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What I Learned from the Greatest Generation

by Ray Gregoire

I am who I am today, due to what my parents taught me. “If you want it, earn it. There is no free lunch.” I hated it at the time, but eventually I realized that it was the best thing my folks ever did for me, and I did the same for my boomer children.

I Started Working at Age Five

I was an only child with a working mother and father and, by any measure, we were fairly well-off financially.

I remember, at age five, getting a few dollars for my birthday and my mother insisting I open a bank account. And, when I was five years old, I got my first job selling vegetables from door to door.  The produce came from my father’s garden, and I learned about investing, marketing and sales, as our agreement was:

  • The first $50 in sales went for seeds and fertilizer.
  • The proceeds after reaching $50 were split 50-50 between me and my dad.

I knocked on doors selling cucumbers for five cents, corn for 50 cents a dozen and (the big cash cow) strawberries for 50 cents a quart. I made $89 my first summer and deposited it in the bank. I learned to sell, which lead to my first job after college.

the greatest generationI Learned to Earn What I Wanted

I was never handed anything outright. I paid for half of my first two-wheel bike when I was 12 years old.  I sold newspapers on a street corner during the week and in front of the church on Sundays.  I helped my dad on his bread truck on Saturdays for one dollar.  I was pushed into the Boy Scouts and worked my way up to Eagle Scout with two Palms, awards that were paramount in helping me get many jobs.

At 14, I went to work for A&W Root Beer for 75 cents an hour, washing dishes.  Eventually, I worked my way up to manager, earning $1.25 an hour and working 60 hours a week during the summer. This is where I learned how to run a business and manage people.

I Learned the Value of Contacts

At 16, my dad’s company went out of business and I was told I would have to pay for college myself. Dad was 50 and very nervous about not having a job. However, when I worked on my father’s bread route as a child, I had made friends with the Wonder Bread guy, and he had now worked his way up to General Manager of Wonder Bread in New England.

I pushed my dad to call my friend at Wonder Bread. After 6 months of unemployment, my dad finally called and got a job that paid triple that of the job he lost. I had learned the importance of contacts.

I Paid My Own Way Through College

Dad still would not pay for college, so I applied at Associated Grocers of New England. I was turned down, so I re-applied every week for a month and finally got a job loading trucks, a backbreaking job where few college kids returned for their second day.

I worked my way up and, within a year, I went from $1.35 an hour to the full-time wage of $2.65. Because I worked so hard, I got unlimited overtime, often hitting 60 plus hours a week, which was more than enough to pay for college. During the school year, I managed to work 40 hours a week and, by my senior year (age 20) in college, I bought my first house (a two-unit duplex), bought a new car and had $5000 in the bank.

What the Associated Grocers job taught me was “persistency,” because that’s what got me the job.  Also, I learned that hard work was rewarded financially.

My Early Lessons Helped Me

After graduating from college, I got more experience with Sun Life, and then Pillsbury, before ending up at Johnson & Johnson. I got the job at that Dow 30 company due to my Eagle Scout Palm awards and my work experience dating back to age five.

The rest is history. I spent 34 years at Johnson & Johnson as a Territory Manager, followed by Key Account Manager, Sales Analyst, Assistant Manager of Sales Analysis & Planning, Director of Sales Analysis & Planning, Regional Manager for OB Tampons, National Accounts Manager and Western Regional Manager. In retrospect my upbringing lead to all my successes.

My Baby Boomer Children

Although extremely well-off financially, I applied the principles my folks taught me with my five children. All of my children worked, starting at age 14. If they wanted a car, I would match up to $2000 for a car and they paid their own insurance.

When they went to college, they had to earn their own fun money and pay for their books. No loans from daddy. Results: All five children have good jobs and four are doing well financially.

Future Generations

My concern is the Millennial Generation, as they have not learned good work ethics and they are too pampered by mommy and daddy. Those who worked at a young age will make it, and those who were coddled will not.

More Articles for Baby Boomers:

Thank a Boomer

Top Trends for Fall 2012: Over 40 or 50

Hippie Wedding Dresses for a Casual Bohemian Chic Celebration

Baby Boomers Ruined America?

(Photo courtesy of mobilestance.com.)

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Ray Gregoire is a retired executive from Johnson & Johnson.

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  1. Christina Gregoire

    Yes, you may have noticed the name of the author. He is my husband.

  2. Jo Scozzafava

    Great article Ray! I could not agree with you more. The best gift we can give our children is for them to learn what they are capable of achieving. My youngest son wanted a lap top computer. He saved his gift money from Christmas, his birthday (May) and his graduation money that year. He worked odd jobs during the summer and in time for school, he bought his own lap top. He was so excited about it, he could not sleep that night. He kept saying, "I can't believe I bought my own computer. I can't believe I bought my own computer." In his papers from high school, I found a report he had to write. The topic was, "What is something you have done that you are proud of?" Yup. It was the fact that he had saved and bought his own computer.

    • Christina Gregoire


      I really wish I had used the "old fashioned" technique when I was raising my kids. However, some help is always required when raising children.

      • Jo Scozzafava

        Hi Tina,
        That's for sure. We could all use some help and we do the bast we can at the time. Parenting is an amazing adventure.