"My dad," Paul said. His father, Sam, worked 33 years as a middle manager for a surgical instrument manufacturer. Sam loved his job, and the people he worked with absolutely adored him. "In those days," Paul told me, "nobody worried about things like sexual harassment." So Sam, to spark morale, might walk up to the lady in shipping or the gal in bookkeeping, put his arm around her and say, "Hey, hon, how's it goin'?" This handsome man with his megawatt smile infected everybody with his joy and optimism. His co-workers referred to Sam as the company's unofficial "mayor."
One day, the owner sold the company. The new buyer escorted Sam to his office, gave him two hours to pack up, and showed him the door, telling him to take his comfortable, middle-management salary with him.
Crushed, Sam tried to find a job that paid enough to maintain his family's lifestyle. No luck. After exhausting all possibilities of finding a position with a comparable salary and status, he finally accepted, at less than half the pay, a job operating a tollbooth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike -- tollbooth No. 6.
Sam, though, never felt sorry for himself, and resolved to put as much energy and enthusiasm into toll-taking as he did at his former manufacturing firm. Pretty soon, Philadelphia commuters, though weary from a full day's work, queued up at Sam's tollbooth to pay their tolls, even though the booths to the left and the right had shorter, if not empty, lines. "But at my dad's tollbooth," Paul told me, "the line stretched six to eight cars deep. I kid you not."
Why would tired workers wait at Sam's booth, when they could scoot through a shorter line, save time and get home faster? "Because my dad flashed the same smile he used at his manufacturing firm," said Paul. "He always said something funny to each of the drivers, often remembering their names. Commuters preferred to spend a few minutes with my dad, even though it meant getting home a little later. Like I said, I kid you not."
Every day in America, ordinary people show up and perform with a sense of duty, honor and responsibility. They live up to their commitments, doing what needs to be done with dignity, pride and without self-pity. Quiet, selfless, unheralded heroes -- all around us.
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