Nov 16, 2015

Local 282 Member Ruth Ford Retires After 70 Years on the Job

Ruth Ford, the longest-serving employee in all of state government, retired on Oct. 30, 2015 after 70 years working in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. A long and dedicated career like Ford’s is truly remarkable, and we are proud to call her a NAGE union member.

After 70 years of work and two weeks of retirement, Ford tells us, “You don’t count the years, you just go with the flow of life.”

Despite her impressive career and success in hobbies outside the office, Ford seems reluctant to call herself driven or ambitious. She advises that one’s “longevity depends on being active” and was happy to be a part of the workforce, counting herself lucky to be healthy enough to work as long as she did. 

Strong Family Roots in Boston

Ford credits her personality to her mother, Frances Ford, who provided a strong example of work ethic for her only daughter. She graduated from college and worked as a teacher for 13 years in Kingston, Jamaica. Although her passport said school teacher, her education wasn’t accepted in the United States. Ford recalls, “In order to survive in this country [my mother] became a domestic worker.”

Ford’s earliest memories are of life in a cold-water flat in Boston’s South End. By 1940, her family had moved to an apartment on Columbus Ave in Roxbury. As an honor roll student at Girls’ High School, Ford missed only seven days of school. After her father suffered a stroke, she felt the need to join the workforce and help support her family. Ford remembers, “I could’ve gone, like my other friends, working at the Navy Yard making big money. But my mother said, ‘We’re going to sacrifice that. Even though we need the money, I want you to have this education.’”

Ford’s mother recognized that the WWII wartime jobs, which opened new work opportunities for women and people of color, would be temporary and pointed her daughter towards Boston Clerical School. Ford enrolled, remembering, “You had to have a 90 mark or better to graduate from that school.” She enjoyed the challenge of her classes and was fully trained as a secretary.

After graduation, Ford was sitting on a bench facing the State House in the Boston Common with two friends. A woman approached the girls and asked if they were working, but at the time they were getting ready to take the civil service exam. The woman informed them of two more exams, which would qualify them as junior clerk typist and junior clerk and stenographer. Ford recalls, “I don’t know what the other two did but I took and passed both of them.”

From Typewriters to Email

Since her career began on Nov. 1, 1946 as a junior clerk and stenographer with an annual salary of $1,200 in the Department of Public Health, Ford has seen an immense amount of change in her workplace. She began working on a typewriter and ended her career communicating through email. Ford experienced seven decades of technological and cultural advances, and kept on pace with each one. As she explains, “the years went by quick because I was always active and moving from one job title to another and taking an exam for each one. I felt like I was a true civil servant because I took an exam for every position I held. Now, people send resumes.”

Ford worked her way through various divisions, advancing from junior clerk and stenographer to data and research analyst. In the mid-1960s she earned her associate degree in business administration and data processing, which was always a personal interest.

Ford notes, “I wouldn’t let grass grow under my feet. If there was an opportunity to learn something, I was always interested in doing that if I felt I could be successful.”

She also recalled life as a state employee before becoming a union member. She states, “It was good to have a union. If you had any problems you had somewhere to go. Before NAGE came along I don’t recall that they did too much for us as state workers.”

Most employees encounter workplace hurdles that can make such a long career impossible. As noted by Local 282 President Greg Sorozon, “The political system and poor management can create innumerable obstacles for state employees to perform as they hope and wish they can.” For driven and ambitious union members like Ford who may encounter workplace issues, NAGE works to reduce obstacles and support a healthy work environment. Ford mentions, “It wasn’t until NAGE came along that we felt that we got support in case there was anything we wanted to have resolved.”

“I said to myself, ‘Well, it’s time to retire.’”

To earn Ford’s amount of tenure is nothing short of remarkable. By providing benefits and resources for workers to have a voice on the job, we hope to continue to sustain the successful middle class structure that workers like her have used to achieve their goals.

She certainly achieved her goals both inside and outside her workplace. Out of the office she was an avid skier, champion bowler, and tennis instructor. In 1961, she helped establish the country’s first African-American-founded, nonprofit urban tennis club, Dorchester’s Sportsmen’s Tennis Club. That same year her candlepin bowling team, the State Bobcats, were mentioned in the Boston Globe.

The decision to retire came easy. Ford’s workplace was yet again advancing and the change meant another round of training for employees. Her thought process was a quick one, “At 90 years old, I wasn’t about to go for more training.” For now, Ford is sure of one thing. She’s glad that this winter she won’t have to think about going to work. 

Ford’s long list of accomplishments, along with the advances in American workplace, provide us with a colorful timeline of her career, [which can be viewed here.] Congratulations, Ms. Ford, and thank you for 70 years of dedicated service.

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Ruth Ford stands outside the Department of Public Health in Boston. Photo courtesy The Boston Globe.
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