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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Roy Lee and Mary Ruth Auton, February 28, 1980. Interview H-0108. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Standing up to employers with skills and native wit

Auton's skill level and innate intelligence gave him the courage to stand up to his employers, he explains. He recalls how he resisted his current boss's efforts to force him into retirement, winning a cushy job with excellent pay as a result. Auton uses this opportunity to share his disdain for overeducated people with few life skills.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Roy Lee and Mary Ruth Auton, February 28, 1980. Interview H-0108. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
What is your job at the hospital?
ROY LEE AUTON:
Well, I went and took a job as a maintenance man, and then I ended up getting the engineer's job. The one that had it before I went went off and got him a college education, and he come back and got the personnel job, so that put him over me. And he tried to kick me out; when I turned sixty-five he tried to retire me, and I wouldn't leave. It made me mad, and I stayed for meanness'sake. He had done promised the job to a younger fellow. It didn't make any difference to me; it kind of made me mad at the time, what he was trying to do. But I'd let him push me all I meant to be pushed. First he called me in twenty-three days before my birthday and said, "Set down. I want to talk to you about your retirement." And I said, "What retirement?" He said, "You told me you was going to retire." I said, "Like hell I did. I told you last summer when you made me mad about that damn fan upstairs, I said, ‘If it's going to be a rat race around here like this all summer, I'll take early retirement and see what the hell you can do with it."’ So I went on and had my birthday, and nothing else said. Then the first of March was going to be on a Wednesday, so he come down there on Friday and said, "Well, I'm going to take you off as department head the first of March and let Neil take over. And you'll work on at the same money." I said, "By goddam, that's what I've been wanting all the time." And he just done me a favor and didn't realize it, because I don't have no responsibility and don't work as hard as I did when I was the boss. I knowed it had to be done then, and now I don't give a damn. But I knowed he couldn't fire me as long as I done my job, till I was seventy. And I knowed if he tried to cut me one penny, I was going to the Labor Board. So he didn't try that; I think he knew what I had in mind. But I've had it easy; it's been a gravy train since. See, before I was on call every night, all night long. And now I work one weekend a month; I'm on call those two nights. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
JACQUELYN HALL:
With the different supervisors that you've worked under along the way, have you had conflicts with them or had to stand up for your rights in that way?
ROY LEE AUTON:
No, just tell them what I think, and if they don't like it, I don't care. Because a fellow like me can be kind of independent, because I do anything. I'm an electrician, a plumber, a painter, a paperhanger, ceramic tile. I've got my state plumbing and heating license plus a pilot license, and not many of your fools got stuff like that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
ROY LEE AUTON:
With what you say a sixth-grade education. I had just started in the seventh grade when I went to work. And I'd say, on the average, I'll out-spell any of your high school students and stuff like that. I think education is the greatest thing that there is, if a fellow has got any sense to go with it. An educated fool is the damnedest fool that there is, too. I've seen them that didn't know nothing that had seven years of college. In fact, we had one in the Army, and he actually didn't know his left from his right and had seven years of college. And anything that was in a book, if you asked him about it, he could tell you pretty well what you wanted to know. And he was the fastest on a typewriter of anybody I've ever seen. But a simple thing like putting a ribbon on it, when it needed that, then he had to call an old country boy like me in to put the ribbon on. And we was up in the Ozark Mountains, and he wanted me to teach him to drive a truck. And I'll swear to God that I was scared to death all the time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
ROY LEE AUTON:
Ride along with one hand on the switch key and the other one on that old emergency brake. And that boy never did learn to drive.