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For Gloria Thompson, the work is personal

Gloria Thompson received a 2014 Massey Award winner for her work at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Gloria Thompson, 2014 Massey Award winner, on a balcony overlooking the atrium at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Gloria Thompson, 2014 Massey Award winner, on a balcony overlooking the atrium at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Gloria Thompson gets by on only three or four hours sleep a night, but her co-workers would never suspect it.

A single mother of two, she holds down two jobs. A housekeeper primarily for the Gillings School of Global Public Health by day, Thompson works nights at the Target store in Elon. Yet each morning she greets staff, faculty and students at the school with a cheerful smile and makes sure they have a clean, safe work environment.

“Tirelessly and with a great sense of humor and equally great pride, Ms. Thompson has served in her current position for several years, helping the School of Public Health to remain as clean and orderly as it needs to be,” wrote Jon Mozes, business services coordinator in the nutrition department.

Mozes and several others emailed letters nominating Thompson for a 2014 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award for her dedication and devotion. When Thompson heard that she had received the award, she was astounded. “I thought I was going to pass out,” she said.

Thompson is not a supervisor or a team leader, but she is the housekeeper people call when there’s a problem – the trash hasn’t been emptied, the bathroom is out of toilet paper, the carpet hasn’t been vacuumed – because they know she’ll take care of it. “I’m here to please my customer,” Thompson said.

Five people in the dean’s office signed a nominating letter singing Thompson’s praises: “Gloria is a hard worker who goes above and beyond her assigned duties to deliver quality service. She is unfailingly respectful and upbeat and has a can-do attitude when she is asked to take on additional tasks.”

Maybe that’s because Thompson takes her work seriously and personally.

She is responsible for eight buildings in all, including those that house the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the School of Social Work. If even one of her buildings doesn’t look clean, she believes it reflects badly on her.

“I try to do my best,” she said. Once, just hours before a big function for donors in the Michael Hooker Research Center, she noticed spots on the windows and dust on the plants. It was 3 p.m., but she stayed and wiped, dusted and mopped until the building met her standards.

“Gloria takes pride in the work that she does because she takes pride in the Gillings School,” wrote Kaida Liang, USAID project manager in the environmental sciences and engineering department.

But it isn’t only her housekeeping skills that her customers appreciate. They also praised her smile, her positive attitude and her friendliness.

“Gloria makes it a point to say hello to everyone,” wrote Tracey Gollwitzer, assistant to the chair of the health policy and management department. “After all her years of service, she knows everyone in my department by name.”

Thompson, a former textile worker from Burlington, has been at the University for 15 years, the last seven at the Gillings School. “I love the people and the students here,” she said. “I get to meet people from different places – Africa, Jamaica, Russia.”

Thompson works two jobs (and picks up extra hours cleaning at football games) because she wants her children to attend college and have the opportunities she did not.

Her 21-year-old son, Marquis Long, is a student at Alamance Community College and works at a nursing home in Burlington. Daughter Moesha Long, 18, is a senior in high school and works two days a week at Tanger Outlets in Mebane. Both children are aware of their mother’s sacrifices.

“Being a single mother has to be hard on her, but she’s a fighter because most people in the world don’t do half the stuff she does,” Moesha Long wrote in her Massey nomination letter. “One day I hope to become a lady like her so I can give back to her for all the years of her hard work.”

Thompson’s co-workers are impressed by how much she does and how well she juggles work and home life, although Thompson wants to spend more time with her children. She dropped a third job she had cleaning houses and recently reduced her hours as a cashier and sales clerk at Target. Now she only works there two nights a week and on Saturday.

“This year, I don’t work on Sunday anymore, so I get to go to church. I’m 51 years old. I’m trying to cut back,” Thompson said. She even set aside time this year for a real family vacation at the beach.

While Thompson was away, she was definitely missed.

“When most people take vacation, their loss of presence may only be felt by a few,” wrote Naya Villarreal, Gillings Global Gateway coordinator. “I assure you, when Gloria is on vacation, it is felt by the entire School of Public Health.”

By Susan Hudson, Gazette
Originally published by University Gazette: January 13, 2015 – 9:52 am
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