Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | April 21, 2010

Excerpt from Personal Legacies: Surviving the Great Depression (CPCC Press 2006)

R. (Robert) Powell Majors

 Born Dec 12 1906

 We survived because we lived within our means.”

R. Powell Majors graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida in 1928. That November, he accepted a job for $125 a month with Peat Marwick and Mitchell, a public accounting and auditing firm in Charlotte. He had to sell his tuxedo for eighteen dollars in order to have money to move there. For the first two months, he stayed at the YMCA on the corner of Second and South Tryon Streets and then rented a room with a college friend in a private home on Greenway Avenue off of Caswell Road, close to Mercy Hospital. He rode the streetcar to work, buying four tickets for a quarter.

            The accounting business was fairly good until February 1931 when I became unemployed. I knew it was going to hit me because income tax was due by March 15 and, by February 1, we did not have anything to do. Everybody was broke. The government did not take taxes out of paychecks at that time, and if you did not make $1,500 dollars a year, you were exempt from federal income tax.

            After one week, I got a job for the Veterans Administration who needed extra help paying off a bonus to WWI veterans. I worked from three o’clock in the afternoon to eleven o’clock at night. When Tryon Drug Store went bankrupt, the receiver hired me to keep the books from 8:00 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon. Mr. Holmes, one of the former Tryon Drug partners, opened Park Place Pharmacy and hired me to work on Saturday and Sunday, teaching his daughter to keep the books.

            By that time, I was living with the Hal Bobbitt family and was working so much that dating was out of the question. I did not even have time to get a haircut. All of those jobs were temporary, so I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way.          

            At the end of May 1931, my jobs ran out, so I went to Florida to visit my family in St. Petersburg for two weeks’ vacation. I did not tell them I was unemployed because they had problems of their own. Their real estate business went kaput way before the Depression.

            When I returned to Charlotte, the Bobbitts woke me early the next morning because Mr. Bobbitt’s brother, Bill, wanted to talk to me about a job. He was an attorney for Independent Trust Company and they had foreclosed on a loan to a finance company in Hendersonville, They had to liquidate the collateral and the CEO of the finance company had an unsavory reputation, so they wanted an honest person to handle the pocketbook. The vice president interviewed me on the drive to Asheville and I got hired.

            A lot of people were out of work, so my job was not very pleasant. I was trying to get money out of people who did not have it so I had to sue them. I stayed there one year to the hour and moved back to Charlotte to work for Peat Marwick. After I did an audit at Southern Asbestos Company, they offered me forty dollars a week to work for them.

            I married Dorothy Alma Fortune in 1933. The first year we were married, I worked out a daily form to put down what we spent every day and develop a budget. Dot took five dollars a week and bought all of the groceries. She had milk delivered to the door and the laundry, too. Our rent was thirty-five dollars a month and I was making thirty-six dollars a week. I smoked in those days and bought cigarettes for $1.25 a carton. In 1934, we had to buy a refrigerator for nine dollars a month. It was the first time I was in debt and it drove me crazy.

            We survived because we lived within our means. One of our favorite eating places was Holmes Restaurant on South Tryon Street, just below the Catholic Church. They had good food and it was real reasonable. For thirty-five cents, you could go to Thacker’s on South Tryon for a meat and two vegetables. You could get the same at the S&W Cafeteria in 1935.

I was affected by the Depression. I still turn out lights and conserve on everything. We raised our two children, Robert, Jr. and Nancy, that way.

            After resigning from Southern Asbestos in 1943, Powell went on to work for Lance, Inc. for twenty-five years. A civic-minded institution, Lance encouraged him to get involved in the community. As a member Charlotte Rotary Club for 68 years, he served as president in 1946 and as president of Red Cross in 1953. After he retired, he worked part time for Central Piedmont Community College as a fundraiser for 19 years.

His advice: Get an education and learn to take care of what money you have. Be moderate in everything.

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