Daryl Odom’s grandmother, Savada McCoy, used Lemon Pledge and model cars to teach him one of many lessons that have served him well in his 30 years as a housekeeper in Carolina’s Kenan Center.
Grandma’s after-school demands included “everyday chores, like raking leaves or dusting my room, and homework then I could ride my bike or play ball,” Odom said. One day, he rushed through chores before going out to play, only to be called back to Grandma’s front porch.
Odom remembers her saying, “You half-dusted that room. You dusted around those model cars instead of picking them up. You’d rather do things twice. If you’d done it right the first time, you could still be down there playing.”
“So, I took down each car, sprayed that Lemon Pledge thick and even and dusted,” Odom said, demonstrating with an imaginary dust cloth and chuckling. “I was hard-headed and had to do stuff twice like that.
“It was just me and her on Murphy Street as I went to three schools—kindergarten, elementary, then graduated from Durham High School in 1975,” Odom said.
Grandma’s wise words
Fast forward to 2018. Grandma’s wise words stuck with Odom, whom co-workers describe as thorough, meticulous, selfless, committed, friendly and dedicated.
Those qualities and more are why Odom is one of six University employees selected this year by Chancellor Carol L. Folt for the prestigious C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.
Odom’s job requires an awareness of his role’s importance in the Kenan Center’s work and success, as noted by senior administrators from the Kenan Center, Kenan-Flagler Business School and the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust who nominated Odom.
Workdays begin at 6 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. for Odom and co-worker Angelette Cheek. Another housekeeper, James Brower, comes on duty at noon so they have time to confer.
Like synchronized swimmers
For his part, Odom handles room set-up, cleans floors and doors, and helps with bathrooms. “We work like synchronized swimmers,” Odom said. “Angelette knows what to do and I know what she does. We don’t have to rush to get a room ready. Business people can have a meeting at the drop of a hat, and the room will be ready.
“I can stand at a doorway and tell you if a room’s ready. You can have a function in here one night and the next morning, you’d never know it. It’s so clean and everything in its place. We have customers renting the facilities, and we want to make it so they want to come back.”
“I was raised that, if you are going to do it, do it right. I didn’t come to work to win prizes. If I clean it, I will clean it like it’s mine.”
“Daryl is one of the most hard-working, friendly, and dedicated employees I have ever been in contact with,” said Jeff Post, Kenan Center manager. “He performs so many duties that can easily go unnoticed, but that play an important role in the success of our facility.”
“Set-ups for events in the room have to be perfect,” Odom said. “The right amount of chairs at each table, because sometimes they need to be different. It’s important for interactions and everybody’s comfort level.
“It’s rewarding after all the years to see that you accomplished something, that people paid attention to your work and can see that a housekeeper can give 190 percent. I was very pleased. I’m still grinning about winning the Massey.”
Jean Elia, associate provost for strategy and special projects, noted Odom’s qualities in her nomination. “After more than 30 years, the building still looks almost new, and I credit Daryl and his work ethic as a key part of that. His devotion to high standards, his personal demeanor, his respect for his environment and his collegial and respectful attitude towards co-workers, staff and visitors to the Kenan Center make him a wonderful role model for other employees. His consistent performance over three decades without a doubt epitomizes the Massey Award principle of superior contribution to Carolina.”
‘If I had kept a scrapbook …’
For Kenan Center colleagues, clients and VIPs such as former Vice President Al Gore and former first lady Barbara Bush, Odom provided a welcoming presence. He laughs when remembering Gore’s visit. Odom wore a suit and tie because he was asked to run the main elevator. “Some ladies who worked upstairs got on and thought I was with the secret service!” he said. Odom said that Frank Kenan looked at everyone as a person and made them feel comfortable. “Mr. (William) Friday and Mr. Rollie Tillman all treated everyone as equals,” Odom said. “And Jim Johnson always has something positive to say to you.
“If I had kept a scrapbook of all the important visitors,” he said, pausing as though looking back through 30 years.
Odom is not slowing down, though. With trademark efficiency, he works two jobs, tinkers with his 1969 Impala and 1970 Chevy truck, attends car shows and drag races, works on old furniture, paints and tends his yard. He also keeps up with his son DeAngelo Hopkins, who recently graduated from ECU with a degree in accounting and played on a basketball team that won two consecutive national collegiate club championships. “He is my rock!”
He will keep working because, as he jokes, “All my directors say, ‘You stay as long as I’m here.’ They know I am going to do what I do.
“My work ethic has been high because of Grandma. I always tried to do it right first time. I had a hard-core Grandma when it came to discipline, but she would be proud,” he said.
The late C. Knox Massey of Durham created the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award in 1980 to recognize “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions” by University employees. In 1984, he joined the families of his son, Knox Massey Jr., and daughter, Kay Massey Weatherspoon, to create the Massey-Weatherspoon fund. Income from the fund supports the Massey Awards and Carolina Seminars. Each year, the chancellor chooses six University employees to receive the prestigious award, which comes with a $10,000 stipend. Read the Massey Award citation for Odom.
Story by Scott Jared, University Gazette.
Photo by Jon Gardiner, University Communications.