By Dorothy Shea Skelley, Special to The Bedford Citizen
For over 50 years the Shea family, formerly of Evans Avenue in Bedford, has had a family member working in Bedford’s first supermarket, currently Whole Foods, but originally a Purity Sav-Mor, until it was re-branded as Purity Supreme.
Beginning in 1965, my brother Steve Shea, who went on to own Steve’s Texaco and Steve’s Sunoco on Great Road, worked in the stock room after school. I started a few years later as a cashier during high school and college. Also in the 60s, our mother, Mary Shea, worked in the meat department and then in produce where she operated the salad bar with pride and efficiency for many years. The next generation of the family began working in the store in the early 1990s, and in his retirement Arthur has been there for 26 years.
To understand Arthur’s work ethic, and why, at age 90, his job at Whole Foods has been so important to him, you need to understand a little more about the man.
He was only 15 years old when he had to leave school to help support himself and his three brothers. He had a childhood that would rival the works of Dickens in its pathos, but he was a strong-willed and determined individual and most importantly, a survivor. When he turned 17, he joined the Navy and became a Gunner’s Mate serving in the Mediterranean and Pacific arenas during World War II, surviving peril with courage and bravery.
Arthur and Mary married in 1948, and they bought their first home in Bedford in 1958. Arthur drove a bus for the MBTA for 32 years, working swing shifts and side jobs to give his four kids a better life than he had ever dreamed possible. And for the first time, he knew what it meant to be part of a family. After Mom died suddenly in 1989, Dad was struggling to overcome the loss of his wife of 40 years.
As a retired MBTA bus driver, Arthur drove a school bus in Bedford during his retirement. Legend has it that he was something of a Speed Racer in that school bus. Although the kids thought he was great, the bus company had received a number of “concerned citizen” calls about his thrills and chills bus routes and suggested that he might want to find another “hobby” in his retirement.
Forlorn in his grief and with too much time on his hands, Arthur went into the “family” business in 1989 and began working at Purity. He has seen the store change hands and evolve from Purity, to Stop & Shop, to Nature’s Heartland, and to Whole Foods.
In addition to his job, here’s what Arthur was doing in his 70’s and his early 80’s. . . dancing, skating, canoeing, skiing, golfing, biking – now when I say biking, sometimes for 30 miles! And that’s not all: He decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to earn a GED certificate. In June of 2000 he received his certificate, delivered the class graduation speech, and was honored by the governor of New Hampshire.
Fast forward, 26 years, and at the age of 90, Arthur has just retired from his two mornings a week job in the store – wheeling his portable oxygen tank, no less! No one seems to know exactly what he does, and he likes to tell people that he “came with the store.”
Every Monday and Wednesday Arthur has risen early to commute from his current home in Hudson, NH to be at Whole Foods by 7 am. When Whole Foods was opening a store in Nashua, his family suggested that Arthur transfer to that location but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I’d miss all the people I work with and all the customers that I have gotten to know over the years.”
When Arthur was first diagnosed with emphysema and needed supplemental oxygen, his first concern was being able to continue to work. “I can’t lose my job, I would be lost without it,” he frequently said. But his Whole Foods family made a few adjustments so that he could continue his duties, although to this day they still don’t know exactly what those duties entail.
Back problems, arthritis and emphysema have taken their toll on Arthur’s action-packed lifestyle, but he still cooks, cleans, and much to his children’s dismay he climbs ladders to clean his gutters! Oh, and by the way, Arthur is on Match.com.
Buyouts, acquisitions, down-sizing, workforce redundancies, lean processes, off-shore production, doing more with less – these have all become the framework of 21st business models. Cradle-to-grave jobs? Pretty much non-existent. But, there was a time when a company’s workforce was multi-generational and a person’s job provided a sense of community, of belonging, that is hard to find today. Occasionally one does find remnants of this by-gone era, which is what my Father has found at Whole Foods.
Whole Foods has been much more than a job to him, it is part of the fabric of his life.
On behalf of my father and my family, we want to thank Whole Foods for valuing the contribution that our Dad has made to your business and for treating him with the utmost respect and dignity which he so richly deserves.