Palfrey’s was abuzz that Friday. Frank Palfrey was making an announcement, and everyone sensed it was something big. He’d scheduled a meeting of the board of directors for two that afternoon, and they were all jittery. A few stopped by my desk to find out what I knew.
First came Gord Crandall, self-styled ladies’ man. He referred to all female employees under 40 as “Gorgeous,” “Babe” or “Doll. I still wonder if he actually knew any of their names.
I looked up as he approached my desk. “What can I do for you, Mr. Crandall?”
“Hey, gorgeous, has your husband ever told you what a knockout you are?”
Unimpressed, I returned to my typing. When I didn’t respond to his tasteless flattery, he leaned down and stuck his face in my ear, his hand performing an unwanted massage of my shoulder. “Help me out here, sweetheart,” he whispered. “What’s the lowdown on this meeting?”
I didn’t miss a keystroke. “I guess you’ll find out at two, Mr. Crandall.”
Bert Adley slipped in a few minutes later, winked, and shoved a box of chocolates at me like he was making a drop in some B-grade spy flick. I had to fake a cough to mask an involuntary titter. I slid the box into my desk drawer without comment and picked up the phone. He opened then closed his mouth and slipped back out.
The next interruption came in the form of Harry Saxon. “C’mon, Gerda,” he whined. “You must know something!” Harv was an eight-year-old in a man’s suit. It was time for my stern voice. “You’ll have to find out at the meeting like everyone else, Mr. Saxon. Now if you don’t mind, I’m rather busy.” I turned back to the papers on my desk and thumbed through them purposefully.
Cal Perkins was the last of my visitors. He was the oldest and wisest director of the lot, and I adored him. He sat down in the chair beside me, reached over, smiling, and patted my hand. “Don’t you worry, Gerda; everything is going to work out just fine.” I looked over at him and smiled back.
I’d been with Palfrey’s for nearly 15 years – 10 of those as the president’s secretary. Raymond Palfrey had hired me right out of secretarial school shortly after his son Frank joined the company. When young Ray had applied for a sales job at Crandall’s Office Supplies in 1919, it was a small family business. Ray Palfrey was such a good salesman that within a few years, he was able to buy the business.
Renamed Palfrey’s, the company prospered with Ray at the helm, surviving and even thriving during the next war. When the fighting was over, he steered the company back into peace time, hiring more workers as Palfrey’s expanded. Sadly, Ray Palfrey suffered a fatal heart attack just a few years later, and Frank suddenly found himself president.
Now, father and son were opposites in many ways. Frank was movie-star handsome; Ray looked more like a supporting actor. Frank was an introvert and lacked his father’s drive and charisma, and his grasp of the big picture. Visionary that he was, Ray was always thinking several years ahead. He worked out a plan so the company could advance even after his death. Well, Frank had been president for nearly two years now, and somehow, the company had indeed continued to grow.
And that’s where things stood as of Friday, September 12, 1952, when the company’s board of directors met to hear Frank Palfrey’s announcement. I noted with amusement that they were all at the table by 1:50 p.m., speculating on what Frank had to tell them.
I knocked gently on Frank’s door and stepped into his office. He stood gazing out the window at nothing. “You ready to head in?” I prompted.
He grinned. “I think I was ready years ago, Gerda. Let’s go!” I followed him out of the office and into the boardroom, closing the door behind me. Frank Palfrey took his place at the head of the table and I sat in a corner to take the minutes.
Frank rose to speak. “Good afternoon, Gentlemen. I’m sorry to have kept you in suspense and I promise to keep this brief.
“As you know, I joined Palfrey’s straight out of high school. My father believed that the best way to learn the business was to dive straight in. Gain experience in every part of the company. I’ve done just that for nearly 20 years, if you count the time I spent here as a kid. Why, I can’t remember ever not working here.”
He took a long, slow breath. “Fellas, after many childless years, Mrs. Palfrey and I have decided to adopt. The prospect of fatherhood has given me a new perspective. Till now, I never actually realized I could choose a different path – or that I wanted to. We’ll have our baby girl a few weeks from now, and she’s where my passion lies. So here’s my announcement: Effective one month hence, I am resigning as company president."
At this point in Frank’s speech, the board members’ voices erupted into a jumble of incoherent sounds. Frank put up his hands to calm his audience and continued.
“Gentlemen, it’s always been my father’s passion that’s driven this company – not mine. I finally dared to admit that to myself and now I’m doing something about it.
“But I wish to assure you that I am leaving Palfrey’s in capable hands. My father recognized years ago that I was not management material. So he trained someone to help me run the business – someone who possessed the same drive and savvy he did. Someone with a dream and a calling to take this company even further than he did. In fact, that person has kept this company on track since my father’s death. Gentlemen, I present to you the new president of Palfrey’s − my wife, Gerda Palfrey!”
I wish I’d had a camera to record the various reactions to Frank’s announcement. Most of the men did come round eventually, and those who couldn’t were left behind. Frank was a natural as a full-time father raising our daughter, who was followed by two boys. He related so well to children that he became a teacher when the kids were older. Me? I had the job I’d dreamed about since my first day at Palfrey’s. Next to enjoying my husband and kids, my favourite things in all the world were coaxing the best out of my employees – and reminding Gord Crandall that “Doll” is no one’s real name.