A nineteen year old, newly married Saline County girl drives her red Oldsmobile Cutlass to a job interview in a former church building on Kavanaugh Blvd in Little Rock, just a few blocks north of War Memorial Stadium. The beginning of one of my fictional stories? No. The day that changed my life forever.
To put this in perspective, this mostly windowless building housed the Office of Personnel Management, a division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, and this story occurred in the spring of 1977, just a few months before Elvis died.
Computers were still a science fiction dream in those days. They were mostly housed at NASA, and took up a whole room. We did have electric calculators with rolls of white paper that piled up on our desks as we added columns of figures in an effort to make sure everything in our sight was balanced.
One of the most important functions of the employees in that building was to approve the payroll every two weeks for the thousands of workers employed by the State of Arkansas. This involved someone from each agency carrying stacks of paperwork and actual checks from one place to another, collecting signatures and stamps of approval. One very famous incident occurred in the elevator shaft when a trusted employee lost his grip on the precious papers, which slid into the gap between the elevator and the third floor landing, and went all the way down to the bottom. That brought progress to a clunky, damp halt for awhile. Of course, due to the dedication and hard work of all involved, those employees were paid on time anyway.
My specific role involved opening mail to begin the process of accounting for health insurance premiums deducted from the paychecks of State employees. I was the backup typist in the office as well, and although I believe there was one photo-copier on another floor, carbon paper was still the preferred method for producing more than one copy of correspondence. An indelible memory involves a green felt-tip marker that my boss used to mark up a letter she had dictated. That wouldn’t have been unusual except for the pronouncement at the end: “No, I think it was fine just like it was.” No problem, just stick another triple-decker carbon paper sandwich back in the IBM Selectric and start again, right?
Fast forward over thirty years to the tenth floor of another repurposed building, a former bank with expansive views of rooftops and parking decks. Here, I helped train the people who process the payroll for their agency’s employees. Their job mostly involves reviewing the work done by other employees in their division, running reports to be sure that every hour worked by every employee is properly accounted for. Then, they push the right buttons to be sure that money is transferred to the bank accounts of those employees in time for an ATM withdrawal to finance the weekend’s activities, and to enable transfers and online payments to take care of household bills. Paper paychecks, green felt-tipped markers and IBM Selectrics are all dim memories.
One of my proudest moments was when we traveled to the Headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind. My friends and I were chosen to prove our agency’s commitment to making sure that everyone who wanted to work for the State of Arkansas would be able to take advantage of the latest technology to perform their daily job. We represented all of the hard-working analysts and programmers back in Arkansas who took their work very seriously. I believe that the folks in Baltimore recognized this, and we all came away with the feeling that we could make things easier for all workers, regardless of physical limitations.
Imagine how excited that nineteen year old young lady would have been to hear where her career would end up.
Today at a retirement party, with hugs from her friends and family, she stands ready to take a new leap of faith. With all of the knowledge and confidence they have given her over the years, how can she fail? With God providing the wind beneath her wings, she’ll soar to all sorts of new adventures. The story is getting more and more exciting!