Robert Ferguson waddles through the aisles of Martin’s supermarket with intention and a smile. His green employee polo shirt is a blur as he walks briskly fixing the aisles and helping shoppers with their bags. If the doors at Martin’s weren’t automatic, he’d probably be holding them open for customers too. You may not recognize his name, you may not even know who he is but if you’ve been to Martin’s after 6pm, attended sporting events on campus or been to the campus post office, you probably know Robert as that stranger who always says hello, with a grin from ear to ear.
His warm and welcoming personality has earned him the title, “the happiest man on campus.” But Robert no longer works on campus. A few weeks ago, Robert was let go from his job at the campus post office, after 36 years of work at the university.
The news of his release shocked him more than anything else.
“My first reaction was just total shock,” he said. “After 36 years of work you’re bound to make mistakes.”
The mistake Robert made was accidentally locking the keys of the mail van in the car while it was still running. The car was parked and nobody was hurt or injured. Upon realizing his mistake, Robert called his supervisor to unlock the van. The problem was cleared up within a few minutes.
Robert was hesitant to talk about why he was let go. It took about an hour of casual conversation to get him to even mention his work at the post office. He was adamant about being as respectful as possible to his previous employers and his former co-workers.
“I don’t want to bash anyone or cause trouble, but what they did just ain’t right,” he said.
Robert’s supervisor, Jodi Will, was contacted but never responded to requests for a comment on what happened.
Robert is still employed by the university as a parking assistant for sporting events and games, but is no longer a post office worker. Seven years ago the post office was outsourced to multinational imaging and electronics company, Ricoh Company LTD. The technology, printing and office equipment provider, not only handles campus mail, but also supplies and fixes any office equipment on campus.
“To say that Robert misses his job is an understatement,” Marylou Ferguson said. Robert had already been at the post office for 8 years when he met his wife, Marylou. The pair have been married for 28 years and she was in dismay upon hearing Robert was let go.
“It’s just very sad that after 36 years of faithful and dedicated service that Robert be let go for something so petty,” she said.
“He won’t say a bad thing about anybody, even if they hurt him,” she said. “The truth is Robert hasn’t been respected while under his supervisor.”
When asked to elaborate, both Robert and his wife refused to say anything negative about Ms. Will. Robert simply said he felt hurt and disappointed.
Within weeks of hearing about his departure, Robert said he received a number of calls and messages from people he knew at the university, saying how sorry he was to have left. When contacted, people had nothing but positive things to say about Robert.
“Robert is such a great guy,” Jeanne Hollister, the administrative coordinator at the Speech Center, said.
Behind the deep-set creases surrounding Robert’s blue eyes, there is nothing but light when talking about his time at the university. Robert grew up in the Richmond area, and the University of Richmond has always been a part of his life. He grew up watching the Spiders play his favorite sports and continues that tradition with his own daughter today.
Although he didn’t attend university, after all his work at UR Robert sees it as his alma mater. Marylou graduated from the university in 1990 and the entire family loves watching the home football and basketball games that take place every year.
Sports and family make Robert happy, but even more so, his faith.
When asked what his secret was to his seemingly everlasting happiness, Robert said God and his wife.
Robert is a devout Baptist. He has always viewed his faith as the source of his positivity and his family as the source of love and inspiration.
“Whatever challenge you face or whatever trouble you’re in, if you turn to God he’ll help you find your way,” he said. “Even though He’s shut a door, I know God is going to open a window.”
The financial worry from losing his job, is effecting Robert and his family. Though Robert has other jobs and Marylou is also employed, their biggest concern is their daughter Erica, who is a fulltime student at Roanoke College.
“The loss of his job is of course effecting us financially but it’s also hard seeing Robert lose something he really cared about,” Marylou said.
Robert has interviewed at several places, hoping another employment opportunity will arise. In the meantime he hopes another position at UR will open up soon.
“The university is a part of me, it’s a part of my family,” he said. “I was sure it would the last place I’d work.”