In an attempt to cut down on the expense of college, I navigated the curriculum efficiently and managed to graduate in three and a half years. As a result, about 20 years ago I went home to live with my parents for nine months before starting a graduate program in public administration. Starting over with a new program meant that I needed to save up some money for an apartment deposit and other expenses. For reasons I can’t recall, I visited a neighborhood drug store called the Brunton Drug Company. The proprietor, Bob Brunton, hired me to make deliveries and work the cash register as needed.
I almost quit the job before it began. Bob showed me the truck I would use to make deliveries. It was a Mitsubishi Mighty Max with a stick shift. I did not know how to drive a stick shift. I went home, downcast, planning to find a non-humiliating time to leave a note under the door explaining why I couldn’t start the job. Instead, I talked with my dad. He and I went out to a big parking lot at Point Mallard and worked on my technique. I reported for work the next day. It’s a good thing Bob didn’t ride along to see me driving his truck. It wasn’t pretty. But I learned and eventually became proficient at getting the job done.
My job with the Brunton Drug Company lasted several months. I worked right up until it was time to go to the University of Georgia. It was a great experience. I have always liked to ask questions of people with whom I work so I can learn. Bob taught me a lot about his operation.
When I heard President Obama’s comments about people who start businesses, how they didn’t do it by themselves, how they aren’t smarter, and how they don’t work harder, I thought about Bob Brunton. When he started his drug store, Bob had to take all the financial risk of failure. He had to stay open long hours each day and worked weekends, too, for years until he had a solid client base and could afford to work fewer hours. But even when I was there, Bob was putting in a lot of time. He didn’t take off for lunch. He just heated a little container in the microwave and kept going.
Over time, he extended his business to include a local branch of the Roche medical labs. Bob managed his drugstore and the medical lab at the same time. Each day, some of the medical lab work would come over to the pharmacy and we’d stop and pitch in on labeling containers and sorting. He was very shrewd that way. He knew the big drug stores would continue to cut into his business and took steps to protect himself.
Bob Brunton worked hard. Bob Brunton took financial risks. And Bob Brunton was smart about the way he conducted his business. I’m sorry to say that Bob didn’t live all that long after he retired. He had given a lot of himself to his work.
The president talked about how we can’t take credit because somebody helped us along the way. I think he was thinking mostly about the state when he made the remark. I can tell you that Bob Brunton helped me. He made a big impression both in his work ethic and in how he treated me. On my final day, it was time to close the store. Bob and I were the only people still on the premises. He gave me my final paycheck. Then, he pulled out a second check. Before he gave it to me, he said, “This is not a gift. This is not a loan. This is an obligation. When you are successful someday and you can help a young person, I expect you to do it.” He handed me a check for an additional $500. At that time, my pay for the part-time job was $120.
The president can build up the role of government all he wants. I concede that it is important. But he really should not downplay the contribution of the small businessmen and women who do so much to make our country great. But if that is the case the president wants to make, he’s got a long way to go to convince me, because I worked for Bob Brunton of Decatur, Alabama who ran a drug store.