In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.
My mother, Gloria Walker, began her career working in retail sales at Camp Stewart (later Fort Stewart), a Georgia military base about an hour from Savannah. Camp Stewart was established in 1940 as an anti-aircraft artillery training center.
Somehow she must have survived what must have been a mass layoff of employees after the war. She transferred to Fort Dix in New Jersey. I was left behind with my grandmother in Savannah.
Gloria’s professional story is one of a meteoric rise through the ranks of retail sales and merchandising. After Fort Dix, her next step was to New York City to work in the headquarters of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). With the ultimate title of senior executive buyer, she was one of very few African American women executives in AAFES.
Gloria’s categories of buying ranged from automobile parts and accessories, women’s apparel, luggage to watches. But the area she most enjoyed was as a toy buyer. She often regaled me with stories of traveling on buying trips to toy company headquarters and factories. One year she flew me to New York and managed to slip me onto the toy fair floor with her credentials. She wanted me to see how she worked such a large and important event with thousands of people buying and selling toys, going from station to station introducing herself, shaking hands, asking questions and making appointments for future discussions with those companies that had products she would ultimately consider for her PX buys.
These were lessons I would carry with me throughout my work life as I made my own way through professional and personal relationships. Firm handshakes, looking people in the eye, doing enough homework in advance to ask the right questions. My mother never had to tell me how to do these things. Yet she constantly showed me how she did them.
Next week: Meeting a higher standard