Going Up?

This morning I saw a young guy have difficulty getting on the elevator. His overloaded cart stubbornly refused to make it through the door. I grabbed one end and helped him push it through the doors and onto the elevator. He thanked me, a random stranger to him, and we went our separate ways. He needed help. I helped. The end.

The flashback made me reel.

Almost thirty years ago I pushed a similar cart onto an elevator at my first job – or attempted to. I had difficulty with my cart until a random stranger helped me out.

When I got my first job at A.H. Robins in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, family and friends alike applauded. How lucky I was, they said, to have been hired by the pharmaceutical company owned by such a well-known and respected Richmond family. They were correct.

I had friends and family employed there and had always heard stories of the close relationship employees had, not just with each other, but with members of the Robins family themselves. At the time, E. Claiborne Robins Sr., already in his seventies, still came to his office each day. I’d never met any of the Robins family and wouldn’t have known them had we passed on the street, but stories of their kindness and goodwill were heard in the halls daily.

It was during my first week that I took that overloaded cart and headed to the sixth floor of “the Tower”. I knew there were people of importance up there… but as the new guy in my early twenties, everyone I saw in the halls seemed important. Still, each one smiled and said hello. It was that sort of place there at A.H.Robins.

Stella, my supervisor at the time and now almost thirty years later still my friend, had helped me load the cart.

“You take it on up and I’ll meet you at the front desk. I gotta talk to Helen a minute.” Stella said. She was sure I’d have no trouble.

I wasn’t so sure.

Trouble started for me about the time Stella waved to a friend in Employee Health as she passed by on her way to the front desk. The wheels of my cart became lodged in the track of the elevator door and there I stood, embarrassed, stuck, and jolted each time the elevator door closed on me, re-opened and closed on me again.

I was mortified.

As I pondered simply leaving the cart wedged in the door and doing the army crawl through the cafeteria and straight home, a hand pushed against the door. An old man tossed his briefcase into the elevator and grabbed one end of the cart. He said very little. In fact I don’t know if he even spoke at all – but he smiled – and I knew he was there to help.

In a matter of seconds the old man helped me dislodge the cart and get it onto the elevator. With little room then left inside, he told me to go ahead, he’d take the next one up. I made my trip to the sixth floor and back down to where Stella stood leaning against the front desk. She had a grin on her face.

Assuming she was going to laugh at my getting stuck in the elevator, I confessed.

“The cart got stuck but an old man helped me.” I said quickly, awaiting her response.

“Uhhh, Stuart”, she began with an excited smile, “that was no old man. That was Mr. Robins!”

That was the first time, but I’m happy to say not the last, that I met E. Claiborne Robins, Sr. Each time, he had a smile on his face.

Employees smiled there too. I’m still impressed with the way past employees remain in touch, gather several times a year, and keep each other informed on topics of all sorts. All these years later, I still have several friends from that era. We shared a unique experience being employed there together.

I was spoiled by the Robins experience. In the time that has followed my nearly eleven years there, I have yet to encounter a work environment that comes close to encouraging, rewarding, and supporting its employees the way A.H. Robins did. I’m sure the credit goes to the smiling old man who helped me get my cart onto the elevator.

A man who took over a family business, spent decades building it to national and international prominence, and who undoubtedly had more to do that particular day than “unstick” a cart for an embarrassed kid, still took the time to do just that. Smiling all the while.

I needed help. He helped. The end.

Stuart M. Perkins


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106 responses to “Going Up?

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It always makes me happy when I hear of someone putting someone before themselves, as I rarely see this nowadays. Your story inspires me not to get too caught up in my own problems, and stop for a moment and think about other people.

  2. Great post! 🙂 I really think the smallest act of kindness can make a difference. I have actually just begun a new blog on this subject. If you would like to check it out: http://inspireblogproject.wordpress.com/ It is all about inspiring stories like these.
    Thank you for sharing this beautifull experience with us! 🙂

  3. Great memory. Great story. Random acts of kindness!!!

  4. Acts of kindness and love are what this world needs more of!!! We hear of such horrific , ugly , tragic stories, accounts, situations, etc..on the news day in and day out; we need to hear & DO more acts of kindness..Doing good without looking for reward..Love it! Thanks for sharing and giving us all something to smile about 🙂

  5. That is one terrific story, but more important, one terrific human being. We should all be so lucky to have people like this to be our benchmark of what to live up to.
    Cheers, Stuart!

  6. Wow, that’s awesome. It’s like a real-life Chicken Soup for the Soul story, or one of those analogies in a Dale Carnegie book. Also, I almost never notice specific writing techniques, but I love how to the point your writing is. Also, you don’t end sentences with prepositions. 😛

  7. I always look forward to your posts Stuart. As usual, you don’t disappoint!

  8. That was beautiful. Kindness leaves a lasting impression. It’s paying it forward that makes it contagious.

  9. Lor

    Pay it forward. Kudos.

  10. Thanks for sharing Stuart I liked this memory as having a great environment to work in is a thing sadly disappearing. It’s amazing how one person’s influence can affect so many people and have a domino effect on the quality of their relationships and lives.

  11. I had a similar experience in an early summer job. A VP in the company rolled up his sleeves, and together we fixed a paper jam in a copier. Acts like that set a tone, showing that cooperation and mutual support gets the job done. I think most of us are willing to work harder, show loyalty and trust when our leaders show a bit of kindness and support.

  12. Every person’s story is cloaked by a disguise of anonymity. It is not until we see beyond the clothes that a true identity is revealed. I will enjoy reading your stories very much. Thank-you!

  13. Thanks for stopping by and liking my blog. Meghan

  14. I love this post, Stuart! It’s simply and beautifully written, and it touched my heart just to know there are (and were) people like E. Claiborne Robbins who care enough about their employees to smile, lend a hand and let each person know he or she is special. It is no accident that a community was built there and you still have friends and contacts from those days. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post!

  15. The ultimate, delayed pay-it-forward. Very nice. How nice to revisit those wonderful memories, so the paying-it-forward kept on giving! Great post.

  16. Hello! Many thanks for visiting my fledgling blog and liking my most recent post. I’m glad you did, as it led me here to your wonderful stories. Congratulations on a well-deserved Freshly-Pressed for this one!

  17. Reblogged this on lovinhappiness8 and commented:
    I feel inspired. Shows that kindness still exist nowadays..

  18. 77 comments because the story is well told and positive. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Great story – if only more people would “pass it on”, our world would be a much better place

  20. bmtallon89

    Inspiring. I love how you made it so simple. Someone needs help, then help. Love it!

  21. Very cool story. Makes me wonder if there are places of employment like that left in America.

  22. just a wonderful story. Very well written. I never worked in a place quite like that. Some were pretty good, none were that good. Have a great weekend.

  23. A bit of pay forward always seems to reap benefits.

    May your karma stay well!

  24. It’s crazy now a days you enter a building and no one will won’t even greet you nd if you greet others they won’t respond to you. Where I come from which is the Caribbean we have manners all around the clock I teach my kids the same too

  25. This is a great heart warming read. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  26. Stuart, I’ve really enjoyed this story. Sounds like AHR must have been a wonderful place to be employed. Indeed, you were lucky!

  27. What a great blog! And I would never have known about it if you had not taken the time to “like” and follow mine! Thanks!

  28. Your hometown of Richmond, Virginia? Howdy neighbor. I live in Richmond. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

  29. It is such a blessing to have employers who care!

  30. That is how this country of ours became so great. I wonder where we went wrong. I guess all the great one’s passed away. Your story is heartwarming and brilliantly written. I am sure Mr. Robins is smiling down upon you. Kudos!

  31. I enjoyed that story! Oh, if all employers gave the newbies that treatment…Of course, I am from the old school, and it just makes sense. But many times the Lord has to remind me.

  32. Reblogged this on Reflected Insights and commented:
    Hi Friends! Here’s a reblog from a beautiful story.
    May our “work’ environments be so sweet.

  33. I’ll bet he didn’t have problems with employee retention.

    Thanks for this lovely story,

  34. Reb

    This is a wonderful story!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  35. Marvelous story of the way I wish all businesses were run – with kindness. It costs so little and the rewards are so great. Love, health and happiness.

  36. Kindness rules. All work places should be so wonderful.

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