Nov. 18, 2020

IN THE END...THERE WILL BE REGRETS.

 In the mid-seventies, one of my responsibilities with AETN--- Arkansas Educational Television Network---was to establish a first-ever volunteer organization called “The Friends of AETN.”  I produced television commercials and direct-mail campaigns to attract “Friends” memberships. While traveling in North Arkansas, speaking to several men’s organizations… I met one of Arkansas’s future and least-expected "World Celebrities" and my most-memorable friend…Sam Walton.

 At the time, there were only a few Walmart stores-- scattered across Northwest Arkansas and---three stores in Little Rock. After Sam Walton introduced himself, he wasted no time thanking me for attracting fashion-minded customers to his Markham Street Store in Little Rock.

 Puzzled how Sam Walton heard about the style shows I’d voluntarily-created and directed at two of his Walmart Stores…. I soon learned store-managers had sent the exclusive fashion show videos to Sam.  He was able to watch the fashion shows I designed, directed and moderated and---featured Walmart employees—both male and female—modeling Walmart clothes.

 Minutes after complimenting me on the fashion shows, Sam Walton offered me a job. I was pleasantly surprised and, before I could answer, Sam Walton said “If you’re interested, stop by my office on your way back to Little Rock and we’ll talk about it.”

Sometimes I smile, just remembering Sam Walton’s “office” in Bentonville. Located at the very back of his Walmart Warehouse, Sam’s office consisted of nothing more than an old, scarred wooden desk, with two metal folding chairs. Sam wasn’t big on impressing anyone and…he didn’t believe in wasting valuable time… beating-around-the-bush. Within minutes of ushering me to one of well-worn folding chairs, Sam said, “I’m offering you a job as my public relations director but there’s one hitch—you have to move to Bentonville.”

 Looking back, Sam Walton’s job offer would have been a major turning point in my business career. What a shame I didn’t “jump on his offer” and immediately say “YES”.    Instead, I asked for time to discuss his lifetime offer with my daughters.

Before I left, Sam announced his stock was about to go public and, knowing I was a single mother with two daughters, advised me to start…by buying a few shares each month. He said “It won’t be long before you’ll be “fixed” for life.” That day, I received a once-in-a-lifetime job offer as well as priceless advice from a business-genius.

 Unfortunately, I didn’t accept either offer. In only a few years, Sam Walton was listed as the wealthiest man in America.

In the meantime, I confronted my daughters with Sam Walton’s generous job offer, and heard “Mother, you can’t move us to some hick-town in North Arkansas” and “Why would you make us leave our friends; we’re happy in Little Rock!” And finally, “Daddy will be really mad if you take us way-up-there and so will Ro and Poppaw!!!!” They cried—I cried---and they won.

 I’d built my life around my daughters; I couldn’t bear for them to be unhappy so….The next day I had the uneasy task of calling Sam Walton.  Embarrassed to have to decline such an amazing opportunity…I reluctantly said:  “Sorry, Sam, I can’t accept your job offer. My daughters are heartbroken at the thought of leaving their friends and moving to Bentonville.”

The last time I saw Sam Walton was 1983, at his Walmart store in Pine Bluff. Earlier in the day, Sam had called my Mayoral Campaign Headquarters and asked me to join him for coffee. We talked about many things before he handed me a political contribution in the amount of two hundred fifty dollars.

Before saying our goodbyes, Sam asked if I’d taken his advice about buying some Walmart stock every month. I hated to admit that I was too-scared to “gamble” any of my very-small income; that I had to put every dime in the “safety” of a bank.  When I finished with my excuses, Sam looked at me, smiled sympathetically, and said “Miss Sally, I’m so sorry you aren’t taking my advice. I only want the best for you.  Buying my stock would have given you real money in a few years and…you would no-longer have to work”.

After all these many years, I’ve adopted a saying: “In the end, our biggest regrets are the chances we never took”.

Sally