Growing up in the 1960s, I was a big fan of the Monkees. While Mickey Dolenz was my favorite in those days, I couldn’t help recently but be intrigued by the story of Betty Nesmith Graham, mother of Monkee Michael Nesmith. It turns out her life has a few valuable lessons for those of us wanting to enhance our ability to receive.
Born in 1924 in Dallas, Texas, Bette Graham dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen to marry her first serious boyfriend, 24-year-old Warren Nesmith. He left her after their son was born, and she after acquired her GED and went on to secretarial school. In those days, women didn’t work their way up to ladder of management as many do today. Betty took a secretarial position at Texas Bank and Trust, pursued her passion as a commercial artist on the side, and raised her son alone. By 1951, she had been promoted into the position of executive secretary for W.W. Overton, the Chairman of the Board of the bank.
Electric typewriters came into widespread use after World War II, replacing the slow, noisy manual typewriter. Betty and her co-workers found that, while the new models made typing easier, their carbon-film ribbons made it impossible to correct mistakes neatly with a pencil eraser. Tired of having to retype entire pages because of a single mistake and concerned about effect of her errors on her job security, single-mother Betty set out to find a more effective process. Having knowledge of art techniques, Betty’s idea came to her as she observed how painters decorating the bank windows for the holidays covered any imperfections in their work with an additional layer of paint. With help from her son’s high school chemistry teacher, she invented a thin, quick-drying paint that would cover typographical errors in a similar manner. She brought a single bottle of the fluid and a small watercolor brush into her office. Her co-workers watched as she painted over her mistakes at work and retyped the correct characters, saving time and office supplies. Immediately seeing the value of her invention, they asked Betty to sell them some of the mixture, and her company was born.
In 1956, Betty incorporated the business as the Mistake-Out Company, making the liquid in her kitchen and bottling it in her garage with help from her son and his friends. She hired her first employees a year later, when the product was mentioned in a trade magazine, resulting in a large order from General Electric. Betty continued to perfect her product to achieve the ideal combination of paint and several other chemicals. She renamed the improved product “Liquid Paper” in 1968. By that time, she was selling 40,000 bottles of her ingenious invention a week, and less than a decade later in 1977, her firm had 331 employees around the world selling 500 bottles a minute. True to her values, the corporate headquarters included a library, day care center, and art showcase.
In 1979 Betty retired and sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Company for 47 million dollars plus royalties for every bottle sold until 2000. She establishing the Gihon Foundation, a Bible-based charity that helps support women artists and entrepreneurs succeed. Graham died in 1980 at the age of 56, having described herself as a “feminist who wants freedom for myself and everybody else.”
Betty Nesmith Graham demonstrated a few practices we can employ to receive easier. She faced a number of challenges in her life: lack of education, abandonment of her husband, limited income, and little room for advancement at work. Undaunted, Betty used her creativity, displayed resilience, tapped into her passion, and utilized the resources available to her as she took each step. Most significantly, she knew how to begin again. She completed her GED and went to secretarial school. As a single mother, she dreamt of freedom and ultimately extended that goal to other women through her foundation. When her son moved on to have his own career, her new husband joined her in the business. All along the way, she perfected her product and expanded her vision, at a time when opportunities for women were limited at best. I’m inspired and encouraged by Betty’s example. I hope you are, too.
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