The Woodward News

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December 20, 2013

Day wraps up 63 years as legal secretary

Woodward, Okla. — In 1950, when clients walked into the office of attorneys, Tom Hieronymous and Tom Wright, the first thing they might have heard was Rose Ella Day's fingers flying across a standard typewriter.

On Wednesday, over 63 years later, anyone who walked into Woodward attorney Jerry Rizley's office would likely hear her same tap, tap, tapping fingers on a typewriter.

"When Rose Ella came to work for me in 1990, she told me that if I ever got a computer, she would quit," Rizley said. "So we don't use computers in this office."

Octogenarian Rose Ella Day has been employed as a full-time, legal secretary in Woodward since August of 1950. That's more than 63 years, in case the math escaped anyone.

This week, Day and her boss Rizley both celebrated their last day of work, transitioning each to their new lives as retirees.

"It's been a good life practicing law here. Woodward has a lot of good attorneys and that makes a difference, when you get to practice with other good people," Rizley said. "And Rose Ella, well, she's just been excellent."

Day first went to work when she was 19-years-old for Hieronymous and Wright who shared an office with Ray Don Jackson. In 1990, she went to work for Rizley and has been there ever since.

"I have worked for several attorneys through my career here,  but have only moved offices three times," she said.

Day's son, former, long-time co-owner of Cowboy Tack Neal Day, drew attention to his mother's long standing career, as she prepares for the sometimes difficult transition that is retirement.

It was clear in his voice that he's proud of his mother's accomplishments.

"I don't know if she told you the whole story, but she grew up with six other brothers and sisters. She went to college a year and her sister was also going to college, but her parents couldn't afford to send both," Neal Day said. "Her sister wanted to be a teacher and so Mom dropped out and went to work for an attorney and she just never really quit."

As the week wound down toward the holidays, Day admitted it was time to power down her electric typewriter, tuck her desktop nameplate in her bag and begin to think about how she will spend days at home.

The first thing that strikes you about Rose Ella Day is the way her white hair curls softly and tickles her forehead.

After she gets used to you sitting in the chair opposite her desk, you might notice that when she talks about her life as a legal secretary, tears pool at the bottom of her bright, blue eyes.

Her desk is stark, a nameplate, an adding machine and phone - the tools of her trade perched on the clean polish of a not-too-fancy desk-her work station for years.

"Well, I'm 82 and it's just not as easy to get up and get going as it used to be. But I will miss it-the people really. I will miss the people," she says haltingly, unable to hide the emotion in her voice.

Day is an outdoor woman and is looking forward to spending time working on her yard. She's no coffee drinker and instead plans to focus her early morning attention on her gardens and yard.

"I will finally have time to really take care of the yard," she said.

There is nothing haughty or high-browed about this lady, even though 63 years at any job might have earned her the right.

She is as serious about her work on the day before she leaves the job behind for good as she was all of the days, months and years she filed contracts, prepared taxes and typed cases up for her bosses.

Ask her to share the most interesting case in her 63 years and she will give you an icy stare.

"Well, when Mr. Heironymous hired me he told me, 'What happens in a law office stays in a law office,' and that's still true today," she said.

Then she follows the statement with a single, serious nod, as if to say, "There will be no more of those questions."

In a simple but richly functional office behind Day sits Rizley, also processing for himself what it might mean to him to retire.

Rizley came to the area in 1963 and has practiced law here ever since.

Rizley freely admits, he really would like to continue practicing law longer. But health issues have pressed the tall, lanky scholar of the law into an early retirement, he said.

Like his long-time legal secretary, Rizley is a serious character who has participated in his fair share of life changing legal cases.

His deep appreciation for the law and how it is woven into even the most basic sense of community, is evident in the decor of his office.

On the east wall, a photo of the 1933 United States Supreme Court Judges beckons viewers to notice it. The sepia tone, old, simplicity of it harkens to a warmer time.

Leathery copies of statues line the walls in what serves as a legal library in the entry portion of his office.

 A table rests between the legal library. One might envision the many life changing conferences between lawyer and client that played out on its oaken top.

Rizley studies a legal paper and keeps his comments official. But his gaze about the office tells the story too, like his secretary, of someone with a continued deep and abiding love for the work they put their hands to all these years.

"I've been fortunate, enjoying my work the way I have and never feeling like I had or needed to do something else to make myself happy," he said.

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