I had a chance to catch up with an old friend this weekend whose retirement party I unfortunately couldn’t attend . He was a senior partner in a law firm .
He told me a story which I want to share here . This happened some 35 years or so ago when he was just hired .
As he walked into the office, he saw that all the partners were in a conference room with a very serious look on their faces . After an hour or so they called the office manager – a middle aged woman who had spent all her career in that firm – inside . She came back with a big file in her hand – and she was crying . She left office almost immediately , still crying . His first thought was that she was fired !
He ran into her at the train station that weekend and she told him what had happened . He bought her and her kids some ice cream and she explained the reason why she was crying that day .
She had an abusive stay at home husband who was blaming her for all his problems, and she couldn’t afford a divorce . Apparently one of the partners came to know about this from his secretary and he called everyone else into this meeting . At the end of it – all of them wrote personal checks of $1000 each (which was a lot of money at that time) for her , and gave it to her saying “You gave your whole life to this firm and you are family for us . We have this covered and we will represent you in your divorce case etc . Go take your kids on a vacation for a couple of weeks and come back and we will figure out what’s next”.
Some years passed and my friend was nearing his own partnership at the firm . The trouble was that while he was good at his job – he just didn’t get the kind of visibility to the three senior partners . He went to this lady for some advice – by then she was supporting one of the senior partners as his secretary .
She pretty much coached him through the process – including apparently what to wear , what restaurants to eat, what jokes to crack and so on . She also helped him get some opportunities to be part of important work that got him the right attention . In two years he made partner .
She retired soon after – and at her farewell party, she told his fiancé (and now wife ) “I will never forget your boy friend buying ice cream for my daughters as we waited for the train – it’s the nicest thing anyone had done to them till then”.