Robertson calls it quits after 38 years

Published 12:39 am Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For almost four decades, Ethel Robertson has been a mainstay at Andalusia Middle School. But soon, that familiar smiling face will be missing as the school’s bookkeeper and longtime secretary has decided to retire.

Robertson has been working at the Andalusia Middle School building even as far back as when the school was known as Woodson High School in the pre-integration era. She has always had the same job, working as the school’s bookkeeper and one of the secretaries — even though the way of doing her job has changed in those 38 years.

“It’s a lot more complicated now than it was when I first started,” Robertson said. “There’s a lot more computerized activities now. When I first started, I was doing all my reports on paper and it was a lot easier, because if I made a mistake I could erase it and there’d be no problem.

“But now, if I make a mistake on the computer, it might not be possible to go back and fix it. There are some times when I just say, ‘oh, I wish I still had my paper trail.’”

Robertson said she grew up wanting to be a nurse, but quickly discovered that she did not have the stomach for dealing with death. After graduating, she was approached by C.C. Baker, who was principal at Woodson High School at the time.

“He came by one day and asked me what I was going to do, and I said, ‘I don’t know,’” Robertson said. “And he said, ‘Well, I need a secretary,” and I said, ‘OK, I’m it.’ And that was that.”

She continued to work at Woodson for seven years before leaving to work at Woolworth’s for seven years, helping to integrate the store. After that stint in the retail business, Robertson returned to be a classroom aide for two years before becoming secretary at the newly integrated Andalusia Middle School.

“It had only been the middle school for a little while, and their first secretary had to leave to go into military service,” Robertson said. “I was approached by Mr. (Andalusia Superintendent Oscar) Zenah about coming back, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Robertson has worked for seven different principals and seven different city superintendents since returning to AMS. Current AMS principal Ted Watson said that Robertson is a special person who will be missed.

“She’s an institution here,” Watson said. “She’s seen more than just about anyone else here. She’s been a calming voice in a sometimes turbulent sea and we’re going to miss her. It’s been a privilege to work with her for the last three and a half years.”

Watson recalled a story of his interaction with Robertson back when he was just a teacher at AMS, several years ago.

“I was teaching a class at the school and I needed a computer, so I had to borrow her little Mac that she used to keep her work,” Watson said. “Well, apparently I did something to her computer, because when I gave it back to her, all of her stuff was gone. We had to call somebody in from Dothan to get into the computer and bring back the data, but up until that point we thought it was gone forever.

“And the thing I remember most about Ethel, was that she never once cursed me or raised her voice to me when it looked like I’d lost all her work. Now, she might have gone home and cursed me there, but she never showed that anger to me. And then, when she got the computer back, it was just business as usual and she was still the same cheerful Ethel.

“That’s probably the best story I can tell you to show what kind of a person she really is.”

Robertson, who will officially retire at the end of this year, said she will miss the chance to be around good people at AMS, but she is looking forward to spending more time with her family. Her daughter in Texas is expecting a child, and Robertson plans to spend a few months with her until the baby is born, and then return home to enjoy her new retirement.

“I plan to do some volunteer work,” said Robertson, who likes to help with the youth at First Baptist Church Whatley Street. “I’ve always wanted to be a Candy Striper at the hospital; be one of those people who gets to visit the patients’ room and cheer them up, or maybe get them an orange juice or magazine.

“I want to volunteer and do some nice things like that. But I think for the first year, I’m just going to relax and stay at home; get to do all those little things, like cleaning the house, that I don’t get to do now.”