[This is an entry in my project to write something every day in the 100 days before my retirement, reflecting on my career and life]
When Do I Retire? In 93 Days
May 30, 2018
I’m starting today’s entry with a very big smile on my face thinking about my first “official”, full-time job. I realize now that it was an absolute dream job – especially for a 19-year old. I was hired as an Editorial Assistant (very fancy, lofty title) at a very small engineering consulting firm. Wait until you hear what they hired me to do. But first, some details for the record books.
I was going to school at Willis Business College, located at 151 Slater Street in Ottawa. Willis was on the ground floor of a 12-storey office tower. I was enrolled in a 9-month Executive Secretary course. My days were spent in classes improving my typing speed (90 words a minute on a manual typewriter), honing my shorthand skills (120 wpm with no errors), learning how to compose a business letter and where to place an address on a No. 10 envelope, how to use a Gestetner machine (look it up on Google), how to serve coffee to an executive (yes, I did!), learning etiquette (never sit on the corner of anyone’s desk), and all sorts of other interesting things.
I completed the course curriculum in five months and the school didn’t know what to do with me except put me at the front desk to work for them, answering phones. And one day, the beautiful Grace Sutherland walked into the school. As the school’s Receptionist I greeted her and asked if I could help.
Grace told me she worked in the building and her company was looking to hire a new employee. Requirements: shorthand, typing, Gestetner, etc. I immediately put my hand up and started the next week. (Note that Willis Business College reluctantly “let” me take the job; after all I was still a full-time student. Needless to say, I won thatargument and “graduated” three months later.)
Grace worked for E.L. Littlejohn & Associates Ltd. This firm consisted of Mr. Littlejohn (an engineer whose claim to fame was his work on the patent for the green garbage bag which he had to sign over to the company he was working for, I believe it was DuPont or some other large company), Grace, the office manager, and Brian Wrangham, an editor. The firm had many engineering companies as clients and Mr. Littlejohn was a lobbyist and consultant for these firms. The company produced regular newsletters for his clients.
My job? To attend every day at the House of Commons at 3:00 p.m. sharp, for Question & Answer Period. If anything was mentioned by the Members of Parliament that might be relevant to our clients, I was to report back to Messrs. Littlejohn and Wrangham.
“What would be considered relevant?” I remember asking Mr. Wrangham, a snotty, uppity British guy who was in my mind, unemployable anywhere other than at E.L. Littlejohn. He proceeded to give me a long list of things to “listen” for, including energy issues (this was the ‘70s after all), infrastructure promises (yes, I had to ask for a definition of infrastructure), environmental discussions, etc. Remember, this is in the days before live TV broadcasts from the House.
So, off I went to the House of Commons, four blocks from my office. I reported to the Security Desk where I was met by a Security Guard and escorted to the public gallery. (Ahead of time I had memorized the House seating plan, in order to identify which Members of Parliament were in each seat just in case I didn’t understand the Speaker’s introductions.)
I would sit in the gallery and listen to the ‘goings-on’ and if there was something reportable, I would literally run back to the office at the end of Question Period with the information. Why did I run? Because, as a visitor in the Public Gallery, I was not allowed to have pen and paper to take notes. So I had to memorize or try and remember what was said. When I arrived back at the office, somewhat breathless, I would write down what I had learned. Mr. Wrangham would edit it and then I would type the information out on a Telex machine (look it up on Google) and we would send the report out to clients.
After several weeks of watching me sprint out of the House of Commons down the stone steps to race back to the office, the Head of Security at the House of Commons stopped me and asked why I was always running. I explained the situation and he pulled out a binder from his desk drawer, filled in a form, had me sign it, and as easy as “Bob’s Your Uncle,” I was given a pass to the Press Gallery. Where I could actually take notes, and act like a big shot.
This job had so many extraordinary aspects to it and I was so thankful to have it. What other 19-year old was lucky enough to have an introduction to the Parliamentary workings and got to see first-hand, our elected officials in action (all acting like babies and spoiled children)? What other 19-year old got invited in to Senator Keith Davey’s office to talk Maple Leafs’ hockey one day? What other 19-year old got to be David Suzuki’s handler at a company-sponsored event? The list of positives from my first regular, full-time job were numerous and I enjoyed every single minute of it.