Now that Diane feels great, it's Corry's turn for a job miracle


February 21, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Few of the stories I tell you will ever spawn as many potential follow-ups as the Diane Griffin story did.

Diane was the woman who, abandoned by her husband to support a couple of teen-agers alone, needed a job to avoid eviction from her rented rowhouse in East Baltimore and to avoid going on welfare. Readers of this column know that, with the help of all kinds of people from all over the metropolitan area, Diane Griffin was able to find a full-time job and a part-time job. With the help of men and women who donated money, and with the help of an understanding city constable by the name of Kraft, Diane was able to avoid eviction. Now she rises each day at 5:30, takes buses to the two jobs and sometimes does not return home till 9 p.m.

"I'm exhausted," she says, "and it feels great."

Among all the other unemployed people -- and there were many -- who contacted me in the month immediately after Diane's story appeared was a 49-year-old Ran- dallstown man named Corry Speight.

We sat in his apartment and he told me his story, then he handed me a copy of the January edition of AARP Bulletin, from the American Association of Retired Persons. "Right there, read that," Speight said, pointing to a passage from one of the stories. "Read the part I outlined."

Here's the part he outlined:

"The government reports that the number of 'discouraged workers' 50 and over jumped 40 percent during 1990-92 to 350,000. Discouraged workers are workers who want a job but have stopped looking because they are pessimistic about their prospects.

They aren't counted as unemployed, either."

"Are you a discouraged worker?" I asked Speight.

"Getting there," he said.

He showed me recent rejection letters, evidence that he has not stopped looking for a job. Considering what he has been through since 1986, that Speight still applies for work is relatively remarkable.

For 22 years, Corry Speight worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for an ironworks in the District of Columbia. He loved that job. It was a small family business where, in Speight's words, "I got to watch the numbers grow." As the company prospered, Speight took care of the books and paid the bills. The job ended, however, in 1986.

"Consolidated management" is the reason he gave when I asked why he lost the job.

What does that mean? It means he was caught in a squeeze; a son of one of the owners of the business needed a job and ended up as corporate treasurer, the last title Speight had held. As heartbreaking as that was -- Speight first went to work for the company when he was barely 20 -- he accepted the loss and moved on. Seven months later, he found another position with a company in Savage.

"Excel Wood Products," he said. "The company was based in Lakewood, N.J. We distributed kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. I started as a bookkeeper and advanced to office manager. I walked into a zoo. I straightened the books out. It was during this time that my wife developed breast cancer."

And that, as you might imagine, only added to the stress Corry Speight was experiencing. He has spent the last few years not only looking for steady work, but looking out for his wife. Katherine Speight continues to live with cancer and to undergo treatments for it.

"The job with Excel ended December 1989," Corry Speight said. "The company went out of business -- 900 people lost their jobs."

Five months later, he took the only job he could find -- sales agent for a Baltimore insurance company. Speight was assigned to a territory in South Baltimore, given leads for new accounts and debt-collection responsibilities for old ones. "I was handed debts and problems," Speight said. "I couldn't generate any new business. I couldn't get anything fixed. I was given a book of debits. I had 750 accounts and 52 percent of them were delinquent. . . . And worst of all, if there was a problem, I had to go through the home office, and I couldn't get anything fixed. And I'm a perfectionist, and that's the worst situation for a perfectionist, you know what I mean? When you can't get anything fixed through the home office. I like fixing things. That's the kind of guy I am."

He quit the insurance job after nine months. "I made a decision to get out to find a better job," Speight said.

But he has been unemployed since January 1991. The Speights live off annuities, the cash value of life insurance policies, their Individual Retirement Accounts and Katherine Speight's Social Security and disability insurance benefits. Corry Speight has applied for more than 300 jobs in the Baltimore-Washington area and has a thick stack of index cards with corporate phone numbers and addresses to prove it. He's listed with 19 employment agencies. He has taken computer courses at Catonsville Community College so that his "skills set" -- to use a job counselor's term -- might match the needs of the companies to which he applies.

"I was a cash, single-entry guy," Speight said. "That's what I learned. Everything I learned, I learned by doing. I learned by listening to professionals and by reading. I like helping a company grow. I was good at that. I am hungry to do it again. I'm still looking. I called a guy in Annapolis about a job this morning. I got a letter just the other day from a company on Eastern Avenue. It was another rejection. They said they hired 'someone who can better fit our needs.' I hear that a lot."

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