With Massey Award, good fortune smiles on Gloria Fortune
When most people are heading for bed, Gloria Fortune is hopping a bus for work.
She works the midnight shift as a housekeeper on the fourth floor of Dey Hall, where she has worked the past 19 years.
Over the years, she has come to know every crack and crevice of that floor, and the people have gotten to know her – if only through the quality of her work, and the fact that it always gets done night after night.
She does not have a car, but she does have Triangle Transit. She catches the system’s last bus from Durham to Chapel Hill at 10:10 p.m. for the 40-minute ride and gets off on Franklin Street to grab what on her schedule is really breakfast.
But it’s never bacon and eggs or cereal. Some nights it’s pizza, some nights a chicken wrap, some nights Chinese, other nights a sandwich from Subway.
The routine at work is far more predictable.
She dust mops every night. She cleans the bathrooms every night and stocks them with toilet paper, paper towels and soap. She empties the garbage cans on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The next week, she spends two full nights waxing and buffing the floors into a glimmering shine.
As a young woman, Fortune knocked around at part-time jobs. When she landed a job at Durham Draperies, she kept it for 17 years before someone convinced her to take another job that paid a bit more money. She lost that job almost as quickly as she got it.
Maybe that’s why after she started working with the University in 1989 she decided to hold on to her job as long as she could.
“I really didn’t make any money when I first came over here and I‘m still not making all that much money now, but I enjoy the people I work around and I am thankful I have a job,” she said.
It helps her cover the mortgage and keep the lights on in her two-bedroom house in Durham, where she has lived for the past 10 years. She doesn’t like the house much. It’s too small and sits on a piece of low-lying property that has experienced constant water problems.
She can’t remember the last time she missed work, not because she is more dedicated than anybody else, she said, but because she needs every dime she makes.
When she worked the afternoon shift, she got to work at 4 p.m. when the building was still filled with people. Some people spoke to her, some didn’t. It was all the same to Fortune. She believes her work speaks for itself.
There are a handful of people she has gotten to know over the years, people who have become almost as important to her as her job.
“Mary Jones was in the building when I came here and she is just as sweet as she can be,” Fortune said, adding that the same could be said for Thomas Smither, the graduate student services manager for Romance languages. Jones is the department manager for Romance languages.
“I am just like family to them and they are just like family to me,” Fortune said. “I can go and talk to them about anything.”
She doesn’t make too much more than a beginning housekeeper makes, now that the University increased the minimum salary for SPA full-time permanent employees to $25,000 a year.
But Fortune does not begrudge them the salary boost. Their raise helped get them a little bit ahead and did not put her any farther behind, she said. After all, they are all fighting the same battle of survival.
“This day and time you really don’t know,” Fortune said. “The time is real bad. I have a house and you just have to pull your purse strings a little tighter.”
She doesn’t have bad habits, largely because she never has been able to afford them, she said. Her only vice is playing the lotto. Each ticket she buys holds an elusive promise that it might be the chance for a better life.
This year, her biggest winning ticket came in the form of a 2008 C. Knox Massey Award. It paid $6,000 before taxes, but was worth more to her than the money, she said.
What truly mattered was that other people on campus wanted to find a way to let her know that she mattered, too. Among them were Jones and Smither.
“Gloria constantly goes out of her way to keep the area spotless and is always a pleasant person,” Smither wrote in her nominating letter.
Jones wrote, “Gloria has been a housekeeper in Dey Hall for many years. During this time she has performed her assigned tasks in an exemplary manner with her area always having a good appearance. She has an outstanding attendance record and can always be counted on to be in Dey Hall cleaning the fourth floor and helping with other floors when needed.”
After raising and supporting her son, Fortune has grown accustomed to being on her own and taking care of herself.
This spring, she was able to convince a former boyfriend to give her a ride to the Massey banquet, but could not talk him into attending the event with her. She could not convince her mother or son or any of her sisters to go with her, either.
But on the night of the banquet, Fortune said she felt anything but alone.
“I was in another world,” she said. “I met the Massey award people and they are real nice. They took all our pictures with the chancellor. People I didn’t even know came up to me to thank me for what I do. That felt real good.”
When Fortune got up to speak, she thanked the chancellor and others present who had made that night possible and to tell them how much she appreciated being appreciated. Among those in the crowd cheering her on were Smither, her supervisor and another woman from housekeeping.
At the end of the evening, then-Chancellor James Moeser encouraged them to take home the floral centerpieces on the tables. She kept the flowers as long as she could, and has even managed to hold onto a good chunk of the award money – money she knows may come in handy on a rainy day.
As for the Massey plaque, it is propped against the wall on her dresser along with the other recognitions she has received through the years, including the one from Durham Draperies for 15 years of service and the one from the University for 10 years of service. In another year, she hopes, there will be another plaque for 20 years of University service.
There is nothing glamorous about her job, she said, but she believes it is as important to the University in its own way as it is to her – and will be for as long as she has it.
“We got a job to do. It might not be the best, but it is a job that needs to be done so other people can do theirs,” she said.
Originally published by University Gazette: Oct. 29, 2008