Strong Women: Phyllis And The Work Ethic

When I was in high school, I had three jobs at the same time.  A drug store clerk, a cashier at Burger King and my own business microfilming legal documents. You might think that was crazy but I was just following in my mom’s footsteps. 

Phyllis was the hardest worker I have ever known.  No matter how miserable her boss made her, how mundane the task or how ridiculous the office politics, my mom got the job done.  She worked as an assistant county clerk in charge of voter registration for one of the fastest growing counties in Colorado. She taught me data entry at age 15 in her office and we spent hours on Saturday morning at those terminals side by side putting in names and addresses. I was impressed by how her fingers flew, easily inputting five for every one I did, and how thoroughly she proofed our work because “a job that is half done isn’t done.” No one in that office was aware of how much work she did on those weekends and when she left, her poor successor was overwhelmed.

In the world according to Phyllis, you honor your commitments and do your best no matter what. So when my manager at Burger King revoked a vacation day I was previously approved for, I was livid but felt trapped by responsibility. 

The Who were headlining an all-day concert in Boulder and my best friend and I already bought the tickets. That summer was filled with sunning ourselves with cocoa butter, listening to music and saving money for the start of college in the fall.  Being 18, I was one of the more senior employees at BK and always offered to pick up extra late night drive-through shifts, which was the worst gig, dealing with silly stoners and flirty creeps. One night, a man pulled up to the window to pick up Whoppers with two friends. This carload of dirtbags joked that I should go out with them that night, grabbing my arm and pulling me halfway out the window, before my co-workers came running. 

So yeah, Mike the night manager at BK owed me. Instead he told me a concert wasn’t a good enough reason for vacation and that other people really needed the time off. 

At the dinner table that night, Mom listened to me complain but I had no hope that she would be sympathetic. Waiting for the “tough it out” speech or the one on “not shirking my responsibilities”, I was startled when she took my hand in hers to get my attention.  Phyllis had these amazing hazel eyes that were green and brown with flecks of amber that could draw you in when she was being serious.

“Honey, I know you work hard, but trust me on this one thing. You will never need Burger King on your resume. Time to quit.  Go, enjoy your summer.”

The sense of freedom in that moment was amazing. Quitting that job had not been an option until she said those words. Even today, when work drags me down, I think of Mom in that moment and remind myself jokingly, “Do I really need Burger King on my resume?”

To Phyllis, hard work wasn’t about the job. It was about the effort you gave, even if the only people who recognize it are you and your mother. 

Thanks, Phyllis, for all your hard work through the years.  We miss you and love you every day.


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