In reply to the question to write about one's greatest achievement in my life, I wrote the following:
Since only one in ten students graduate from stenotype school, I would have to say that this has been my greatest achievement. The fall after graduating from Frank W. Cox High School in 1970, I enrolled in Princess Anne Business College in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for a one-year executive secretarial diploma program and graduated with honors. Looking back, it was an excellent program that solidly prepared a young woman--men did not attend at the time--for a position in the administrative field.
After completing the program, I took a position at Evans Products Company, a prefinished plywood paneling plant in Chesapeake, Virginia, which is no longer in business. I worked for Genaro "Gino" Camellia in Creative Services and later for Dick Bugle in Engineering. Coincidentally, this is where i met my husband, Frederick W. Gray, but that story is for another day.
Leaving Evans Products Company after a year-and-a-half around1971-72, I took a position with the City of Virginia Beach's Planning Department in the Administrative Building at Princess Anne County Courthouse as a stenographer-typist II. The man in their human resources department told me I scored very highly on the city's exam, and he was amazed at my typing and shorthand abilities. He said most people exaggerated about their typing and shorthand speed.
After being assigned a desk in a large room with other stenographer-typists, as I settled into my new desk and chair, I found in the desk drawyers the strangest looking narrow folded paper with what appeared to be some illegible typing on it, and I inquired if anyone knew what it was. I was told the previous person who sat there was named Pat McQueen, and she was studying stenotype--a form of shorthand.
In my new position, I recorded the minutes of the planning commission meetings using Gregg shorthand and an IBM magnetic-selectric typewriter. It took a month to produce the minutes of the meetings. Quickly I learned that there had to be a better and faster way to take shorthand and produce the record, and perhaps Pat McQueen thought along the same lines, and stenotype was the answer.
As I started to investigate stenotype, I had a memory flashback. I recalled from attending Princess Anne Business College during daytime classes in my secretarial course that I overheard a student in the student lounge talking about those people going to night school studying stenotype. Someone said it took an extraordinarily long time to learn it, so who would want to do that! Being young, several years seemed too long a time to invest in anything, so I discarded that idea at the time.
Later, I "let my fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages" since personal computers were unheard of then, and I located Virginia Stenotype Institute in the Plaza One Building in Downtown Norfolk, Virginia. After a discussion with them over the phone, I learned that they had night classes but were starting a day class, so I enrolled to attend full-time in their first day school class. I paid $300 for tuition, which was a semester, and about $300 for my Stenotype machine, carrying case, and tripod. Pads of stenotype paper were twenty-eight cents each, and at that price, the school made a little profit for carrying it.
There were only six in my class: Sandy McLaughlin (previously from California); Belinda "Bunny" Bynum from Portsmouth; Jennifer Jennings, who was the daughter of Dr. Stanley Jennings of Chesapeake; Jack Williams of Pungo, and me. There was another student, but I cannot recall the name at this time. (I thought I'd never forget!)
Our instructor was Pat Sutton, a college-degreed educator, but she was only two weeks ahead of us in our Stenotype theory book. The owners of the school were the late Ed & Pat Jamie of Virginia Beach. He was a court reporter, co-owner of Jamie & Browning Court Reporting, and his wife did the administrative work for the school..
Since there was a nationwide shortage of court reporters at the time--and still is because it is so difficult to learn--Jamie's idea was to have a school, graduate students, cull out the best for his firm, and hire them.
I was ready to quit after the first day, but Jack Williams encouraged me and said if he could do it, certainly I could, too. He was repeating theory from night classes, and poor soul, he was in his 40s--which seemed ancient to me at the time--had arthritis of the back and trouble sitting for long periods of time, yet he somehow obtained government funding to go to court reporting school. Not surprisingly, he soon dropped out.
My biggest problem was trying to unlearn the QWERTY keyboard, which I had used since the 9th grade in school. It was confusing, to say the least; however, I finally caught on about the second or third day. Jack Williams's encouragement kept me in school past the first day, and it turned out that I enjoyed the challenge and attained the speed of 180 words per minute within six months.
During that six months, though, I learned more about the school and personality of its owner. Sometimes at our mid-morning break, we went downstairs to the Mall Restaurant, which sat at the corner of Saint Paul's Boulevard and Plume Lane facing the City of Norfolk's Circuit Courts and General District Courts buildings. Now and then we would see a court reporter leaving the courthouse and walking across the crosswalk to either his car in the nearby parking lot or coming into the Mall Restaurant to pick up a snack for the road. The students would ask Mr. Jamie who that reporter was--you could tell by the Stenograph carrying case that it he was a reporter--and sometimes he would tell us and sometimes not. I figured out later that the ones he would tell us were the ones who worked for him. The ones he would not tell us were his competition.
Because I had been to court clerk's offices in the past seeking genealogical information, I figured I could acquire other information there as well. So one day I stepped across the street and inquired of a deputy clerk who that gentleman court reporter was. The clerk said, "Oh, that's Frank Tayloe." Then he said, "Haven't you heard about the big lawsuit between Tayloe and Jamie?" which, of course, I had not. The deputy clerk then led me to a file cabinet, opened it, pulled out a transcript of the trial and said, "Read this."
I scanned the transcript and discerned that Judge Walter Page heard the contract dispute case. There I learned that Jamie asked all the court reporters who worked for him to sign a contract with a noncompete clause, which disallowed them to work anywhere within a 200- or 250-mile radius of his business for a period of two years.
In the past, Frank G. Tayloe worked for Jamie, signed the contract, and then wanted to leave and start his own business; however, he could not do so because he had signed the contract. So Jamie sued Frank for breach of contract, and Jamie won. Frank had to leave the area to work for two years, and he went to Washington, D.C., where I believe he worked for Ace Federal Court Reporters. There he reported all types of cases and received tremendous experience, enough so that when he returned home to Norfolk, he easily could start his new business.
Frank Tayloe and Frances Zahn, another court reporter, started Tayloe & Zahn Court Reporters with an office in the Pembroke area of Virginia Beach. Several of the students and I went to see Frank one day and talked with him about reporting school and the reporting field. He was very professional and careful not to denigrate Ed Jamie in any way. He informed us about the Virginia Court Reporters Association and the National Court Reporters Association, which Jamie conveniently withheld from us. (Remember, this is pre-Internet.) We had no way of knowing about these associations unless you physically visited a library and hunted for this type of information, which I had previously done but found nothing. So my classmates and I were stunned at the information that was withheld from us. As as result, the entire class--all four of us--left Jamie's school. Two of the original six had dropped out by that time.
We went to Princess Anne Business College, which Frank told us about, and met with Kathryn Nelson, who owned the school. I did not know it at the time, but later she confessed that she was very suspicious of us at the time, thinking that Jamie had sent us to spy on her operation. She was very kind in accepting us, and we enrolled and worked hard to finish our program. Sandy McLaughlin never could acquire the speed, so she dropped out and moved back to California or somewhere in the West. Jennifer Stanley also dropped out, so that left Bunny Bynam and me.
Against the popular notion that only one in ten finishes reporting school, two of us completed the program and worked as court reporters, so we beat the odds.