Ann Taylor is a born leader.
She started out at the Pontiac Printshop in 1978, getting hired as a maternity leave replacement and rapidly working her way up the office hierarchy. She retired last week as the general manager of the shop, after 42 years with the company.
Ann was born in St. Catherines but moved to the English-speaking Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield when she was a toddler, the daughter of an electrical engineer and a registered nurse.
As a youngster, she always had a love for animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
“Every year I’d ask for a horse for my birthday and every year I knew I wouldn’t get it but I still looked out the window ... in a residential area of Montreal,” she recalled with a laugh.
When she realized the reality of getting accepted into vet school, she opted for an agricultural course through Macdonald College. Being a city-dweller, she didn’t have the requisite farm experience to join the program, so she wrote letters to 10 farmers across the province to see if she could acquire some summer work experience. Just before Easter in 1972, Shawville dairy farmer Chris Judd gave her a call and asked if she’d be interested in spending the weekend. She did and returned in the summer, learning how to milk cows and drive a tractor, among many other adventures.
“It was an experience, but a ton of fun at the same time,” Ann recalled. “They were so kind, so generous. Jeannie was pregnant when I went and Scott was born in September of that year.”
It was on the Judd’s farm that she also met the love of her life, Brent Plouffe, who helped out on the farm as well.
“That, of course kept me coming back to the area after,” she said.
Ann took a year off before returning to complete her two-year course and moved to Ottawa, where she worked for Algonquin Travel for a year before moving to Shawville. She worked for a time as a remote agent for Ottawa Travel, a job she got after an interview with the (in)famous Lowell Green, who was the co-owner of the company at the time. She would serve as the Pontiac representative for the office in Aylmer.
“When Smurfit-Stone or Consolidated-Bathurst were doing their trip somewhere, they would call me and I’d book their flight,” she said. “It was before everyone could do it online.”
At the time, her neighbour in Shawville was Neil Sharpe, who served as the pressman at the Printshop for 49 years. He approached her about a job to replace an employee who was off on maternity leave, and Ann started at the company in September of 1978.
At the time, the business was in flux, as Rosaleen and David Dickson, who purchased the newspaper and founded the printshop in 1953, were in the process of handing the business off to their son Ross and his wife at the time, Heather Alberti-Dickson.
Heather was pregnant at the time with her first child and said that everyone took to Ann right away.
“Ross and I were in the throes of taking the business over at that point, I was pregnant ... we needed to hire someone,” she said. “Neil Sharpe recommended this young gal that lived next door to him. We interviewed her and fell in love with her right away, this cute girl that looked just like Cher from Montreal, who was in love with a Pontiac boy.”
Ross recalled that she was smart and confident, which he attributed to her time working remotely with the travel company.
“Her experience trying to set up her own business was a help,” he said. “She had a little dose of reality I think.”
Ann’s first task was to apply numbers to file folders for the Pontiac Community Hospital.
“My first job here, the hospital had contracted at that time, file folders. They were switching their system, they needed all the little five digit numbers stuck on,” she said. “They had already given them 1,000 to get them started and I ... grabbed the mail, made the coffee and just sat there putting 50,000 stickers on. You get pretty quick after a while.”
The employee she was replacing didn’t end up returning, so Ann stayed on and began learning bindery and other skills from her neighbour Neil. She also began to take over aspects of the business that David Dickson had previously been in charge of, such as the Heidelberg press. She recalled that they both were great teachers that she learned a lot from.
In 1980, she and Brent bought a farm in Bristol, which also incidentally fulfilled her childhood dream.
“I bought the farm and the horse came with it, so I finally got my horse,” she laughed.
For nearly a decade during the 80s, she and Brent raised meat goats, with a herd numbering about 50 does. That adventure lasted about six to eight years according to Ann. During this time, Brent also got hired on at the printshop.
“They were great, but I think we were a little too sensitive,” she said. “You do everything you can to save the kids, take care of them, vaccinate them ... just to ship them for meat. I think they’re so friggin’ cute. That was tough, so we went out of that.”
It was during this time, however, that the printshop was undergoing a major change in the way that it did business, with the introduction of the Macintosh computer in 1986.
“Ross came in one day and put a Mac Classic on my desk,” Ann recalled. “He said, ‘You’re going to like this.’”
As it turns out, she did. The switch from analog printing and layout was a gradual and arduous one, but it brought with it efficiencies that were incomprehensible at the time.
Ross said that in the early days, tech support was miles away and costly to obtain, so troubleshooting your own machine was key.
“You couldn’t afford to get technical help, you really had to [learn] these computers, you actually had to fix one,” he said. “Nowadays you’d probably send it to the dump and get a new one.”
Ann recalled reading up on her new computer while her goats were kidding in the spring, sometimes at odd hours.
“They’d look at you like nothing’s happening, then sure enough [they’d start giving birth],” she said. “You’d wait for them to kid, [which] could be hour or two, so I’d go out there and read the manual at two in the morning.”
In addition to her technical proficiency, Ann also has a deep connection with her customers, some of whom she’s been serving for several decades. She singled out one example, John MacGregor of MacGregor Concrete Products in Beachburg Ont.
“They’ve been in existence 45 years I think, I’ve been here 42, so you grow this rapport,” she said. “He knows I always work Saturday morning and he’d come over with his printing in the spring for the concrete company. One day he goes, ok we’re done with that. He had this big binder with him. I was busy and I was thinking ‘Oh, how am I going to be able to do all that he’s got in there.’ He goes, now we’re done with business, now it’s us time. He showed me all the pictures of his cattle ... his kids, his farm ... It’s when you get past being their customer and they’re your friend.”
Many of Ann’s colleagues remembered her personality and work ethic fondly. Dave Moore, who was hired on in 1986 and is still with the company, said that Ann had been on an upward trajectory as soon as she arrived.
“I always thought she was a pretty smart cookie, she knew what she wanted,” he said. “She timed everything. If you were doing a job, she had it timed out, how long you should take to do that job.”
His wife Deb, who worked for the printshop during her younger years, said that Ann was a great co-worker.
“She always had a fun sense of humour,” she said. “We had a blast back here. When Plouffe was here and Neil, it was lots of fun, made it easier to come to work ... She was always good dealing with the customers too ... just talk to them make them happy.”
“Just an all around good person,” said Katherine Hynes, who worked in the shop’s advertising department for 30 years. “I don’t think I’ve worked with anybody that has the work ethic that Ann does.”
“There was nothing that she wasn’t afraid to tackle,” Kathy added. “Her motto was, ‘They own me for eight hours a day, so for those eight hours, there’s really nothing in the job description that isn’t yours.’”
Ann gave birth to her only child, Adrienne, in 1990, but it wasn’t long before Ann had roped her into the “work family”.
“Kathy’s kids were working Saturday morning and they were getting older and moving on,” Ann explained. “Heather was looking for somebody Saturday morning, ‘What about Adrienne?’ ‘She’s 12, [I replied].’ She says, ‘Ahh that’s old enough!’”
From there, Adrienne also worked as a reporter for several years, along with the man that she eventually married, Cory Wilson.
For Ann the close-knit nature of the business is what’s kept her coming back for more than four decades, and is also what she’s going to miss the most.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have really great co-workers,” she said. “There’s people that come and go over time, especially in the newsroom, but ... when you spend 40 hours a week, which is probably half ... of your waking hours with people, they become your family. So when I leave here what I’m going to miss the most is my family ... It will be an evolution but it will be nice to spend more time with my other family and not my work family. That will be really sad.”
“She had a really good sense of humour and I really enjoyed working with her all these years,” Ross said. “[She was] constantly joking, poking fun at stuff.”
“She was always solving problems not causing problems,” he added.
Ross’s brother, Charles Dickson, who took over the ownership of the shop several years ago, echoed the sentiment.
“One of the things about her is that she’s all about results,” he said. “Fortunately she’s smart as a whip so she can make decisions quickly. If there’s work to do, she just wants to get it done ... She doesn’t suffer fools, that’s for sure.”
“She’s had a major influence on the business and the character of the business and how it functions, obviously there will be quite a difference felt when she retires,” Charles continued. “I’ve had some trouble imagining how the place will function without her. She’s always said that nobody’s indispensable. I know what she means, but in this case I’m not so sure.”
“I’m pretty sure she’ll find something to do at home ... there’s not a lot of down time in that girl,” Heather said. “She leaves very big cowboy boots to fill.”
“People ask the difference
between a leader and a boss.
The leader leads, the boss drives.”
- Theodore Roosevelt
by Caleb Nickerson
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