Lessons learned from George Scott

Published 7:49 pm Monday, May 27, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

Columnist

He moved quickly around Leggett Department Store. No wasted time. George Scott seemed to run from department to department checking merchandise, product placement, inspecting floors, making sure clothing was rotated properly.

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A few months previously a family friend, the janitor at Leggett, told my mother to have me apply for a job buffing floors and cleaning up. There were no allowances in my house. Mama just didn’t pay for gas or dates. The time had come to go from cutting grass to the part-time work world.

One day in my sophomore year at SHS, I came to work dressed in a three-piece suit after some school–related event. There I was wrestling with that humongous old electric buffer at the front of the store near the perfume counter, wearing a vest, shirt and tie.

Mr. Scott stopped in mid-stride. “Why are you dressed up?” Then he asked where I had learned to dress like that. “My parents,” I replied. Mr. Scott thought for about a millisecond.

“Finish up your work on the floors today,” he said. “On Monday, report to the men’s department. You’re gonna be trained as a salesman.”

I was elated. But of course being a big-time sophomore, I had to maintain my cool.

The schedule was part time, afternoons and weekends at Leggett through high school, working around varsity football and baseball practices and the summer after my first year of college.

After that, radio and television internships kicked in, and I couldn’t get back home. In fact, I didn’t for 38 years.

But I never forgot George Scott. Living up to his confidence in me helped me develop my sense of self. In the process, I learned how to sell, a skill that later helped me talk folks into interviews, and I learned to take pride in my work.

Those skills evolved and grew into assets in pursuit of learning and executing the craft of television journalism. In college and seminary came a theology of work from Colossians 3: “Whatever you do do it well as if working for The Lord and not for men.”

So I taught my son what he taught me. Learn and master your craft, and your work will speak for you.

The stage had been set for Mr. Scott a few summers before my stint at Leggett’s, after I’d finished my chores around the house. I decided that I deserved an allowance. Mama actually laughed out loud when I said it.

She said, “You don’t get paid for taking care of yourself and your home.” She told my Dad to give me a gallon of gas and a lawnmower. “Go ask the neighbors if you can cut their grass for whatever they will give you.”

George Scott built on that foundation. Back then it seemed that people we worked for were more than employers. They were parents before anything else. They treated us like we were their sons and daughters.

Yes, there were racial barriers and restrictions. But people like George Scott were looking for someone to teach what they knew, people who’d take it seriously and do a good job. I didn’t know until recently that he was a basketball player at Duke University, that he was much older than he looked. His appreciation for the role of sports in a boy’s life was probably why he gave me such a flexible schedule.

We didn’t talk much, nor for long periods of time. But the things George Scott taught me have lasted a lifetime.