Joanna’s father was sick and stayed at the hospital at the time her husband was out of town at a radio advertising convention. “If you need me, call the radio station. The secretary has the name of the hotel and the number,” he said before he left.
The bad news came in mid-morning. Joanna’s father has passed away. As the hospital and the rest of Joanna’s family were in another state five hours away, in her grief, she had to decide what to do about traveling.
She called the radio station. They put her on hold. They couldn’t find the number of her husband’s hotel and they were sorry.
With shaking hands, Joanna opened the phone book. She found the area code for the city that her husband was in and dialed information. Bell Telephone policy allowed operators to give out three phone numbers for each directory assistance inquiry. Joanna jotted down the three numbers of the first hotel chains she could think of.
She called one. Neither the radio convention nor her husband was there. She called the second – same situation. She called the third. The numbness had started wearing off, and she sniffled a little into the receiver. “No, we don’t have a convention for radio ad managers here, and your husband’s name doesn’t show on our list of registered guests,” said the switchboard operator. “Sorry, I’m just the operator …”
But before the operator could hang up, a sob escaped Joanna’s lips.
“What’s wrong?” the operator asked quietly after a long silence.
“My dad died a few minutes ago. He – his body – is in another state with a five-hour trip, and I can’t find my husband. I don’t know whether to jump in the car and go or to wait,” Joanna blurted. “I want to be with my family, but I don’t know what to do!”
Another long silence. Then the operator spoke slowly and quietly, “Give me your name and your number and sit tight until I call back.”
She called Joanna back in less than five minutes. “Joanna, I found him. He’s at the Adam’s Mark Hotel. I’ve notified the manager, and they have people posted to grab him as soon as the general session breaks. That should be within 20 minutes. It’s impossible for him to get past them.”
Joanna sobbed into the phone. “Thank you, thank you so much.”
“One more thing,” the operator continued, “if you do decide to drive, please take a friend. Be careful. You’ve had a dreadful shock and … be careful, okay? I’m sorry about your dad.”
From another state, the voice of a friend soothed Joanna. Whoever this woman was, she was more than just a switchboard operator. She was a wonderful, kind person who was more than her job. You have not lived a perfect day, unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.