Mike Reddick was happy to get a job at Sobeys back in 1985 but he never expected he would retire from the company 32 years later.
Nor did he expect the well-wishers who dropped in to Store #652, West Side Sobeys, a week ago, nor the steady phone calls, nor the 600 congratulatory messages on Facebook.
“I’m still in shock. I’m just overwhelmed by the number of people who took the time to say nice things as I move on,” he said.
The well-wishers included local customers, former and present co-workers, summer cottagers, a mother whose two sons Reddick trained and even a former Scout leader.
“You go to work to do the best job you can but you’re not always very aware of the impact you can have on other people. It is great to hear, but it is humbling, too.”
Reddick expects to fully enjoy a future with two-day weekends, a rarity in the retail world, but unlike most retirees he won’t be able to stay away from his workplace.
“We can’t go long without groceries so I’ll be dropping by one Sobeys store or another. I’ll enjoy seeing the people and what’s going on but I won’t worry about any of it,” he laughed.
When Reddick left New Glasgow High School his only objective was to get a paying job and he found one at McDonald’s. A year or so later he moved up to management but after a couple of years he was eager for something new.
“I was looking for broader experience and I figured I could get that at Sobeys so I applied but I didn’t get anywhere. After a while a friend put in a word for me and I was hired.”
His first jobs with the company were in Cole Harbour and Penhorn Mall stores. When he got the chance to move back to Pictou County with the company, he jumped at it, having figured out city life was not for him.
“I’d been a nightshift manager in the city so I came home to be nightshift manager at the Aberdeen Mall store which was part of a shopping mall in those days. I was there, off and on, for 16 or 17 years and saw a lot of changes and renovations.”
Through the years he trained or worked in all the county stores and spent some time in head office.
“As you get older you’re really happy to have a good pension plan but the chance to work in different departments is one of the things that kept me with the company in my earlier years. I spent a while in front end and stints in the meat department but I had quite a few years as a seafood manager.”
He also became the company’s seafood trainer for Atlantic Canada, travelling to share his knowledge of seafood, display techniques and sales presentation.
“When I first became a seafood manager all I knew about fish was that I liked the taste of it. I had a whole lot to learn.”
He remembers a day early on when a fish supplier sold him a load of one white fish telling him it was another.
“It happened once but never again. I learned in a hurry to tell the difference between haddock and cod at a quick glance.”
He also credits the seafood department with honing his customer service skills.
“People have a few more questions buying fish than other items. They want to know what to look for in choosing their fish and where it comes from. If it is something new they may want to know how long to cook it or whether it can go on the barbecue.”
Visitors and cottagers, in particular, often seek guidance.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking a few minutes to talk with customers. I could tell pretty quick when someone is not local so I’d ask them what they are doing in the area, how they are liking their stay and see what fish I could offer them.”
One of his favourite cooking tips is to glaze salmon with maple syrup, either in the oven or on the barbecue. He said it gets rave reviews, even among people who claim not to like fish.
When it came to training staff, he always favoured showing people rather than telling them how things should be done.
“Learning how to handle people is a really important part of any job. Part of my job was always to teach by example and give people a chance to learn. Most people want to learn and, if not, you deal with that.”
Living and working in the same community for many years means many customers became friends. He even made friends with a couple of lobsters through the years.
“We’d have them in the tank for display, not for sale, so we got used to them being around.”
He had the honour of returning a rare bright orange lobster to the sea at Sinclair’s Island last summer.
“He was a big, big guy and when I let him go he surprised us by turning back to shore. In fact, he turned back a couple of times but we could see him slowly acclimatizing to the water. He eventually headed out and has not been seen since so I hope he is doing well.”
Reddick expects retirement will give him more time to spend with his children and grandchildren and he looks forward to a summer of camping and trying to become a better kayaker. He and his wife Jean, who married in the Dominican Republic 17 years ago, also hope to take a few trips south. When they go they’ll be taking a stash of 15 backpacks and assorted school supplies for students in a Mexican village.