A Lady Named Lill

Lillian was a young French Canadian girl who grew up in the farming community of River Canard, Ontario. At the age of 16, her father thought "Lill has had enough schooling,"and she was forced to drop out of school to contribute to the family income. In 1922, with English as her second language and limited education and skills, the future didn't look bright for Lill.

Her father, Eugene Bezaire, was a stern man who rarely took no for an answer and never accepted excuses. He demanded that Lill find a job. But her limitations left her with little confidence and low self-esteem, and she didn't know what work she could do.

With small hope of gaining employment, she would still ride the bus daily into the "big cities"of Windsor or Detroit. But she couldn't muster the courage to respond to a Help Wanted ad; she couldn't even bring herself to knock on a door. Each day she would just ride to the city, walk aimlessly about and at dusk return home. Her father would ask, "Any luck today, Lill?" "No ... no luck today, Dad,"she would respond meekly.

As the days passed, Lill continued to ride and her father continued to ask about her job-hunting. The questions became more demanding, and Lill knew she would soon have to knock on a door.

On one of her trips, Lill saw a sign at the Carhartt Overall Company in downtown Detroit. "Help Wanted,"the sign said, "Secretarial. Apply Within."She walked up the long flight of stairs to the Carhartt Company offices. Cautiously, Lill knocked on her very first door. She was met by the office manager, Margaret Costello. In her broken English, Lill told her she was interested in the secretarial position, falsely stating that she was 19. Margaret knew something wasn't right, but decided to give the girl a chance. She guided Lill through the old business office of the Carhartt Company. With rows and rows of people seated at rows and rows of typewriters and adding machines, Lill felt as if a hundred pairs of eyes were staring at her. With her chin on her chest and her eyes staring down, the reluctant farm girl followed Margaret to the back of the somber room.

Margaret sat her down at a typewriter and said, "Lill, let's see how good you really are."She directed Lill to type a single letter, and then left. Lill looked at the clock and saw that it was 11:40 a.m. Everyone would be leaving for lunch at noon. She figured that she could slip away in the crowd then. But she knew she should at least attempt the letter.

On her first try, she got through one line.It had five words, and she made four mistakes. She pulled the paper out and threw it away. The clock now read 11:45. "At noon,"she said to herself, "I'll move out with the crowd, and they will never see me again."

On her second attempt, Lill got through a full paragraph, but still made many mistakes. Again she pulled out the paper, threw it out and started over. This time she completed the letter, but her work was still strewn with errors. She looked at the clock: 11:55 — five minutes to freedom.

Just then, the door at one end of the office opened and Margaret walked in. She came directly over to Lill, putting one hand on the desk and the other on the girl's shoulder. She read the letter and paused. Then she said, "Lill, you're doing good work!"

Lill was stunned. She looked at the letter, then up at Margaret. With those simple words of encouragement, her desire to escape vanished and her confidence began to grow. She thought, "Well, if she thinks it's good, then it must be good. I think I'll stay!"

Lill did stay at Carhartt Overall Company...for 51 years, through two world wars and a Depression, through presidents and six prime ministers — all because someone had the insight to give a shy and uncertain young girl the gift of self-esteem when she knocked on the door.