassed for her to see the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat.
He is still one of the people I have most admired in my work life. I wish I had told him, but I think he knew.
For my friend Sam from his Quote Girl
I'M NOBODY! WHO ARE YOU?
By Emily Dickinson
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!