When everything goes wrong, remember Bernie Marcus

As a journalist I like to think I can spot a story.  Not just a news headline or a tease attention getter, but a story that pulls the reader or viewer in.  A story has a clear and hopefully universal connection engaging the intended audience.

Not all stories are news.  This blog is more on the story side of things.  It is my sincere hope sharing this tiny little story will reveal some basic truths about the way the world works.  It is my sincere belief there is a thread connecting experiences.  It may take some time to notice and we are often too busy to see it, but I believe it happens more than we know.

While most of my siblings and playmates in the neighborhood would play dolls, I would pretend to be a weather girl as a child.  Back in the day, before I started school, most journalists were men.  The women on the local network affiliates were doing the weather.  So, I pretended to be a weather girl using the straightest stick I could find.  If my younger brother and sister didn’t listen as intently as I thought they should, there might be a well-placed whack in their future from the handy weather pointer.  After a few whacks, I no longer had a pretend audience for my weather forecasts.  I was undeterred; I used a shorter stick for a pretend microphone and would interview my dolls.  They didn’t talk back and try to leave in the middle of a pretend broadcast.

The fall of 1964 interrupted my burgeoning broadcasting career because the stick had to be put away as I would start school.  I hit the books but never forgot my dreams of reporting and being a part of the small screen.   I took part in theatre, volunteered to read to the blind over the radio, did anything I could to prepare myself for becoming a story-teller on the tube.  I had abandoned the early hope of a career in meteorology because by the time I reached high-school the “weather girls” had morphed into serious meteorologists.  The study of meteorology requires solid math skills and third grade was the last grade I did not fear arithmetic.

I had the opportunity to be the announcing voice at the first “garden show” in my community when I was a junior in high school.  I jumped at the opportunity.  It was only two or three nights, but I would travel into the city and be announcing in the biggest civic center in my home state!   This was heady stuff for a teen-ager.  This announcing job at the garden show introduced me to the world of home improvement.  I began working at a now-defunct store named “Handy Dan”; a job I would work during high school and college until I landed my first reporting position at a small television station in 1980.  I worked almost full-time at “Handy Dan” while going to school full-time so I learned a lot in the classroom and on the aisles of the store.

I’ve been thinking about those “Handy Dan” days a lot this week.  A philanthropist and legendary entrepreneur came up in an editorial meeting at my office this week.  The business owner who was listed among the top charitable donors in the nation for his $200 million donation to the Georgia Aquarium is making small business news. So why would Bernie Marcus remind me of my high school and college days at Handy Dan?  You see, the retailer isn’t best known as one of the first home improvement chains.  It has another distinction.  Marcus and I were both employees of Handy Dan.  The defunct retailer is best known in the business world for firing Marcus.  The day after Handy Dan gave him a pink slip, Marcus put a plan into motion that led to the founding of “The Home Depot.”

So on days when it seems like nothing is going right on your job, remember Bernie Marcus.  If I get the opportunity to interview him, I hope he will remember me.  I can still recall some of my memorized announcements; “Good evening Handy Dan shoppers, the time is now 8:50 and all departments of your Handy Dan will be closing in ten minutes. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for shopping with us, and hope you will visit again soon.  Handy Dan will re-open……”

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