My formal education ended about 2:30 in the afternoon on June 30, 1953. I was fourteen years old and had just completed Grade 10 in the little red (honestly) three-room schoolhouse in Morell, Prince Edward Island.
Morell didn’t have a high school until 1955, so I would have had to find room and board in Charlottetown and attend either St. Dunstan’s University or Prince of Wales College to complete Grades 11 and 12, which was out of the question because we couldn’t afford it.
Anticipating this problem, earlier in the year I wrote to a number of companies in Charlottetown asking if they had part-time work on evenings and Saturdays, which would allow me to make enough money for room, board and sundry expenses. Two companies responded: H. H. Marshall & Co, a magazine and paperback book distribution operation; and, the Hughes Drug Co., which at that time was the most successful pharmacy in Charlottetown. Another exchange of letters set up interviews with those two companies.
I don’t remember whether I went to Charlottetown on a Saturday or took a day off school, but I know I took the train because my father worked for the CNR and I could travel free. I clearly remember being very excited about the possibility of living in Charlottetown and continuing my education. I was also keenly interested in the two companies: H.H. Marshall, because Jackie Johnston, a good friend of mine from Bristol (which was called Lot 40 back then) had started working there the previous year; and Hughes, because I was rarely in Charlottetown without a visit to this fascinating store which was located in the same building as Cows Ice Cream is now, the northeast corner of Queen and Grafton.
My first interview was with the manager of H.H. Marshall & Co. whose name I recall being Mr. Sinnott. He offered me a full-time job as soon as school closed, changing to a couple of hours each evening plus Saturday mornings when school opened in the fall. However, when it became part-time it wouldn’t pay nearly enough to cover my expenses. So, it was on to Hughes’ Drug Store.
Even though I expected the store would be owned by someone named Hughes, I asked for the gentleman who had signed the letter I received (I’m pretty sure his name was Baker) who took me into a tiny, cluttered office at the back of the store. The clutter also surprised me because one of the reasons I loved going into Hughes’ was its orderliness and neatness.
The clutter, though, was clearly well organized because Mr. Baker had no trouble plucking out the file containing my letters, and copies of his, from one of the stacks of documents on his desk.
He took a moment to read my original letter and then asked me a few questions. After my experience at H.H. Marshall I’d concluded that no part-time job would pay enough for me to follow my plan, so I was completely floored by his offer.
His proposal was:
1) I would start working evenings and Saturdays at the beginning of the school year.
2) He would pay me enough to cover my room and board, clothing, tuition, books, and some spending money.
3) I would work full time during the next two summers, with two weeks off for vacation.
4) Then he would pay all my costs of obtaining a degree in pharmacy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He explained this would take five or six years, depending on my course load and rate of success.
5) I would continue to work at Hughes’ during the summers.
6) Upon graduation, I would work as a pharmacist at Hughes’ for at least ten years.
Even at the age of fourteen I knew that this was an exceptional offer; but I also knew that he would own me for the next seventeen or eighteen years.
As surprised as I had been at the offer, he was even more surprised when I said something along the lines of, “Thank you very much, sir, but I don’t want to be tied up for that length of time.” I then mumbled that I was sorry for troubling him. Fearing that I was going to cry, I rushed out of the store, because when I turned down that offer I knew that school was truly out.
In retrospect, given the affinity I later showed for finance and business, it’s likely that I would have owned the damn store by the time I reached thirty. Even so, I’ve never once regretted that decision.
Nextweek: Plan B gets scuttled.