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Riley makes an good impression in printing

Receiving the Massey Award for distinguished service to the University is a big honor, but it takes on special significance when every person in your 56-member department nominates you for it.

That’s what happened to Bobby Riley, who has worked for the University for 25 years. Now the lithographic plate processor at Printing Services, he has worked through many positions, learning new skills as old ones he had mastered became obsolete through technology.

“He goes like crazy–works twice as hard as most people, and you don’t hear complaints from him,” said Chuck Lind, director, Printing Services. “He’s the kind of employee you wish you had 10 of.”

Riley’s University career started in 1970 as a yardman for the Carolina Inn. Two years later, he transferred to printing.

His first job there involved manning an addressing device, a job that already was being phased out. The following year, he was promoted to duplicating, where he stayed until 1983. At that time, copying positions were cut back due to the creation of better copiers, and Riley was going to be switched to the bindery.

Lithographic Section Supervisor Billy Marlette, then printing unit supervisor, recalled saying, “Whoa, wait a minute,” when he heard that. His lithographic plate processor was leaving, and he had a hunch that Riley, a renowned perfectionist, might be perfect for the job, which requires a great deal of skill and patience.

“His eyes just lit up when I mentioned it to him.” Marlette said. “But he said, `I’m not sure I can do it,” and I asked him `What haven’t you ever been able to learn, once you set your mind to it?’ And he’s been super at it.”

The position involves taking a negative and transferring it onto an aluminum printing plate using a multi-step burning process. Completing the job without a glitch can be very tricky, Marlette said.

“You’ve got to have everything just right, or you mess up thousands of dollars in a hurry,” he explained.

Lind agreed. “He’s the make-or-break before we get to the press,” he said, adding that if the type and photographs are not properly burned, the final product can be ruined. “Quality is of the utmost importance in that job.”

Twelve years after he switched to lithographic plates, Riley continues to learn new techniques. “We’re all on computers now,” he said, citing the rise of automation as the biggest change he has seen during his years at the University. “I have to log everything in on the computer.”

Riley processes some 350 jobs monthly, most of them while standing, despite the cerebral palsy that has made it painful for him to put strain on his legs.

“I was talking to him a few weeks ago,” said Marlette, who has known Riley since he was a child, “and I said, `You could retire on disability,’ and he said `No way.’ He was told at an early age that he would never be able to do anything much, and from his early teens, he set out to prove them wrong. He doesn’t view his disability as a disability.”

Part of what drives Riley to work so hard is sheer job satisfaction.

“I enjoy my job,” he said, “because they gave me a chance to climb up and the people don’t push me to the back burner.” He also said he likes the benefits.

Riley always volunteers for the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon, and used to serve on its board. Working for this cause takes on special meaning for him, as his wife also has cerebral palsy.

Part of his award money will go toward a telephone attachment for his wife, Catherine Riley, a former University employee who is now deaf. The device translates spoken words to written ones that appear on a computer screen, and would allow her to use the telephone to communicate with friends.

Riley also used some of the award money to throw a pizza party for his colleagues recently to thank them for nominating him.


Originally published by University Gazette: June 7, 1995

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