In a time when changing careers is as common as changing clothes, 80-year-old Sara Johnson has been a stand-out employee.
For Johnson, working at one business for practically her entire career wasn’t just a job, it was a calling.
For 62 years, Johnson worked at Wilson Electric Co. in downtown Macon. As the company expanded, modernized and was handed down from one generation to the next, she stuck by the Wilson family’s side.
“The company grew and changed, but when you work for people for a long time, they become family, your family,” Johnson said.
Originally from small-town Sparta, Johnson grew up on a farm with her parents and sister.
“We had no money. My father worked in the sawmill, my mother worked in the pants factory in Sparta… everything we had came from our farm,” Johnson said.
But in 1954, Johnson was awarded a $350 scholarship from her local 4H club for her skills in canning and freezing food. The skills she learned on the farm were about to transform her life for good.
“I knew I wanted to do something to better myself,” Johnson said.
So after just turning 17, Johnson decided to use the money to move to Macon and attend the Georgia Business School. She lived at the YWCA and attended classes during the week. On the weekends, she would make the trip home by bus to see her family.
“It was hard, but it was the most I had ever in my life,” Johnson said.
After completing business school, Johnson began clerical work for a local restaurant chain. One day, a woman she sat next to on her many trips to and from Macon began talking about an open position at Wilson Electric.
“I found out that Wilson Electric paid two or three dollars more, so I started work there on May 12, 1955,” Johnson said.
Starting as an entry-level secretary at 18 years old, Johnson grew close to John Wilson and his wife, Hattie, the founders of Wilson Electric Co. She wasn't there more than a year before the company expanded into the two-part business it is now, Wilson Electric Co. and Wilson Electric Supply Co.
“I took care of all of the personal bookkeeping for Mr. Wilson, and he and I shared a birthday,” Johnson said on how she formed the bond that would compel her to dedicate her life to the company.
Johnson’s position in the company would change through the years; she became the company’s secretary treasurer with several employees reporting to her.
The company eventually was passed down to John Wilson’s son, Roger Wilson, and has remained in the family.
Beth Youmans, Roger Wilson’s granddaughter and Johnson’s replacement at Wilson, frequently visits her grandfather to discuss the business. Youmans says there is one piece of advice he always leaves her with.
“ ’I have been very, very blessed with the women in my life,’ ” Youmans recalls. “ ’Ruth has been a good wife and mother, and Sara is the smartest, most loyal person I have ever met. Be sure to learn everything you can from her.’ ”
Barrie Clark is another long-time Wilson employee and was Johnson’s coworker.
“People would always complain to me about their job and ask how I could stay in one place so long,” said Clark. “I always told them that I love my work and the people I work with, and mainly I love my boss, Sara.”
Clark teared up as she talked about her friendship with Johnson and Johnson’s value to the company.
“Everyone was always amazed at how organized Sara was … she really dedicated her life to this company and she taught me everything I know,” Clark said.
Just as Johnson’s commitment to the company was unwavering, so was her desire to do the job well.
“I just felt like I was getting forgetful, and I didn’t want to make a mistake,” Johnson said.
So with 62 years behind her, Johnson walked into work Friday, Oct. 6, and declared it would be the day she finally retired.
With her new spare time, Johnson said she wants to become more involved in her church and plans to take a trip to Israel in January.
And while her time at Wilson Electric might have come to a close, her dedication to the family remains strong.
“They’re my family," Johnson said. "I’ve been there so long that I can’t give enough appreciation to the Wilson family. Everything I have came from them.”