Timeline Story: 4. Putting a Love of Words and Writing to Work

This is the fourth post in a series sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing life to the present. The first post is found at this link, second here, and the third here.

As I shared last time, I became ill my sophomore year of college, was sent home early second semester, and did not return that year. The longer I spent at home with Mama the stronger her claim on me became, and before I knew it, she had convinced me not to return at all. I use the word “convince” lightly here as I wanted to finish college, but I didn’t want to fight any more battles. My sites were set on becoming independent and moving on and out.

Once my doctor had released me to work, I fell back on my days as a Kelly Girl. For those of you in a later generation, Kelly Girl was founded in 1946 by Russell Kelly as a typing service. Kelly’s service picked up typing and completed it in his own office facilities. One day a client called and requested a secretary to cover for his absent secretary. Russ Kelly offered his own secretary for the day, and thus Kelly Girl had its beginning. Today the company operates under the name “Kelly Services.” You can read more of the Kelly story here.

While filling a number of assignments for Kelly Girl, I kept my eye on the classifieds in the Nashville Banner and Nashville Tennessean. One Sunday afternoon, my eyes fell on an ad placed by Vanderbilt University Medical School for secretarial assistance in its Department of Anatomy. Offering some upward mobility and a decent salary for the day, plus benefits, I applied.

It wasn’t too long before a call came for an interview. I met with the department chair’s administrative assistant, Margaret, for my interview and shorthand and typing tests. There is no way to know how many others applied or what my scores were, but by the time I arrived back home, Margaret was on the phone with a job offer. I began work as a secretary to the Chair and Assistant Chair of the department as well as a cover for Margaret when she was away on vacation or for other reasons. I was excited because the position included grant writing, editing and proofing of non-medical graduate students’ theses, as well as writing assistance for the faculty submissions to various journals.

I will never forget my first day of work. Walking into the entrance shown here, I felt as though my feet were not making contact with the ground.

I have many fond memories of my time with these amazing people. Chairman Jack Davies from Wales made life in the office a delightful part of the day. His sense of humor in the classroom, the labs, the research areas, and in the office area was known all over campus, not just the medical school.

Harry Ward, the Assistant Chair of the department, was the direct opposite–studious to a fault, staid in his demeanor. Dr. Ward likely had 50% of the first-year medical students frightened of him, and many others under his supervision. At heart, he was a gentle giant.

Surprisingly, I was given a good measure of freedom in my writing once I got down the intricacies of grant writing, and I enjoyed assisting the non-medical grad students with their theses. My work for them wasn’t covered under my salary, but they made up for it with some lovely gifts and invitations to their family homes for celebrations.

All in all, for a first job, this was the place for a word nerd who loved learning new words, medical terminology, and research labels to settle in for a few years. However, while typing up a grant application one day, I noted that my position had been written out due to a lack of research funding from the NIH. A lack of research funding meant that over 90% of my salary was gone and nowhere else was available for making up that loss.

I knew then I needed to rub the press ink from the classifieds off onto my fingers once again and hunt for something else to do to earn a living. Back to square one perhaps.

UP NEXT: The next installment shuffles me through other medical positions and on into the legal community, where I believe my writing took off.

12 thoughts on “Timeline Story: 4. Putting a Love of Words and Writing to Work

  1. Working at a university, in almost any capacity, offers so many benefits. So glad this job offered you the chance to develop your interests and skills, launching you on your productive journey. Love seeing the vintage picture of the building — and imagining you on your first day at work, walking on air!

  2. In NYC I applied for Kelly girls and never was accepted. I wonder why lol. I did work for Manpower and Olsten who were less picky. I am writing about my first job in my almost completed second memoir. I can relate to a lot of your story. Aloha friend

    1. Marilyn, don’t feel bad you were never accepted. Manpower and Olsten were present in Nashville at that time too, and I eventually did some assignments for Manpower but I never worked for Olsten. Aloha!

  3. With your sharp organizational skills, you were the perfect Kelly girl then – and look at you now, honing those same skills as a writer/memoirist. I didn’t do well on my first secretarial job; I kept cutting people off when I transferred calls, oy!

    1. Oy! Marian, what a way to get yourself out of the office. 🙂 I doubt that it was as bad as you make it sound. You are a quick, intelligent, well organized woman who’s writing up a storm for the rest of us to read.

  4. What an interesting way to start a writing career. Nowadays, you’d have to study/have a degree to do what you did in your first job. Again you remind me of what I did in my first office job in a New York pharmaceutical ad agency where I rewrote and edited poorly written medical newsletters. In those days, Kelly Girls often ended up as office managers or personal assistants.

  5. Sherrey, it’s so interesting to hear your backstory and all the factors that have shaped you into the wonderful writer you are today. And yes, I do remember “Kelly girls”. Looking forward to the next installment!

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