The Company Man
He worked himself to death, finally and precisely, at 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning.
The article about his death didn't say that, of course. It said he died of a heart attack, but every one of his friends and acquaintances knew it instantly. He was a perfect Type A, addicted to working, they said to each other and shook their heads—and
thought for five or ten minutes about the way they lived.
This man, Phil, who worked himself to death finally and precisely at 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning—on his day off—was at work. He had devoted the last eighteen years of his life to that work. He was fifty-one years old and a vice-president. More precisely, he was one of six vice-presidents, and one of three that might conceivably if the president died or retired soon enough—have been promoted to the top spot. Phil could
not afford a rest.
He worked six days a week, five of them until eight or nine at night, during a time when his own company had begun the four-day week for everyone but the executives. He did not divide his time with outside interests, unless, of course, you consider his monthly game of golf. To Phil, it was work. He always ate egg salad sandwiches at his desk. He was, of course, overweight and had high blood pressure. On Saturdays, Phil wore a sports jacket to the office instead of a suit because it was the weekend.
He had a lot of people working under him, maybe sixty, and most of them liked and admired him most of the time. Three of them will be seriously considered for his job. The article ignored this information.
But it did list his "survivors" quite accurately. He is survived by his wife, Helen, forty-eight years old, a good woman of no particular marketable skills, who worked in an office before marrying and mothering. She had, according to her daughter, given up trying to compete with his work years ago when the children were small. A company friend said, "I know how much you will miss him." And she answered, "I already have."
"Missing him all these years," she had given up a part of herself, which had cared too much for the man. She would be "well taken care of".
His "dearly beloved" eldest of the "dearly beloved" children is a hard-working executive in a manufacturing firm down South. The day before the funeral, he went around the neighborhood talking to people and trying to get to know his father better. The neighbors were embarrassed, and pretended to know him better than they did.
His second child is a girl, who is twenty-four and newly married. She lives near her mother and they are close, but whenever she was alone with her father, in a car driving somewhere, they had very little to say to each other.
The youngest child is twenty, a boy, a high-school graduate and like a lot of his friends, he is content to do enough odd jobs to stay in grass and food. His father's work did not suit him. Still, he was the one who tried to reach his father, and tried to mean enough to him to keep the man at home. He was his father's favorite. Over the last two years, Phil stayed up nights worrying about the boy.
The boy once said, "My father and I only board here."
At the funeral, the sixty-year-old company president told the forty-eight-year-old widow that the fifty-one-year-old deceased had meant so much to the company and would be missed and hard to replace. The widow couldn't bear to look him in the eye. She was afraid he would read her bitterness and, after all, she would need him to straighten out their finances—the stock options and all that.
Phil was overweight, always wound up and worked too hard. If he wasn't at the office, he was worried about it. He was a natural choice for a heart attack. You could have picked him out in a minute from a line-up.
So when he finally worked himself to death, at precisely 3:00 A.M. Sunday morning, no one was really surprised.
By 5:00 P.M. the afternoon of the funeral, the company president had begun, discreetly of course, with care and taste, to make inquiries about his replacement—one of three
men. He asked around, "Who's been working the hardest?"