Sister Maureen Was Right

I envied them, even though I know envy is a sin. I saw how they were respected and that was neat. I wanted to be like them.

Wouldn’t it be fine to dress up every day in a female business suit (skirts, not pants) and be the face of a company because you are the first person someone encounters on the way into an office? How special would it be to have the absolute trust of your boss because he dictates important and confidential business letters to you for transcription?

Yes, I’m talking about secretaries. In high school I sat side by side in typing and shorthand classes with many girls who later became secretaries and transcriptionists. It was a grand day to have an electric typewriter in front of you rather than using that old manual one at home.

Sister Maureen had the patience of a saint with those whose secretarial skills were less than spectacular. If she said it once, she said it a thousand times, “Keep your eyes on the paper, not the keyboard.”

She would kindly suggest that we all take the Civil Service exams offered in our town as possible career opportunities if the secretary thing didn’t work out for us.

Only years later when I sat down in front of a brand new video display terminal and keyboard did it hit me that Sister Maureen was right. I had to keep my eyes on the glowing screen and have faith that – after much practice – my fingers would make the correct decisions.

The back-up and delete keys became my best friends as I learned to type the obituaries for the newspaper on that VDT. However when typing an obituary, it’s best to catch the mistake that should have read “Friends received …” and not “Friends revived …” before it makes the newspaper. A very good copy editor, Bill Bibb, saved me from that huge embarrassment.

Recently, secretaries were honored across the country with a special day titled “Administrative Professionals Day.” I guess “secretary” has become an obsolete, non-politically correct term for someone who performs secretarial duties. I don’t see schools changing their names from secretarial to administrative professional school, but someone decided secretary is too generic a term. Or perhaps it’s simply a ploy to sell more greeting cards, boxes of candy or gift cards for the women and men who serve in the capacity of secretary.

A good secretary is a gift. She or he sets the tone for the office or business. There are the pit bull types who insist on knowing why you are calling the boss and make you feel like a pest for calling. And then there are others who are friendly and helpful and provide a warm welcome.

When the cable TV drama “Mad Men” hit the scene, I couldn’t help but think what Sister Maureen would say about secretaries on that show. I’ll bet she would say they need to keep their eyes on the paper and off the boss.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at