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LOIS PONTIUS
 
Hazel
She was not a beauty by Hollywood standards, but she was a beautiful person. From her dark complexion and aquiline nose and high cheekbones, I figured she had a Mediterranean or American Indian ancestry. She was the administrative assistant to the Dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. I started working as a student secretary in the Dean's office a week after graduating from high school in June 1959. To her friends she was Hazel; to us secretaries under her supervision she was Mrs. Murdock. She was raising two young daughters by herself. All we knew was that she was divorced. We didn't know how long ago it had been or any of the details of the divorce.

Her expectations of us were realistic and fair, and she was a great role model for us young college women. One day she was late returning to the office from lunch, and she apologized to us, but she explained why she was late. In the late fifties and early sixties Missouri was struggling with desegregation, and Columbia is in that part of central Missouri north of the Missouri River referred to as "Little Dixie." Strange as this may sound to those too young to remember those days, the town of Columbia was trying an experiment. The restaurants agreed to allow black people to be served for a limited period of time to see if it would drive away the regular white clientele. It was a radical idea in that place at that time. That particular day Hazel went to lunch at her favorite restaurant. When she walked in she saw that the place was full and knew that it would take a while to be served, which would probably make her late getting back to the office. Just as she started to turn to walk out, she noticed that there was one empty stool at the counter next to a black man. She knew that if she left, the restaurant employees would think that it was because she didn't want to sit next to a black person, so she walked right over to that empty stool and sat down to be served. We all agreed that she had more than an adequate reason to be late to work.

Now the restaurants in Columbia are struggling with a new city ordinance banning smoking in all the restaurants. Some managers think that it will hurt business. I don't think so. Since less than 25% the adult population smokes, I am confident that they will discover that a healthful, smoke-free environment will actually have a positive effect on their business. And if Hazel were there today, I'm sure she would step up to champion that cause.
Lois Pontius -- Personalities, 2006
 
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