If Lawrence Charity could wear a bumper sticker on the back of his giant chef’s hat, it would probably say, “I’d rather be fishing.”
And while some fishermen claim that a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, Charity has conducted each day of his 50 years at the College of William and Mary as if he were on a pier with a rod in his hand, instead of behind a stove, gripping a spatula.
Charity, morning lead cook at the Commons Dining Hall, is being recognized for his five decades of dedication to William and Mary at the College’s annual employee appreciation day.
“I feel very good about it – 50 years on one job,” he said, adding that it’s been his fellow employees that he’s enjoyed most during his career.
“We are most like a family because everybody’s been here for such a long time,” he said.
A native of Charles City, Va., Charity came to work at William and Mary when he was 19 or 20 years old.
“Williamsburg was about the only place you could find a job,” said Charity.
He started working in the Wig Wam, which is now the Campus Center’s Marketplace, doing dishes and working in the storeroom before finally becoming a short-order cook.
“After I got into food service, I just continued on with it,” he said.
During his time at the College, Charity has cooked meals, buffets and picnics for events all over the campus and at locations ranging from New York to Busch Gardens. He also found time in those 50 years to get married, have five children, pick up an extra job at Colonial Williamsburg, cheer on the Dallas Cowboys, go hunting, and – of course – fish.
Though coworkers who have known him for decades lovingly cite grumpiness as one of Charity’s best-known characteristics, he is also known for his dedication, teamwork, integrity and delicious soups.
“When it comes to the bottom line and helping everybody, he is probably one of the best guys I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve done this for 30-some years,” said Larry Smith, director of the Commons and one of Charity’s best friends. “Everyone just loves him, even though he is Mr. Grump.”
Charity’s grumpy early-morning banter with one colleague, Thomasine Lewis – who also recently celebrated her 45 years of work at the College – has, at times, had dining services staff members doubled over with laughter, said Smith. The bickering has even earned the pair the nickname, “Mr. and Mrs. Charity.”
Guy Brown, who has worked at William and Mary for 53 years, is another member of Charity’s work “family.”
“We just about almost grew up together. We’re just like brothers,” he said. “He’s a fine young man, and we’ve done some good things together.”
Along with his coworkers, Charity said he enjoys his job because of the interaction he has with students, who “like him a lot,” said Smith.
“With the football boys, I get to talk with them and have a little joke around,” said Charity.
And though some young coworkers have started off a little afraid that Charity might yell at them, they soon found out that “when you need him, he’s right there,” said Smith.
Though Charity’s career has kept him cooking for most of his days, he knows exactly where to go when he needs something to eat: Charles City where his brother and seven sisters – one of whom has also worked at William and Mary for more than 30 years – still live.
“I’m always up there when I need something to eat,” he said. “As soon as I always walk in the house, my sister says, ‘Are you hungry?’ All of them love to cook.”
With 50 years of cooking at William and Mary now behind him, Charity expects to start cutting back on his hours next year, and he is retiring from his job at Colonial Williamsburg. But if his “family” at William and Mary starts to miss him, they know that the Yorktown pier might be a good place to look for him, rod in hand.
“Anytime, if it’s not too hot, I will be there,” said Charity.