The Legacy of Helen M. Plummer

Until this Monday, a lovely older lady worked at the CVS just off the University of Rhode Island campus. She worked long past any reasonably expected retirement age. Her gray-white frantic curls gave no impression, ever, of pretentiousness. Her name tag read “Nonni,” though few knew her real name until the URI student newspaper, The Good Five-Cent Cigar, wrote an article about her back in 2007. Although she was a little slow at the register, that was only to go out of her way to make sure you got your CVS Customer Care coupons. And no matter what, she ended every transaction with the same send-off –

“You have a excellent.”

The first time you hear it, you hesitate, waiting, to give her a chance to finish her sentence, never mind the quirky grammar. Excellent… what? Day? Afternoon? Weekend? Life? But you quickly learn that’s it. Just “you have a excellent.” Whatever you need to be excellent, may it be excellent.

My colleague tried hard to get the University to bestow an honorary degree on this woman, who passed her GED about 15 years ago with a college-level score, and who touched the lives of tens of thousands of our students in her 15 years at the CVS and before that the donut shop just across the parking lot. Students created a Facebook fan page for her called, Nonnie the cashier at CVS in the URI Emporium who says, “have a excellent.”

She’s recognized on the public bus system, her mode of transportation whenever her destination’s too far for her feet to walk. She’s gotten signed posters from the URI women’s basketball team and invitations to campus events from “her” students. She told The Cigar that she once had a book filled with the names of students for whom she prayed each night. She considered her job at CVS, giving her daily interaction with URI students, a gift from God.

On Monday of this week, Nonni didn’t show up to open the store. That never happens. The shift supervisor walked to her apartment above the Kingston laundromat and knocked on her door, but Nonni didn’t answer. Before the day was out, the Twitterverse was buzzing with heartfelt stories and sentiments and sympathies by students who adored her, at the sad news that she’d died that day. Even the big city newspaper in our state wrote about her.

I don’t know if she knew the impact she had on every person who ever walked into that CVS. I suppose we rarely know our own impact on others – good or bad. But I think if we aspire to reflect human kindness in the ways of people like Nonni, we can hardly go wrong. Helen M. Plummer, you have a excellent.



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