This is the story of another most important person in my life.
Because I choose not to reveal the real names of the characters included in this story, please refer to the Definitions List below to understand each person’s role in this mostly true story.
- DOFUS—The project engineer for this project. EE and ME reported to DOFUS
- EE—The engineer in charge of the electrical engineering and design group
- ME—Refers to me. I was assigned to the instrument engineering and design group
- PA—The purchasing agent assigned to this project
- PM—The project manager over this project. DOFUS reported to PM
I am going back to a time long ago and far away when I worked in another office of misfit engineers and designers. Since I am going back there, I will take all who read this story with me.
Setup: I was the lead for the instrument engineering and design group for this project. To say the least, it was a difficult project. We were designing an industrial manufacturing plant that would be built in another state. No matter how hard we tried, we could not keep up with the schedule, and we were always over budget. Both factors are job killers for managers, and for this project that included ME.
Early on a Monday morning, DOFUS called EE and ME into his office. The first words out of DOFUS’ mouth was, “I am going to give you two guys a secretary.”
“Why?” I asked. Since I had never had a secretary working for me in my life, and I always wondered why DOFUS did what he did, I was more than a little suspicious.
DOFUS said, “Well, she has been working for PA, and she can’t do anything. She is always late getting his work done. She can’t type a simple memo. She can’t do anything a secretary should be able to do. We want to fire her, but PA is way too busy to document her problems. We want you two guys to take her with you, watch her, and record all of her issues so that we can get rid of her.”
“Whose budget will she be on?” I asked, knowing I did not have any money to pay for a secretary.
“She is on PM’s budget,” DOFUS responded. “He hired her. He knew her and wanted to help her.”
“Does she have a computer?” I asked. Computers were scarce in those days and our group of eighteen engineers and designers had to share the ten that were assigned to us. I didn’t believe a secretary would be of much value to our group, but an eleventh computer would certainly help us.
“She comes with a computer,” DOFUS responded. “You guys set-up a place for her and we will move her tomorrow.”
EE and I left DOFUS’ office and headed back to ours.
EE said, “It should not take long to gather enough information for them to fire her.”
I responded, “EE, I have never had a secretary, and I am not about to work to get my first one fired. I want to see if she can be of any value for us,” I said.
“You take her then,” EE said. “I don’t need the hassle right now anyway.”
And, that is how I became the only discipline lead to ever have my own secretary.
What follows is as Paul Harvey would say, “The Rest of the Story.”
The first thing I did when I got back to my office was to call a meeting to tell our group about her.
I said something like, “Good morning team. Tomorrow, we are getting our own secretary, assigned only to the instrument group. DOFUS told me that she cannot do anything, he wants us to gather information, so they can fire her. I won’t do that. She has been working for PA. He is very demanding and can be very tough on the people working for him. I want you guys to get to know her, find out what she can do, and see if she can do anything of value for us. If nothing else, she comes with her own computer, and we can use her computer to share with our group.”
When I met her, she was very nice but seemed a little stressed. She told me that she was a widow and that things had been tough for her lately. She was grateful to PM for hiring her. She did mention that she had difficulty keeping up with PA.
I told her our group would be less demanding and should be a whole lot less stressful than her previous assignment. I told her I wrote my own memos and communications, and that all she had to do was to make copies and distribute them to the recipients, and that I would do what I could to make her job easier, and that I would help her fit-in.
Just a day or two later, one of the engineers came into my office, “Our secretary is great. She does everything that we ask of her. Did you know she has written a book?”
“Written a book?” I asked.
“Yes, ask her about it.” He said.
I did ask her about the book. She explained, her name was not the most prominent on the book, but she wrote most of it, edited all of it, and prepared it for publication.
It was not difficult to find the book in print. Albertson’s, our local grocery store, had a copy on a shelf with magazines and other books. The title of the book, “Mobile” in huge letters across the front of the brilliant glossy cover caught my eye. I bought it and reviewed it that night. “Mobile” told the story of business in our city. Three authors were listed, and my secretary’s photo was on the inside flap.
At our group meeting the next day, I looked at my secretary and said to the group, “We have a celebrity in our midst,” as I pulled out the book and showed it to them. “Our secretary is a published author. I am going to pass this book around for you all to see.”
Every person ooh’d and aaah’d about the book, and our secretary beamed. You could tell we had touched a nerve with her, a good nerve, and her heart.
Our working relationship only improved over the next few months.
I liked having someone who could help our team complete our work, especially when she did not count against my budget. The rest of the team worked with her and shared the use of her computer.
Personally, she helped me with my writing. My reports, memos, requests for quotes, and other project specific writing all improved.
Initially, she only made copies of my memos and issued them. One day she asked me if I would mind if she reviewed my memos. She promised to never change the meaning of anything I wrote, she would only look for ways to improve my writing.
I discovered she had a Master’s in English. She eagerly shared her knowledge of composition to help me improve mine.
She told me once, “You are a good writer, strong and decisive, and I enjoy reading your work.”
To say that our group fell in love with our secretary was an understatement.
From the first day she started with us until her last, she performed flawlessly. She was such a pleasure for me to work with.
After about three months, she came to me and said, “I have been offered a job that I really would like to take, but I like working for you and in this group. The job would provide for me a place to live, and that would be good. I do not know if I am going to take it. Please, give me your opinion.”
I looked her in the eye and responded, “I have never had a secretary assigned to me. This project will end soon, and this group will be split up and be reassigned to other projects. You will be laid-off or assigned to another person to work for, and we do not know who that will be. If this job offer is something that would be good for you, please, take it. I appreciate all you have done for us and me specifically.”
That quickly, I was returned to the real world of performing my own secretarial duties. I take no credit for helping my secretary fit-in and survive the tough world of industrial engineering. The group of people I work with made life easy for me and all who worked with us.
DOFUS never did ask what was taking so long for me to get information to fire my secretary, and it was good that he didn’t. We had too many other issues that I disagreed with him on, and it would have not been good for him to challenge me on this one.
I thank God for sending a teacher to me, to inspire me, if only for three months. Having this secretary was a life changing experience for me. I will never forget you.
Wayne Brady 6/1/2018