Sometimes, You Didn't Know She Was On the Place

There are two especially interesting kind of people in the workaday world, those who eschew the spotlight and those who clamor for it, deservedly or not. Those in the first group often “…fade into the woodwork,” as the saying goes. “You hardly know they are on the place,” suggests an old mountain idiom. In the second group are many of the world’s narcissists.

Today marks the final chapter in a twenty-year career of dedicated public servant who most people never knew was on the place. Quiet and decidedly unassuming is probably the best way to describe her. There hasn’t been a camera invented that she liked, nor a photographer from whom she didn’t run and hide when they came within twenty paces of wherever she was standing.

Deborah Putnam worked for fourteen or fifteen years in the “twister” room at Marion Fabrics in Marion, NC—or, in colloquial expression—the Cotton Mill.  It was hot, hard and sweaty work, but it filled her cupboard with most necessities and a few wants.

And then the factory closed.

That was when Deborah made one of the smartest decisions of her life: she enrolled at McDowell Technical Community College. In August of 1998, she graduated with an Associate’s degree in Office Systems Technology.

Her strong work ethic and dedication caught the eye of her instructors and senior administrators, and Deborah was offered a part-time job several months before graduation, working first at the college switchboard and then in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

After graduation, Deborah was offered the role of a lifetime for her—a full-time job as a supporting character in an educational drama—a woman whose work was the glue that helped hold the place together, but who never wanted credit for it.  

She first worked for Shirley Brown, before Brown was promoted to a higher-level position, and later for Brad Ledbetter, who will soon retire as Director of Continuing Education.

“It has been like a little miniature family,” she said, as she completed this, her last day of service to McDowell Tech. “I’ve worked for some really good people, and I find myself fortunate to have worked here. This [continuing education] is the best department,” she grinned, before acknowledging that she has worked with good people all over the McDowell Tech campus.

Marion City Council-Woman, Juanita Doggett, also a retired McDowell Tech employee, remembers Deborah as a good friend and a go-to person for help navigating various difficult software programs.

What Putnam remembers most, however, was the support Doggett and others gave her about 8 years ago when her husband of 41 years passed away. She described the comfort of her McDowell Tech friends during her grieving process, but Doggett remembered it a little differently. “I pestered her just to keep her sober,” she joked. In times like those, sometimes you have to joke, just to keep putting one foot in front of another.

“Like I said, I’ve just enjoyed working with the people here,” Putnam repeated.

For someone who eschews the spotlight, today must have felt a little odd for Deborah, with food and drink prepared especially for her and praise and thanks from her colleagues. With encouragement from her co-worker, Ramona DeAngelus, she even allowed us to take her picture for the first time in twenty years—without hiding or covering her face.  

Maybe she felt like a lesser-known Hollywood actress whose name has been called as a nominee for best supporting actress.

We hope it felt good. Tomorrow, she’ll return to another supporting role… as grandma.

In retirement, Deborah hopes to travel and catch up with her grandkids and watch them play sports and participate in other activities. Her oldest grandchild is in college, two are in high school at North Buncombe and one goes to school in Swannanoa.

Deborah’s family is “spread all over,” as she says, and in her first travels, she hopes to visit her sister in Jacksonville, Florida. After that, she and another recent McDowell Tech retiree, Joan Jackson, are planning to travel to Charleston, SC; Wilmington, NC; Williamsburg, VA; and anywhere else that suits their fancy.  

From her family at McDowell Tech, we wish Deborah fair winds and following seas as she travels to these beautiful port cities and starts the next chapter of her life.

Thanks for all you have done to make this a superlative place for student success.

Godspeed, friend.