“Mr. Winston,” as he was known in his latter years, made headlines on March 22, 2006, when he retired at the age of 100 from the Los Angeles “MTA” after 76-years of service. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, his 76-years of employment there may be the longest working time of any individual for any one company in American history.
And the MTA said he took only one day off in all those 76-years. It was in 1988, to attend his wife Frances’s funeral. They had been married for 63-years.
At 100, Arthur Winston cleaned busses, with his mop thrusting back and forth sloshing hot soapy water on bus floors and he wiped down the vinyl seats as well.
If gum or candy stuck to anything, he’d take a putty knife and get down on his hands and knees, and carefully remove it. He’d then vigorously polish the interior, smile with pride and step off that bus and move to the next one.
The 5ft, 7in Mr. Winston was trim, walked well, didn’t smoke nor drink, and had a sharp mind and this offers us the first of our four valuable lessons. It is to exercise for it will help keep our bodies and minds healthy and strong.
Life for Arthur Winston was never easy. The son of a share cropper he picked cotton in Oklahoma from the time he was 10-years-old. Hard times in Oklahoma brought his family to Los Angeles but as African-Americans there would be few opportunities for them.
Graduating from high school in 1924, he began cleaning trolley cars for a predecessor firm to the MTA. This was the only job they’d offer him, as blacks were not allowed to drive the trolleys, nor become mechanics, nor could they rise into management.
At that time even in Los Angeles, blacks had separate restrooms, separate lunch rooms and were paid less than whites for the same work. But they had few options and he did his best in difficult circumstances.
In most places, he would be looked down upon and treated as sub-human, commonly referred to as a “nigger” behind his back or sometimes as “boy” to his face. He would not be thought of as a man, nor entitled to respect or equal rights under the law.
But in 1925, good fortune smiled on Arthur Winston when he married Frances Smith, who would be the love of his life and over the years, they raised four children.
In 1928, seeking greater opportunity, he left the MTA. But the collapse of the American Economy in The Great Depression of the 1930’s hit him hard and in 1934 he returned to the MTA, grateful to have a job, at a time when over 25% of the American workforce was unemployed.
It was a bleak time in U.S. history of soup lines, people losing their homes, children being farmed out to families who could support them and desperate men sneaking on to train cars to ride them anywhere they might find work.
From this frightening experience, Arthur Winston would never again risk his family’s security, and he worked that MTA job with pride for the next 72-years.
In the 1960’s, the Civil Rights movement took hold and opened vast job opportunities for African-Americans but by that time, Arthur Winston then in his 60’s, an age when many people consider retiring, was not interested in changing careers even within the MTA.
A strong independent man, he had an orderly routine. Early each morning, he drove to work, and from the moment he arrived, he was busy cleaning busses. Then at the end of his shift, he’d drive home to the small white house he and Frances bought in South Central Los Angeles in 1940.
In recent years, Arthur Winston shared his home with his great-granddaughter Brandii Wright, 29, and his great-great-grandson Kenny, 4.
He decided to retire on his 100th birthday and the MTA celebrated his birthday and his career with a grand luncheon, attended by 150 co-workers, dignitaries, family and friends.
“Why are you retiring,” he was asked during the celebration. With a smile he softly replied, “100-years seemed like enough.”
His father had also been physically active throughout his life and lived to be 99. Arthur Winston was aware of the need to stay active and until then, wouldn’t retire. “I just kept on going,” he said. “I’d rather be moving, working or doing something than laying around the house.”
His words were prophetic. Only 22-days after his retirement; he gently passed away in his sleep.
Although he’s gone, Arthur Winston’s life offers us three more valuable lessons:
2) Whatever your age it is essential to have a sense of purpose and preferably to be involved with others. For nearly all of his 100-years, that is exactly what he had.
3) Avoid stress. Referring to credit cards for example, he urged getting rid of them. “They don’t do nothing more than bring you worry,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a 2004 interview. “Worry will kill you.”