Friday, August 30, 2019

52 Ancestors - AT WORK: Entrepreneur

Daddy believed in the American Dream: anyone can achieve their version of success by working hard, taking risks, and sacrificing. For him, success meant being in charge of his own destiny. The best way to do that would be to own a business, but that goal took many years to achieve.

The entrepreneurial spirit must have been genetic. Daddy’s father owned a taxi cab business in Portsmouth, Virginia and then later in Burlington, North Carolina. However, Daddy seemed to have no interest in following his father’s footsteps in that line of business.

One venture he explored, at least briefly, was radio electronics. I was surprised to find this diploma among his things. The 1945 date suggests he studied electronics by correspondence following his graduation from high school. Honestly, I can’t imagine Daddy doing anything remotely mechanical. If anything needed fixing in our house, Momma did it, including repairing the fill valve in the back of the toilet. Apparently Daddy couldn’t imagine it either and joined the Coast Guard instead.
The diploma is too wide for my flat bed scanner.
This was a correspondence school begun in 1899
and still in existence.
When I was growing up, Daddy worked briefly as an insurance salesman and then as a merchandise manager for Sears & Roebuck. That is the job I most associate with my father – he worked for Sears.
When Daddy was manager of the Infants Wear department,
he dressed as Winnie the Pooh to introduce Sears' new line
of infant clothing under the Winnie the Pooh label.
Working for a big company certainly offered stability while my sister and I were growing up. Once we were grown and out of the house, though, he was free to go after that American Dream to be his own boss.

The first plan was to form a family real estate company. Before I knew it, Momma, Daddy, my husband and I were enrolled in real estate classes at the community college and then the licensing exam prep course. I swore I would never let my license lapse after that, but it did not take long to figure out I was no salesman. Daddy, on the other hand, quickly advanced to the head of the class being named “Rookie of the Year” by the local Board of Realtors.
Wait - what? Handball champion?
Dealing with homeowners and buyers was not his niche, however. He set his sights on the big deals brokering land for development. He also created a concrete company that installed curb and guttering for the neighborhoods and industrial parks he brokered.
Entrance to Long Point, a neighborhood Daddy
helped develop in the Churchland area of Portsmouth, VA
Daddy’s ventures were not the financial success he probably envisioned. Heck, he was on the verge of bankruptcy several times before miraculously saving himself. As one of his business friends said, “Fred had too much heart for the business he was in.” He was not a hard son-of-a-gun, apparently a necessary trait for a long business life.
My nephews saved parts of Daddy's real estate signs.
This one hangs in a home office.
But Daddy was happy in his work which he continued to do right to his dying day at the age of 80.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Fascinating read about your dad! That's great too that he ventured into a lot of different fields and tried a variety of things. I wonder how he would feel knowing a lot of Sears stores (at least here in Arizona) have closed.


    1. Yeah, Sears has closed here too. I don't know how much Daddy would have cared about that since he had moved on from retail, but we surely would have heard all the old stories about the people he worked with and the fun he had there.

  2. Loved reading about your Dad’s ventures. I’m not ruthless enough for business either. I once had a shop and practically gave stuff away haha!

    1. See! You gotta be tough. It is good you recognized that you were not quite tough enough for retail.

  3. A lovely tribute to your Dad, Wendy.

  4. My hubby tried real estate but gave up on it pretty quickly. Not an easy field to succeed in.

  5. How interesting to learn about your dad's ambitions, and successes (and not quite successes.) I've sure dabbled in a lot of careers, and am glad I did.

  6. How fun for all of you to go to real estate school together. That's an occupation I could never do. My dad worked until he died, too. Actually, we worked on Friday and then died the following Monday, Labor Day, at the age of 78.