After 51 years and two months, Carlton E. Willis has retired leaving behind the longest career in retail service in the history of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and a legacy of outstanding work over the years as a store associate, assistant manager and manager in four stores in Henrico and Hanover counties and in Richmond.
In June 1961 Willis had been married for barely a year and was trying to build a home on his father’s Montpelier farm when he lost his job working as a foreman for Reynolds Metals Co. His wife heard about a summer job working for the ABC store in Ashland, and Willis applied.
He was sent to Richmond to meet with then-ABC Commissioner John W. Hardy because, as Willis explained, “At that time, the commissioners did the hiring.” After “talking awhile” with Hardy, Willis was told to report for work at the Ashland store the next morning at 9:00 a.m. His starting salary was $75 a week.
That summer job lasted more than five decades and earned Willis the distinction as the only Virginia ABC employee to receive a 51-year service certificate. “I really enjoyed working for the ABC,” said Willis. “I loved seeing the people who came in the store and enjoying a laugh or two with them.”
Promoted to assistant manager and eventually manager of the Ashland store, Willis’s career also included stints working at ABC stores in Bowling Green and in Richmond at the first store opened by the Virginia ABC in 1934, located on West Broad Street. He took an early retirement in July 1991 only to return to work just two weeks later as a store associate at the Staples Mill Shopping Center store on Glenside Drive in Henrico County. “I missed the people and the work,” said Willis.
“He was always friendly, and the customers just loved him,” said Bernard Bottoms, Richmond Regional Manager of Retail Operations and former supervisor of the Staples Mill Shopping Center store. “Carlton experienced a lot of change over the years as our stores transitioned from conventional counter service to self-service, and throughout it all he exemplified the dedication to providing good customer service that we strive for in all of our stores. He was a beloved member of our team.”
Beloved by many, Willis received two cards upon his retirement with a total of 340 customers’ signatures and notes of congratulations on reaching this milestone. “They were something to see, that’s for sure,” said Willis.
As dedicated as he was to his work at Virginia ABC, Willis was equally committed to serving his community in his spare time. He was an enthusiastic volunteer serving as president of six organizations throughout his career. Those organizations included the Hanover County Red Cross, the Hanover County Chapter of the American Cancer Society, the Montpelier Volunteer Fire Department, the Montpelier Jaycees, the West Hanover County Jaycees and the Montpelier Ruritan Club.
Virginia ABC’s Longest Serving Employee Retires