When I began working as a Pharmacy Tech at University Hospital, I was told I needed to buy a lab coat. At that time, even minor expenses could be challenging. My manager, Isaac “Ike” Henderson, sensed the need, and gave me one of his worn coats, which was too big for me, but covered the requirement. Ike was a good friend and mentor over the five years I worked with him.
An orthodox Jew, Ike taught me all about Jewish traditions, including dietary requirements in keeping kosher. He was a member of Adas Yeshurun synagogue on Johns Road and walked to services on the sabbath, no matter what the weather. Ike was not permitted, he told me, to carry anything with him on Sabbath, and “wore” his apartment door key, which had been adapted as a tie clasp. He would volunteer to work on Christmas so others in the Pharmacy could celebrate the birth of Christ. When I desired to go to law school but couldn’t qualify for a loan with the hospital credit union, Ike freely co-signed for me.
Ike was about the same age as my father, and when he decided to retire, the Chief Pharmacist, Jack Liebowitz, asked me if I would be interested in filling Ike’s position as buyer for the Pharmacy. At that time, I had reached five years of service, with law school behind me, yet no plans, so I said yes to Jack, and prepared to work as the pharmacy buyer. Just a few days after I said yes, I got another call from Jack, who said that Ike changed his mind, and wanted to continue working as buyer for a time. Jack asked if I would reconsider, no pressure, and I just couldn’t say no to my good friend who had helped and encouraged me. Ike would return to his former job, and the buyer opportunity slipped away.
It was then that I had an impromptu lunch with the pharmacy secretary, Izzy, who introduced me to the University Hospital employment manager, Adrianne. About to leave University for another job, Adrianne asked if I might be interested in an interviewer job in the Personnel department. I would meet with prospective new hires and explain employee benefits to them. Becoming an interviewer meant a promotion with a pay increase, and I said yes, not completely understanding what was involved with the transfer to Personnel. I left the Pharmacy Tech job, this time for good, and started my new position in Personnel, being directed my first day to sit at the front desk, sharpening pencils and greeting job applicants. My heart sank as I wondered if I would ever get my career on a solid trajectory.
In 1980, the Personnel profession was limited to hiring, firing, along with managing pay and benefits programs and maintaining paper records. The idea of Personnel, soon to become “Human Resources”, as being focused on attracting and retaining talent geared to driving organization success, was yet to be realized. Early on, though, I could see the connections.
I met the new Personnel Director, Bill Jenkins, who quickly asked about my law degree, and shared that there had been a spike in employment discrimination complaints, and he needed help in addressing these with the newly formed Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission, who was making the inquiries. This piqued my interest, as I loved to write, and had a decent knowledge of civil rights laws. I readily offered my assistance to Bill.
My family and friends were underwhelmed by a future in Personnel. What a waste of your education, I would hear. I prayed for guidance, yet remained at peace at my core, confident that all would be revealed in due course.
From sharpening pencils to becoming Director of Personnel and being appointed to the Human Relations Commission along the way – more to come, including Stephanie and I being blessed with lots of new babies!
Have a Blessed Week!