Special Maids Have Long History Of Service To Redstone Generals
Mary Williams, at left, and Ruby Smith, both 79, are special maids who support the command group at the Aviation and Missile Command headquarters. Between them, they have 68 years of support to commanding generals and their staff.
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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — There’s nothing like longevity to build experience — and friendship.
And that’s quite evident when talking to two of the Aviation and Missile Command’s longest serving employees working in command headquarters on the fifth floor of Redstone Arsenal’s Sparkman Center building 5300.
Ruby Smith and Mary Williams, both 79 and both Phoenix Industry employees, have been working for the AMCOM command group as special maids for a combined 68 years. Whenever there’s a luncheon, a special event or visitors, Ruby and Mary — as they are known by all who are associated with the command group — provide assistance with refreshments and meals. They are the ones who keep the coffee flowing and the command suite looking spic and span.
Ruby began working in janitorial services in building 5250 at Redstone Arsenal in 1967, just a couple months before Maj. Gen. John Zierdt retired from the then Missile Command. She then provided janitorial services for Maj. Gen. Charles Eifler, the third MICOM commander.
“He hated smoking and I smoked. So, I thought if I want a job I better quit smoking,” Ruby said. “I was smoking two packs a day. General Eifler was the reason I stopped smoking.”
Mary began working in support of the command group a little later — about 20 years ago — when Ruby’s other partner, Theda Parsons, had to retire for health reasons.
“We were looking for someone to help me after Theda left,” Ruby recalled. “I remembered the lady with the blue hair who worked on another floor.”
“I had blue hair back then by accident,” Mary interjected with a smile.
“I knew she was quiet,” Ruby continued. “I knew who ever they brought up here had to behave themselves. They had to be dependable because they would be helping set up conference rooms for VIPs.”
“I was nervous at first,” Mary said. “But after Ruby showed me things, I got it alright.”
Ruby primarily supports the commanding general and his office staff while Mary is the primary support for the deputy commander’s office. Ruby has worked for all but one of the 15 MICOM commanders and all eight of the AMCOM commanders.
“I can’t say which one I liked the best because they’ve all been good to me,” she said.
Mary has worked for five MICOM/AMCOM deputy commanders — Dan Rubery, Jim Flinn, Richard Amos, Ronnie Chronister, Cathy Dickens and, now, Bill Marriott. For about four months, when Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell led the Space and Missile Defense Command in the late 2000s, Mary went to work as the SMDC command group’s special maids services
“They had to have somebody right away that they could put up in the command suite that would be dependable,” Ruby said. “You have to be dependable and you have to remember if they give you an assignment that it doesn’t fall through the crack and not get done.”
In her early days, Ruby recalled having to learn all the military customs and terminology that went along with her job. A country girl from Mount Olive in Marshall County, she also had to catch up with some of the then modern day slang she would hear around the command suite.
“It was all new to me. You know, like the ‘Hooah!’ thing. It took me awhile to catch on to all of that,” she said.
For the most part, Ruby and Mary handle their responsibilities together, taking direction from the AMCOM Protocol Office when preparing for special events or visitors. They almost always work as a team as they go about the duties of keeping the AMCOM command suite clean and fresh, and ready for visitors. They also decorate the command suite for special holidays, and have other cleaning duties — Ruby with the legal office and Mary with the Command Initiatives Group, both in building 5300.
“We pull the trash and vacuum and do all the janitorial duties,” Ruby said. “We are making sure everything is just so with the way things look and we take care of things in the kitchen. We are either heating up or cleaning up. Just whatever comes up. If the staff needs us, we’re here for them.”
And that’s what Ruby and Mary love the most about their job — taking care of people. That caring is reciprocated back to the two special maids services
“The generals all come back to see us,” Ruby said. “They always come back to the kitchen.”
“All of them are real sweet to us,” Mary added.
The command group is like family to both Ruby and Mary. Many of the staff attended funerals and offered support when Ruby’s husband died and when Mary’s sister died. They enjoy being with the staff of the AMCOM command group and with each other too much to retire.
“I’d probably have to do more work if I was at home,” said Mary, who lives in Belle Mina in Limestone County. “I don’t want to leave Ruby. I want us to go at the same time.”
“Retirement? I don’t see in a crystal ball. Maybe five years and then when five years goes by, maybe five more,” Ruby said.
Sometimes the two call each other “sister” — an appropriate nickname considering how close they are as co-workers and that they were born just a day apart in September 1936. Both are thankful that their jobs have given them a friendship with each other that will always be a part of their lives.