Ann Lehue, MSIS, Manager, Collection Development Programs
Have you ever had a standing order question, dialed the number, and found yourself speaking to a remarkably cheerful person with a British accent? Rita Allison and Janet Hill have served as the voices of our Standing Order Programs for over a decade, and they have worked at Ingram for a combined total of more than 58 years. Sadly for us, and happily for them, both Rita and Janet have announced their retirements for March 1. Our team has nicknamed this dark period in our history the Ingram Brexit.
Rita and Janet truly love people and have fans everywhere. When Ann Cox, Collection Development Librarian II, came to Ingram, she barely looked at her office before asking if she could meet Janet and Rita in real life. She had been a customer for years and a big fan of their customer service—it was partly why she applied for the job. Pamela Smith, VP & General Manager, Ingram Library Services, agrees, "We have been so fortunate to have had Rita and Janet as part of our team for so many years. They are both just as delightful in person as they are on the phone with our customers. It is actually rare "not" to receive a compliment about either Rita or Janet when in a customer meeting! I am happy they are starting this new chapter of their lives, but we will miss them very much."
Not surprisingly, both cite working with customers as their favorite thing. Rita came to Ingram more than 22 years ago. When asked what the best part of her job is, she said: “I love dealing with people, helping to solve their concerns. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than when a customer is pleased with the result. To me it is a privilege to be trusted enough to provide the support I do for our customers. And it’s fun when the outcome works well but is not what was initially expected.” Janet, who has worked at Ingram for more than 36 years, said her favorite part is that “I really enjoy the interaction I have with customers and knowing I can help them. The diversity of my work makes every day interesting.”
Both Rita and Janet have embraced very American pastimes. Rita loves country music, which might surprise a lot of people. “My late husband was in the music business, and through him I was exposed to this wonderful genre of important music. To me, it is a national treasure, and the history needs to be preserved. In my free time, I do some volunteer work toward this end.” Janet loves the sports culture in Nashville. In fact, she says, “I am a big sports fan! I enjoy watching soccer, baseball, hockey, and football—especially the Tennessee Titans and am known to wear my Titans shirt to work on Fridays.” Janet is also known for her Titans Blue nail polish to help with winning streaks, which are fewer than we would prefer.
As you can imagine, Rita and Janet have a lot of stories over the years—some more shareable than others. Janet cites a memorable moment in March 1997 when she became a U.S. citizen. She worked in telephone sales/customer service at the time, and they gave her a wonderful celebration and “welcome” party. “One of my good retail customers provided a breakfast feast for us all and a congratulatory cake for later in the day!” Rita has a more humorous memory to share: “Once I made a typo on my normal greeting. Instead of ‘Hello,’ I unfortunately left the ‘o’ off. The customer responded making light of my Freudian slip, saying that it was perfectly understandable—she had days like that. This still makes me smile, and I do proofread my greetings now.”
Both Rita and Janet have some retirement plans. Rita plans on seeing “more of this wonderful country, visiting museums and historic places.” She also hopes to take her sons over to Ireland and England, to explore some music publishing, and to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets. Janet reflects, “I don’t have too many big plans, just to chill out and catch my breath. My husband and I are cruising with some friends through the Panama Canal in March, and we’ll be gone for almost three weeks, so that wouldn’t have left me too much vacation time to do anything else. Now I don’t have to worry about that! We’ve just added a goldendoodle puppy named Ruby to our household. It’s hard work—not what I envisioned for my retirement, waking up in the middle of the night and going in and out in the cold and rainy weather. (What on earth were we thinking?) She is precious though, and as Rita used to keep telling me when I started in Collection Development, ‘Things will get better!’”
When asked what they would like to say to customers, both expressed appreciation and gratitude. Rita said, "It is truly hard to say goodbye to such wonderful customers that I have had the privilege of assisting through the years. What has amazed me consistently is their dedication to their patrons, and how helpful, considerate, and so very pleasant they are to work with. It is a joy to meet so many professional, compassionate, and caring individuals. I would like to thank all, whether our communications were by phone or email, for making my work so much easier and my journey truly pleasant. I Thank You.” Similarly, Janet replied, “It was a really difficult decision when I finally decided to retire. Half of my life has been here with Ingram, and it’s been very enjoyable, especially the last 10 years in Collection Development. I regard many of ‘my library folks’ more as friends than as customers, and I will miss every one of them.”
Joyce Skokut, Director, Collection Development, sums it up: “Janet Hill and Rita Allison have been such an important and integral part of our Collection Development team, and it’ll be heavy on our hearts to say goodbye. It’s a testament to their demeanors and quality of work that when I meet Ingram customers for the first time, it’s highly likely that the first thing they’ll want to talk about is Janet and/or Rita. They approach each day, each customer, each of us, with unfailingly good cheer. They’re both smart as a whip and quick to laugh. Their baseline for customer service is to go above and beyond every time. They’re a beautiful blend of old-school (in the best way) and completely current, too. We’ve changed and added software and work responsibilities, and they’ve absorbed and mastered them happily every time. Oh, how I’ll miss them—Rita in her FiveFingers shoes and Janet in her TN Titans jersey, smiling and quietly doing their thing, consistently, and always excellently. I wish them much joy ahead in their retirements and thank them profusely for all that they’ve contributed to our success.”
On their decision to retire at the same time, Janet explains: “The reason I came to Collection Development was a result of giving Wils [another Collection Development Administrator] a ride to work each morning before he had a car… He’d get off the bus and walk a couple of miles in all weathers until I saw him at the side of the road. He told me of an opening that he thought would suit me, so I applied. Rita was in on this too. She encouraged me to join her, that two Brits together could cause some ruckus, and oh boy, was she right! So, it only seems fitting that we are leaving together.”
We will miss our two Brits causing some ruckus but wish them well. When I arrived at Ingram eight years ago, Rita and Janet warmly welcomed me, and that warmth never waned. Ingram is a supportive, fun place to work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met at every level, but it is also inherently complex. Rita and Janet helped navigate those waters, not only for customers, but for internal associates, and they did so with smiles, laughs, and lots of idioms that I never completely understood even after Google. We will fill those positions with customer-focused, knowledgeable associates, but echoes of Rita and Janet will remain through systems they have put into place, friends’ stories, and in the memories of the customers they helped throughout the years.
Best wishes, and bon voyage!