Our Local Operator

In 1950, my husband became the president of the Florida Telephone Company. For many years in small towns and rural areas, telephone service was furnished by the old magneto system exchange. We’ll never again experience the personal touch in service that we enjoyed during that period in the history of the telephone industry.

We had one operator whom I will refer to as “Belle”. Belle possessed an innate compulsion to eavesdrop. There’s no other explanation for it. It was as though she had two families, her own and her telephone families, and she was concerned about both. I am not condoning her unethical behavior, even though much of it did work for good. However, a great part of it, I’m sure, was for her own personal satisfaction. She enjoyed being the first to know and the first to tell the news.

She couldn’t resist the urge to listen in, sometimes getting so carried away with the conversation she gave herself away laughing out loud, sympathizing, offering advice, or expressing any emotion she felt at the moment. When this happened, she would hear the angry words, “Belle, get off this line!” Although reported and reprimanded many times, Belle stayed on, accepted just as part of the system.

Well, when our company made the changes from magneto to dial services, we no longer needed local operators, so there’d be no place for Belle. There was concern as to how she would react, but she had known the facts for a long time and was very brave about it all. She even asked to be the operator on duty the night of the changeover. All dressed up and getting much attention, she seemed to be enjoying the party atmosphere even as she worked. I’m sure though that, like many of us old veterans, dried many tears throughout the evening.

The changeover meant a great new beginning in modern communications, but at the same time it brought an end to many things – the demise of the faithful old magneto system, the last of our local operators, and the end of Belle’s lifetime job of 45 years, the very last call she would ever connect!