Sixteen thousand days, give or take a week or two. That’s the length of time that Brenda Mansfield has graced the environs of Community Electric Cooperative. Oops … our mistake … that’s soon to be retired Brenda Mansfield – 16,000 days after joining CEC on August 19, 1979.
On that day, the song “My Sharonna” by the Knack sat atop the music charts. Soviet cosmonauts Valery Ryumin and Vladimir Lyakhov returned to Earth after a record 175 days in outer space. The NASA explorer spacecraft New Horizons – which took more than 3,600 days to reach Pluto in the summer of 2015 – wouldn’t even be launched for a quarter-century after Mansfield joined CEC.
As her June 30th retirement approaches, colleagues are marveling at Mansfield’s career and, even more so, at the qualities that she has brought to it day in and day out – first as Confidential Secretary to then-General Manager James Reynolds and, ultimately, as Manager of Member Services, the position she has held for the past 25 years.
“She’s the perfect one for that position,” said CEC Executive Assistant Annette Dickey. “You hear her answer the phone, and she just has this phone voice. It’s so light and professional and helpful sounding. She may be stressed or may have just dealt with a difficult situation, but you hear that tone of voice, and it’s always the same: no irritation, and it makes that customer know she’s listening and she wants to help. And that’s who she is.”
Dickey, who’s been with CEC since 1991 and is hardly a newbie herself, said the length of Mansfield’s tenure speaks to the family feeling that has permeated Community Electric through the years.
“She’s so dependable,” Dickey said, repeating a common description. “If I need something, Brenda is there. She’s my English person. She has taught me so much about grammar and wording. When she’s gone, I guess I’ll just have to figure it out on my own!”
Art Forrester, himself a longtime employee who retired in 2018 after 45 years with CEC, used to tease Mansfield that she should have been an English teacher. “When I had to write a paper or letter, I’d always go to her for proofing and suggestions. She was always there to help me with that kind of thing,” he said.
While Forrester and Mansfield didn’t interact directly for much of their careers – he typically was in the field after starting as a lineman before ultimately advancing to the position of Service Supervisor – Forrester fondly recalls the weeks after a serious flood many years ago that he and Mansfield were dispatched by Reynolds to visit with member-owners and offer assistance.
“She was good with the members,” Forrester recalled. “She is smart, likable … and tough. She’s a good, kind woman and a good supervisor. She’s stern with her people; she means business.”
Mansfield’s commitment to serve CEC’s members effectively comes across in some of the experiences she recalls most vividly.
“We’ve gone through some long nights here during ice storms and hurricanes. I would wind up either sleeping or nodding on top of my desk,” she said. “For me and some of us who’ve been here for a while, even though we were office personnel, they still were 12- to 16 -hour shifts for us, answering phones and working with people after they’ve been out of power for days and days. Sometimes they are not very happy about it, and sometimes they are understanding.
“I can remember one major storm we had many years ago. We were working here long hours, and then going home, we were out of power there for two weeks. We had the windows raised and would try to sleep, but all you could hear were generators running. Fortunately we had city gas and water, and we still could shower.”
Mansfield is “really proud” of her career – and rightly so, Dickey said. “She started right out of high school, and she has worked from the bottom to the top of her field. She is a great example of success and is somebody I look up to. I am going to miss her.”
For her part, Mansfield says, “What’s the line from ‘The Wizard of Oz’? … ‘It’s not where you go; it’s who you meet along the way.’ I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really nice folks, who you certainly can call friends. It’s the same thing with our members – folks you’ve worked with month after month, year after year. It gets to where you feel like you know them and their families.”
As retirement nears, Mansfield is quick to name a couple of the things she looks forward to most eagerly: “Digging in the dirt when I want to, not just jamming it in on Saturday or Sunday,” and spending more time with her two grandchildren, one of whom lives nearby but the other of whom lives about four hours away.
Her parting message to CEC’s members: “I’m a fairly simple person. I would just thank them for the opportunity to have worked for them.”