Profiles of the Century
An Interview With Fool Joan Rose

(Nov. 18, 1999) --Remember those famous World War II posters of Rosie the Riveter? You know, the woman who was working hard making U.S. bombers because all the men were off to war? Well, our very first Profiles of the Century interview is with a delightful lady named Joan Rose who was an actual B-24 bomber riveter. Joan shares memories of her life and offers advice to Foolish investors.

Birthplace: Houston, Texas

Age: 74

What's your earliest memory of money?
My dad had parallel parked the car in front of a hardware store with old-fashioned manual push lawnmowers displayed outside. As he got out of the car, he noticed all these greenbacks blowing on the sidewalk and catching in the blades of the mower. He started trying to pick them up, and he was so excited he kept dropping them. These were the big bills that circulated in the '30s. Mom and Dad thought someone coming from the bank on the corner must have dropped them. We stayed parked there an hour or more and no one ever came looking for them. There were about 30 of these bills -- and no one else stopped to help pick them up. Passersby must have thought Dad dropped them!

And here's another memory: The ice cream man came by our house each day, an old horse pulling a covered cart and a bell jingling. Mother gave me a large bowl to go out and get some scoops of ice cream. As I stood there waiting my turn, a lady called out, "Look at that little girl (me) with a dollar bill in her hand!" Everyone else just had pennies and nickels!

When and what was your first job?
My first real job was in the summer of 1943, at the Consolidated Vultee aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas. I was in training to be a riveter, and it was hotter than Hades in that old cowbarn where the training school was. But I was getting paid the handsome sum of 55 cents an hour, and I whiled the time visualizing stacks of 50-cent pieces next to stacks of nickels. Since I had just completed my sophomore year in college, I already was familiar with the decimal system and the simple fractions they were trying so hard to teach, so they sent me on out to the plant after the second week, and I got a raise. Now I could visualize a stack of dimes alongside my other stacks! It was hard work, and my fingers were bruised and sore from riveting furnishings on bomb-bay doors of those B-24s, but I felt so patriotic that I did not feel the pain. I went back to school at the end of the summer. The next summer I went to summer school so I could graduate quicker, and by the next summer I had started my career as a journalist -- at $22.50 a week on a small Texas daily. Moral: Riveting paid better than a job demanding a college degree!

When was your first date? Who was it with? What did you do?
I was 16 and had a date with a young man with the improbable name of Jackie Cooper -- tall, skinny, red hair, and freckles. He drove up to our house on an oil lease in his old Model A that stood up what appeared to be 10 feet high off the ground. My folks were entertaining friends and making ice cream in the yard. As Jackie started into his turn into our cattle guard, a car that seemed to come from nowhere banged into him. No one was hurt, but I thought my Dad was not going to let me go to the party on a nearby ranch with [Jackie]. He gave permission, but he gave us an 11 o'clock curfew. Jackie enlisted in the Navy that fall, and was assigned aboard one of the first submarines to be sunk by the Japanese in the Pacific not too long after Pearl Harbor.

What was the most difficult time in your life financially?
My husband died in 1978, leaving me with a small son to raise, a paid-up house, a vacation home with a hefty mortgage payment, and about $125,000 in savings and insurance. And I had a job. Some bad real estate investments, over-generosity in helping my older two children and my sister buy homes, and a lengthy illness by the little boy put me in a hole within three years. I barely avoided bankruptcy.

What do you consider your best and worst investments?
Right now my best investment has been in the stock market -- Intel and Merck. How and why I picked out those two I will never know! And of course, as mentioned above, real estate did not pan out for me. Probably wrong time, and wrong choice.

If you could give one piece of financial advice to all of us, what would it be? LOOK (study, think about, talk to experts, do your homework, think about it again) before you LEAP!

What do you think the most significant development of your lifetime is?
Oh golly, how can you single out any one of these? TV and computers have had profound influence on the way we live, work, and play in this last half of the century. But may I mention that I owe my life to modern medical technology?

Having been in the newspaper business (I hate the term "print media"!) for most of my life, I have seen extraordinary changes in the way news is disseminated. From "hot lead" printing, old rotary presses, and clattering teletypes to desktop publishing, computer paginating, offset printing, and faxes, as well as TV and radio -- these I experienced, so gradually at times, so rapidly at times, that I can hardly believe now how we used to do it.

Who do you consider the most influential person of the 20th century?
How can you say one person is "most"? There are so many fields in which outstanding individuals performed or served. Fleming for penicillin or Salk for the polio vaccine? Roosevelt and Churchill for their war leadership? (Or Hitler for starting the chaos in the first place?) The Wright Brothers for flight? The variety of computer nerds? Albert Einstein for paving the way for atom splitting? No. Let me name 100 and I may come close. Don't pin me down.

What's your first political memory?
Easy. It was a cold rainy day in the tiny Missouri town where we were living. My parents bundled my sister and me in blankets to drive us to the "polls." We huddled in the car while they went inside to vote and we kept looking for the poles! Their duty done, my Dad turned to us and said, "Remember this day. His name is going to be on thousands of tongues!" He was talking, of course, about FDR in his first election. Dad did not know how prophetic he was!

Do you remember the Great Depression? Did it affect your life in any way?
Of course I remember it. I grew up in the midst of it. I never went hungry, nor shoeless, nor homeless -- my Dad worked for an oil company and had a job the whole time. But his pay did not get any bigger, and it was tough for them sometimes to stretch it. We learned to make do, to do over, and to do without -- but we did not know we were deprived because we were as well off, and often better off, than everyone else we knew.

I still have vivid memories of some of the children who went to a little rural school with me in the foothills of the Ozarks. They were raggedy and barefoot and had stuff in their lunch boxes I would not have eaten. I also remember tramps who came to our door seeking a handout. I remember a mother with four little girls who lived in an old mill not far from us. My Mom and neighbors often took her a basket with food and our outgrown clothes.

Anything else you'd like to tell us? Anything at all?
I have personally experienced three quarters of this century that is coming to a close, and it has been an exciting time in which to live. I think if I had been permitted to choose my lifetime, I could not have picked better. I thank God all the time that I was born in the United States, and that I was privileged to have a decent education and a wonderful career. I came along when women were still having to struggle for a foothold, but it was not so bad in journalism as in other fields. Of course we did not have equal pay. And since newspapering is such low pay anyway, I certainly did not get rich. I was privileged to have loving parents, a fine husband, and three great kids. I can truly say I have had a great life so far, and I look forward to at least another quarter century.

Next -- The Most Influential People of the 20th Century