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The Gadsden Times

WHEN HARRY MET: Rose Gray, from Burger King to line dancing

By Harry D. Butler,


I recently wrote about local square dancing, describing how much I enjoy watching all types of dancing: social, round, tap (“Tap” is a favorite movie) and the jitterbug, a popular style in the World War II era and my high school days in the late 1940s. The scenes of Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were, and still are, fun to watch.

I knew about the waltz, the rhumba and the two-step; now I’ve learned about other dances. There’s “A Little Bit Lit,” an easy way to “get your groove on,” or “the “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” made popular by Asleep at the Wheel and Brooks and Dunn.

Those last two took me to Wikipedia to learn about line dancing, defined as “a choreographed dance in which a group of people dance along to a repeating sequence of steps while arranged in one or more lines or rows. These lines usually face all in the same direction, or less commonly face each other.”

The old Nashville Network had several line dancing programs that a number of Etowah County dancers took part in, driving weekly to Nashville. I watched the men and women go back and forth, seeming to be walking to a beat — sometimes forward or backward, then sideways, either to the left or right.

While watching the local square dancers, I discovered Monday nights at Gadsden’s Downtown Civic Center also includes line dancing, open to young people, adults and senior citizens, even “old folk” with aches and pains. “It’s easy to do,” I was told. “It’s not too fast and you can line dance at your own pace.”

I watched and later talked with Rose Gray, the center’s senior activities director, who teaches and directs line dancing. The visit produced some fascinating discoveries about this charming woman.

Gray was born in Gadsden and raised in Mobile, until her family returned here in the mid-1960s. She graduated from Emma Sansom High School in 1968, and her first job, for about a year, was at a local chicken plant. Then she made a life-changing career move that would define the next four decades or so for her.

“I got a job at Burger King,” she said. “They hired me to be an assistant manager at their restaurant in Scottsboro, to train to be a manager. It was difficult to leave home and family, but it was a great opportunity for me.”

Three months after starting “as a brand-new beginner,” she’d stepped up to the manager’s job. She held that job for the next 25 years, supervising 50 to 60 employees.

Gray said teaching and training were major parts of her job. “For most of the employees, especially the teenagers, this was their first job,” she said. “For many, it was the first time they had to deal with the public.

“Throughout the years, I’ve been pleased to know that several doctors and lawyers, schoolteachers, owners of car dealerships, real estate agents and many other successful people had their first jobs in my store,” she said.

Asked about her years working in fast food, Gray said with a laugh, “You either love it or hate it.”

She noted that beginning pay for a counter clerk is low, but earnings can increase through length of service and promotions. “Managers in most stores can earn up to $55,000 per year,” she said. “Working at Burger King can be a successful and rewarding career.”

Gray was honored in 2000 as “Manager of the Year” for the five states her franchisee had stores in, earning an all-expenses paid trip to the Bahamas.

She managed Burger King locations in Arab and Madison, before retiring and moving back to Alabama City in 2013.

Gray was transferred during the latter days of her Burger King career to manage the Arab location for a two-year stay, then to Madison for the next five years before retiring and moving back to her Alabama City home in 2013.

After a couple of years of not working, she spent two months at Jack’s, then a year working at Zaxby’s on Rainbow Drive. Later, she worked part time as a ticket taker at Noccalula Falls during the “Christmas at the Falls” event. That led to her working as a receptionist at the Downtown Civic Center.

She’s been in her current position for about three years now. It includes planning, scheduling and working with seniors in a variety of classes and projects such as art (acrylics, mostly) that she teaches, bingo (Tuesday and Friday), four groups of mahjong (Monday, two on Tuesday and Friday), canasta on Tuesdays and bridge club on Monday and Friday.

One of the most popular events at the Civic Center is the exercise class for all ages, held on Tuesday and Friday. Gray emphasized that there is no charge for any of these classes, except the bimonthly art class.

Gray was smiling and emphatic in saying, “I loved my work at Burger King, and I love this work with the senior folk at the Civic Center.”

Harry D. Butler, a former broadcaster, is a motivational speaker and author of “Alabama’s First Radio Stations, 1920-1960.” Butler periodically sits down with someone of note, then brings the conversation to readers.

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