Remember what makes you happy.’ That’s how the song goes – but is that the reason Norma’s still on the payroll after almost 45 years?
When you’ve been in the job for as long as Norma Graham, you don’t need to be micro-managed. In fact, her colleagues see her just once a year at best – and that’s at the Christmas ‘do’.
You see, Norma is our longest serving employee. We’re not allowed to tell you how old she is, (76 and three-quarters), so let’s say that when she first got the job, England were the reigning football World Champions. It was 1970…
‘Mick pleaded with me to ‘just do another week for us.’ I think he’d have preferred to have a midwife to go round with me.’ Norma Graham
‘I remember Mick Mitchell interviewed me for the job of ‘Spare’, to provide cover for holidays and illness’, Norma said. It didn’t last long, though, because in August 1971 she left to have her fourth child, Michele ‘It was summer time and Mick pleaded with me to ‘just do another week for us’, Norma recalled. ‘I think he’d have preferred to have a midwife to go round with me, just in case.’
Then, when Michele was just five months old, Zelma Aston, then our Hygiene Supervisor, rang to ask if Norma could ‘help out’, by providing ad-hoc sickness and holiday relief, ‘as and when.’
‘I remember I was trained by Sheila Cooper, whose daughter is also at Coinadrink.
‘There was no paid maternity leave in the old days’, Norma remembered ruefully. ‘Three years later, Rich Braxton called to see me to ask would I take on the Central Birmingham route, as no one was interested in it. As a Brummie the traffic didn’t concern me. I was used to working in Central Birmingham.’
Later, Norma was promoted to cover the Service Desk, including the supervision of the hygiene routes.
‘Jim Woolley and Steve Weatherer, the Sales Managers at the time, needed some help’, Norma said. ‘They were looking for someone to look after the existing customers, retaining and making extra business on the sites. Jim introduced me to my first existing customer at the time, Tudor Webasto. They had just one table top machine then, but they were expanding and I was able to introduce Food & Snacks and more beverage machines on site. I loved my job!’
It may appear that we threw her in at the deep end – but that’s not how Norma remembers those events, almost forty years ago…
‘Roger (Williams, our MD), always made sure that I had the appropriate training, as he does with all his staff. In fact, I attended my last training course in Birmingham only a few years ago…’ She allowed herself a wry smile before she said, ‘the course was called ‘How to introduce yourself and the company over the phone to prospective customers.’
You couldn’t make it up, could you!?
Since she ‘retired’ at 65, Norma has never stopped working for the sales team, following up mailers and other leads, with a mission to make appointments. She may look like a nice old lady who wouldn’t say ‘boo to a goose’, but when she gets the bit between her teeth, she really is a bit of a Rottweiler – and that’s a sobriquet she’s rather proud of. ‘Yes’, she smiled, ‘that’s about the size of it!’
However, there was a dark time, some twenty years ago, that Norma recalls with something of a shiver. ‘I contracted breast cancer’, she said. ‘At the time I was out on the road as Hygiene Manager.’ She had to endure a lumpectomy, but even that harrowing episode didn’t ground her. ‘I just carried on working’, she said with a shrug. ‘I only had ten days off. When I was receiving radiotherapy, I just managed the situation. Roger was wonderful, he told me, ‘just do what you can’. So, I arranged to have all my medical procedures at 4pm, so that I could put in a full day first. To be honest though, after those sessions, all I was fit for was to go home to bed.’
Outside of work, Norma’s life is as full as that of a woman twenty years her junior. She never lets up: how can she, when her four kids produced seven grandchildren who, in turn have so far presented Norma with five great-grandchildren? There are rumours around the office that she keeps on working only to avoid babysitting duties… (Only joking. We don’t know anybody more dedicated to her family than Norma!)
Later in life, Norma caught the travel bug. She’s been to Australia twice, but her main passion is for cruising. ‘I belong to a ladies’ club, too’, Norma said. ‘Days out with no men and no kids. Perfect!’
Although she’s been a resident of Burntwood, near Lichfield, since her eldest son was just two, Norma (and her family of keen Aston Villa fanatics), remains a true Brummie at heart. Her accent is unmistakable as our chat draws to a close.
‘I’ll be seventy-seven next birthday’, she confided, ‘but I still enjoy being part of Coinadrink and I appreciate all the opportunities I’ve been given. I’d like to say a massive ‘thank-you’ to all staff, past and present. They have been a large part of my life.’
And we’d like to thank-you, Norma. For more than forty years, you’ve been a massively important, larger-than-life part of Coinadrink. Long may it continue!
* If you don’t remember ‘Never Give Up On A Good Thing, see below…