I think George was an old man the day I was born. Gray haired and grumpy would describe him. He kind of kept to himself and it was obvious that he didn’t have many friends.
I was in my late twenties when the corporation I worked for promoted me to my first supervisory position. I was transferred from Baltimore to Houston to become the Supervisor of Customer Service. This role encompassed the order processing functions as well as the warehouse, inventory control, and trucking. And it was also the catch-all position for switchboard, freight claims, and building maintenance. George was my freight claims guy.
I didn’t know what to make of George at first. His crusty attitude had a way of turning people off and he was very defensive when challenged. It took me a while of working with him to start to see another person.
I don’t know when I realized that a large part of George’s attitude stemmed from the way others treated him. I began to suspect it was defensive. So I began giving him some attention, complimenting him on his ability to collect on outstanding freight claims. I once heard him on the phone with a railroad saying “You promise!! My desk is covered with promises”. To work on the esteem thing, I put him in charge of the office supplies which turned out to be a bittersweet proposition. George rose to the challenge and soon my office was full of people complaining that they couldn’t get any office supplies from George. I went to investigate the problem and found that George was being “frugal”. If a person needed a new ballpoint pen, George would require that they return the old one which he would hold up to the light and check the barrel to assure it was out of ink. I encouraged him to lighten up a bit, and soon the groundswell of descent subsided.
Over time, I began to notice a change in George. He was a little more pleasant to be around, and I even heard him laugh a few times. I would make a point of kidding him to which he responded well, even seeming to enjoy it.
In my office, as part of the decor, I had a geranium that looked like it had come there to die. One day, as I was preparing to throw it out, George asked if he could have it. I gratefully gave it to him and forgot about it. Two months later, George returned this gorgeous plant in full bloom. I thought he had bought it, but no, it was the one I had given him. Turns out that George had a very green thumb. I used that to my advantage one time when our office decided to hold a plant sale to raise money for an employee function. I put George in charge. He had friends in the business so to speak. Prior to the sale, George arrived at the office with several trays of African Violets in multiple varieties and colors. The employees were fascinated and had all kinds of questions, all of which George was able to answer. For the first time, I think people began to meet the George I had come to know. After the sale, from time to time, I would see one of the ladies in the office sneak a sickly plant in and give it to “Dr George” who would ultimately save it from extinction.
I worked with George for seven years until, due to consolidation, the office was closed and George chose to retire. We had a large employee party before people started leaving. George and his wife Edna attended. It was the first function he had ever come to.
For a few years after I moved on to other jobs in other states, I would get a Christmas card from George every year, usually with a little packet of seeds and his hand written instructions for their care and feeding, and I would always send a card in return. In one such greeting, he told me I had been “his favorite boss”. That meant a lot.
One year, the cards stopped coming. I knew why without having to ask. I was sure George had gone on to plant another seed.