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Answering phones made her a people person

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Peggy Ableman

by Jessica Moore
Special to Delaware Business Times 

Peggy Ableman is special counsel at McCarter & English in the product liability practice group. She is also a former Delaware Family Court and Superior Court judge.

What was your very first job?
I don’t think babysitting counts because everyone did that when they were younger. I worked on the Delaware Memorial Bridge in the summer after my junior year of high school. That was the year they were finishing building the second stand. My grandfather got me the job. They didn’t really need a 16-year-old doing the jobs I did but somehow I got the job. I worked there two summers in a row.

What did you do with this job?
I was in charge of answering the phones. It was an old-fashioned switchboard where you plug the lines in, so I had to learn that. I still remember pushing those lines into the switchboard. Because they were finishing up the bridge they were planning a huge celebration, so I had to write all of the invitations. It was sort of like I was a part of history. It took me a good portion of the summer to do that, and they only assigned me with that because they thought I had good handwriting. I worked in the info center too. I still don’t know how to give directions; it’s laughable that I was doing it. I wouldn’t have known how to get across the bridge, let alone anywhere else.

What was your starting pay?
The pay was probably around $5 an hour. It was enough to make me feel like I was earning some money and contributing to society.

What did you do with your first paycheck?
I assume my mother took my first paycheck and put it in my bank account. I don’t think I was allowed to spend it because I had to save up for college. I might have gotten a little bit of change to play with.

What are some of the lessons you learned from this job?
I was very young and in the midst of people generations older than I was. I learned to get along with people that weren’t my age and I learned that I could have just as much fun with people who were from different walks of life and who were older than I was. I really had fun that summer because it was just a different group of people from the kids I hung out with from high school. I was treated like a little a princess.

What were some of the perks?
Were there perks? I don’t really think there were many perks. I could tell people I knew everything that was going on inside that building whenever we drove by it. It was fun to just be with different.

How did you move up the ladder?
I obviously didn’t become anything associated with bridges, but sometimes it’s fun to do things that are totally unrelated to what you want to do. I always think, “What did I pass up?” I love what I do now, but I always wonder if there would have been something more interesting or a better opportunity.  It’s hard to say whether I would go back and try that route. Law is very difficult these days, and, for that reason, I don’t know if I would still pursue it if I could go back and change things. 

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