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In The Spotlight
McGee Lumber Company

Presented as a profile of Seniors in business
www.mcgeelumber.com 

by: Steve Hartwig
3/26/2004

Charlotte, NC - As a kid, I remember my going with my father to the local hardware store. Walking in the front door, we'd see an old knurled hand go up in the air and a hearty "Hi George!", as we closed the old wooden door. 

Frank would usually be waiting on a customer, but even though his attention would be again diverted towards solving the other fellow's problem, you just knew that old Frank could hardly wait to get to talk with you. 

Not that he'd be wanting to get rid of the other customer because he knew him just as well. It was just that Frank wanted to see you, shake your hand and shoot the breeze with you, even if you weren't there to buy anything. 

Dad was a teacher and a do-it-yourselfer, so he mostly bought things you had to put together and I learned a tremendous appreciation for many kinds of wood and what you could do with it.

I remember the creaking in the old wood floors in Frank's store, and the smell of that old pot belly wood burning stove with that McGee Lumber Company owners slight smell of cedar in the air. The cat was named "Fruggins" if I recall correctly, and I swear that big ol' cat just never moved away from the stove, even if it had been a couple of weeks since we'd been into the store.

On Saturdays, you could pretty much count on the fact that Frank's dad would be there in the back straightening out some inventory that someone had messed up. 

Frank's boys were teens and seemed pretty big to me at the time, but like what I thought a big brother would be like (I'm the oldest in my family). I'd always get a bit of a friendly hair tussle from one of them. Frank's wife was always there too, usually standing in front of the ancient cash register with the yellowed number tags that would pop up when she'd hit the buttons.

Perhaps those experiences were what I recalled and why the 1970's show, "The Walton's", seemed so special. I guess I'd gotten to the point where I thought that it was now nothing more than nostalgic remembrances of a child mixed with an old television show that made me remember Frank and his store the way I did. I've heard that good memories somehow become better over time.

I recently had the opportunity to revisit these memories, but they weren't buried somewhere in the back of my mind. Charlotte NC isn't a huge city, about a million people or so, but it is large enough. So it's not surprising that I would not have heard of a small "big" place called McGee Lumber Company out on North Graham Street in Charlotte.

The outside of the building was certainly nothing to get excited about. Aged and weathered, it had an understated old-world charm; but old nonetheless. I feel quite certain that there's nobody around anymore that ever remembers it looking any newer. Yet as old as it is, it is still solid as a rock.

To say I had a flashback walking in the door is an understatement. John Davis, the owner raised his weathered paw in the air, "Hey Steve!", he said like we'd known each other for years. 

John and I didn't know each other but we'd talked on the phone, and I guess he figured this frutsy looking guy wearing a tie into his store must be me. John and I met half-way across the floor and I introduced myself and that's about as formal as we've ever gotten.

John is one of those guys that you swear you have known your whole life. A rather rugged man in his mid 50's whose work shows in his hands and his face, John's face looks like it was born with a smile on it. You know, one of those big grins that lets you know he's glad to see you. 

There's a little sawdust on John's shoulder, calluses on his hands, and you know that John not only owns the place, he works here and enjoys it.

"Let me introduce you and show you around a bit", said John. What John didn't know was that my Mrs. Davis - the oldest of 3 generation of management at McGee Lumber Company attention had already turned towards this little mite of a lady that was working there behind the big main desk, answering phone calls and writing out bills, obviously very comfortable in what she does. 

She was loving every minute of it. What impressed me first was that she was wearing John's same smile and that she was far older than John.

Well how about if you introduce me to this lady first", I asked John. Whereupon John introduced me to "Mom". Now until recently, I never knew much of anything about John's Mom, but right away, I knew that Lorraine Troutman Davis is an incredible lady. 

Now how many years she has on John is something that a gentleman doesn't ask. But here is this impressive woman who could be sitting at home, having worked so many years. Yet here she is, virtually running the entire front end of the business by herself.

Now one might think that Lorraine works because she has to. But if she does have to, it isn't because she has to do it for the income. She does because she just has to work. According to her, "retirement" is a four-letter word.

I've since discovered that a lot of older seniors see life this way. Many consider retirement to be completely over-rated. If they do, how marvelous is that? What is more wonderful is the experience, maturity, and work ethic that seniors bring to any job. 

If we could get more employers to realize this, how much better off would they be? How much better off would we all be? Well if you ask John, sure, he's a bit prejudiced. But then again, if you meet Lorraine, you will be too. "Running this place without Mom here would be a lot tougher and a lot less fun. You just don't find workers like her anymore."

I did want to get a bit more information on Lorraine though, and John is more than happy to share. "I'm proud of her", said John. I didn't ask, but John says she is 83 years old as of this writing but with the BIG 84 coming up on April 24th, '04. If you stop by McGee Lumber sometime soon and I do recommend that you do, if for nothing more than to meet this fine lady, be sure to wish her a happy birthday.

Another thing that I didn't know is that Lorraine and her late husband had owned McGee Lumber Company at one time. They originally bought the company from Mr. McGee in 1971 and decided to sell it to John in 1978 so they could retire. Obviously that didn't last long.

Technically, Lorraine handles inside sales, customer service, purchases hardware, and sweeps the floor when needed. "No one wants the company to succeed more than my Mom." Is that a proud son or what?

McGee Lumber Company is located in Charlotte NC.

 

 

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