February 25, 2014

When Ma Bell called, I didn’t answer

     Friends hear me joke, “I’m not working a day past 90.”  And that’d be all right, if I have my mind and body to cooperate.  I enjoy balancing work and play.
     But I could be retired and playing fulltime, if I had chosen another path.  Several of my college classmates answered the call from Ma Bell.  They went straight from The University of Georgia to Southern Bell, and they’ve been cashing retirement checks for the last 10 years.  A few of the gray-headed retirees have pushed out of their rocking chairs and started second careers.
     You had to know Jasper Dorsey, the leader of Georgia’s Southern Bell operations, to appreciate his charisma.  He was bigger than life.  I met him my sophomore year at UGA.  And if he was your friend, you were one lucky college kid.  You couldn’t have a better cheerleader in your corner.
     Jasper was genuine in his mentoring, but he was also wise—and effective—in recruiting talent to his statewide organization.  Southern Bell was one of the state’s best corporate citizens, and a solid career path for young graduates.  I got calls, letters and visits from Jasper Dorsey during my sophomore, junior and senior years.  He really wanted me to join his team.

     I was polite, but I never made any promises.  Working for someone else wasn’t one of my ambitions.  I had friends who had joined Southern Bell, and they barely got unpacked in one town before they were transferred to another.  If your goal was to get to the corporate office in Atlanta, you could count on more than a half-dozen moves.  I didn’t see that for me or my family.
     Besides, my dreams never included an address in Atlanta.  I love that city, but I wanted my roots sunk into rural Georgia.  That’s where I planned to live and work, running my own company.  Still, the overtures came from Ma Bell in 1968, 1969 and 1970. 
     Jasper never pressured me—personally—but with one last appeal, he sent a recruiter during my final month in Athens.  The gentleman said, “Mr. Dorsey really wants you to join Southern Bell.  You’ll have a great career.”  
Jasper Dorsey was a true Southern gentleman, and he “forgave” me for not joining Southern Bell.  
We remained friends until he died in 1990.  Jasper had a great sense of humor.  When I became a 
newspaper publisher, he awarded me with this “degree” from the Electoral College of 
Behavioral Sciences .  The diploma states:  “Be it known to all men present that Dink NeSmith 
is hereby awarded the degree of Doctor of Euthanasia for his loving attention to the 
ANIMAL POLITICUS.  With tenderness and feeling he has sheltered some, fed and fattened a 
few and mercifully eliminated the rest.”  When some visitors see it hanging on my office wall, 
they remark, “I didn’t know you had a doctorate.”  As  I smile, I can hear Jasper chuckling.
     “Thanks, but no thanks,” I said.  My visitor’s face dropped.  Not wanting to give up, he pleaded, “Well, please just take this recruiting test, in case you change your mind.  It’ll only take an hour.”
     I agreed, but I just had 15 minutes to complete the answers on test day.  My heart wasn’t in it either, so I wasn’t surprised to get a call the next week.  The chagrined recruiter asked, “Were you not feeling well when you took the test?”  
     “Actually, I was,” I said.  “But I only had a few minutes to race through the answers.”  
     “Would you be willing to take the test again?”    he asked.  I could tell he hated to hang up when I said, “No.”
     Now, when I see my Ma Bell retiree buddies, I laugh and say, “Yeah, I am gray-headed just like you.  And if I were smarter and could have passed the test, I’d be retired, too.”
     But probably not.