Saturday, February 28, 2009


I wore a pink shirt to work the other day and while it was no big deal, my best Friend commented that, “only real men wear pink.” That immediately brought to mind an incident and cultural rite of passage that occurred in Atlanta many years ago. Now I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin but the wearing of the pink especially in a work environment wasn’t always kosher and didn’t happen by accident.

In August of 1966 I was hired by the Retail Credit Company (RCC) of Atlanta, Georgia as a Field Representative (insurance investigator) in their Marietta, Georgia branch office. I was originally vetted and approved by the RCC Memphis manager who probably liked me for no more reason than I was an Ole Miss graduate and had played some football there my freshman year - an honorable mid-south pedigree. I was hired under what was then (and even now) their very impressive College Recruiting Program - one of the first real effective fast track succession planning strategies implemented by any major American corporation. I was given probably more opportunities than I deserved though by the Summer of 1970 after operational stints in Marietta, Hapeville and a sub office in Mableton, Georgia, I found myself firmly domiciled by RCC (now Equifax) in their Atlanta, Georgia headquarters at 1600 Peachtree Street working under the tutelage of a brilliant writer and all around nice guy with an incredibly talented sommelier wife, one John Cooper who had the charge to develop and grow the company’s Field Training and ultimately their Corporate Training & Development Department. He succeeded and after some expanded workshops and seminars at the University of Michigan I was able to assume the leadership of the Equifax Educational Programming and Research unit and later the corporate Employee Relations function.

Now in the home office I was able to meet some of the real movers and shakers of this very conservative company that had born and nurtured the now famous white gloved ladies that worked at their original home office on Decatur Street and later in a new headquarters in the Fairlie-Poplar district in the heart of downtown Atlanta. A few of those Ladies were still on watch by the time I hit 1600 Peachtree. They were vigilant protectors of the grail…

Again, the name of the game was CONSERVATIVE in all matters, especially dress. The work dress code required jacket, white (sometimes light blue) shirt and tie, every day. There was no casual Friday and certainly no jeans were ever worn. As a product of the New England prep school system and Ole Miss where blazer and tie were accepted norms, I was right at home. Everyday was Sunday.

Dress conventions and protocols in the 1970’s (Hippies aside) started to ease a bit but who would lead the charge in the twentieth century workplace? Surely not one of the mostly staid officers of the company and not one of us upstart young lions and not even one fellow employee, Earl Crew in HR who when four o’clock rolled around became another person – like the rest of us. Earl was perhaps one of the more industrious of the RCC young Turks (change tomorrow, today!) working a second job selling watches. That experience plus his good humor and work ethic eventually earned him the love of a fellow employee and eventually the position of Vice President of Compensation for Equifax. Not bad…

As an aside, Equifax allowed me the privilege of life long Friendships with the likes of Nancy Bell, Bobbie Blanton, Newt Richardson, Kathy Murphy, Dieter Arnold and John Werner, among others, so this was an excellent career and personal decision. Thanks guys!

At that time RCC had a dynamic leader, W. Lee Burge who first started working for the company as a mail room clerk when he was in College at Georgia State University (then the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia). Burge worked for RCC/Equifax for fifty years, earned Presidency and Chairman positions with the company and became the poster boy for RCC, the company who “grew their own.” I think that he knew everybody’s name at 1600 and when we would meet in the hall (fairly frequently) he always called me by my first name and asked about my Family. I suspect that I was no different than Earl or any other employee. Burge set the example and standard for the company and the community with his Service Excellence philosophy (“A pleased customer always returns to the place where he has been well served.”) fitting nicely amongst today’s top service oriented companies. He had a insatiable thirst for knowledge and was a voracious fiscally responsible citizen of Atlanta. He was passionate about all he did. I wish that he were still among us to help sort out our current economic woes.

As a natural leader he assumed the helm of not only Retail Credit/Equifax but many organizations giving back to the community at large whenever he could. Among many other honors and projects, he served as Chairman of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia from 1972-73 and in a predominately African American city and an indication of the respect he engendered, served as Chairman of Atlanta’s United Negro College Fund from 1974-75. He was on the board of trustees at Mercer University and member of the board of governors of Georgia State University’s Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility and strong proponent of the Georgia State University (GSU) College of Law. GSU established the W. Lee Burge Endowment for Law & Ethics, an active teaching chair that promotes ethics, professionalism and access to justice. Very appropriate for the man who set the standard in the Atlanta Community.

Lee Burge understood the necessity for change and facilitated the very necessary evolution to modern thinking and protocols and all under the noses of the existing RCC Aristocracy. He brought in IBM’s Jack Rogers who in turn brought in Tom Chapman who completed the cycle. Having left Equifax in 1980, it was fun and satisfying to watch the transition.

Well, one hot summer morning while looking in our coffee cups during break (I think it was Earl Crew, Larry Case and me), Lee Burge came down off the hallowed Fifth Floor, strolled through the cafeteria and into the private dining room. Not unusual you say? Except that Burge was wearing blue blazer, pink shirt, gray slacks and white bucks! The cafeteria fell silent as Lee acknowledged several employees, smiled and went into his meeting. The die was cast and the future was ours. We just looked at each other and smiled understanding the ramifications of that one simple deliberate act.

There was no formal announcement of a change in the dress code though from that point the old button-down dress code became a part of RCC history. We had gone from Flash Gordon to Luke Skywalker in a millisecond! Pink and pastels of every color soon visited 1600 along with many a seersucker suit and, yes, white bucks. We had turned the fashion corner and we owed it all to Lee Burge. New Orleans had moved to Atlanta…

Fast forward to the 21st century. Pink remains the color of alpenglow on Mount Rainier, my best Friend's bathrobe, Pepto Bismol, some compromised poodles, traditional bubble gum, my favorite panther, Elvis’ and Mary Kay's Cadillacs, the three plastic flamingos someone put on my lawn in Atlanta in 1979, the performing and stage name of the talented Alecia Moore, a feminine loungewear line, part of the name of several other pop singers and groups and, most importantly, the symbol and color of breast cancer awareness who keep reminding us that Pink is the color of passion! The 2007 Calgary Stampede was a literal sea of pink as “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” Wrangler and rodeo fans from around the world righteously supported breast cancer research and awareness programs.

For all you Scots out there yes, there really are tartans that incorporate the color pink and a company dba Pink Tartan. Well, we actually found a corporate pink tartan material registered with the ScottIsh Tartans Society known simply as, Think Pink, apparently offered by our Friends with breast cancer awareness (the Highlands are alive!). "Legtimate" Tartans that incorporate some degree of pink include the MacMillan Old Ancient and Old Weathered Tartans, the Bruce of Kinnaird Ancient Tartan, the Connaught and Munster (Ulster) Tartans and the Aberdeen (District) tartan. Yes, I was surprised though I have seen the Ancient MacMillan at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. It's attractive.

We also found the fashionable and very chic clothing label Pink Tartan (, the brainchild of Canadian Kimberley Newport-Mimran. While the company has a decidedly Scottish moniker, they don’t appear to have anything to do with tartans or kilts. They have designed and used some awesome pink plaids in their very popular women’s clothing lines that continue to entertain and inspire Scotophiles.

We noted that the State of Minnesota has a state tartan that has a dark pink stripe, emblematic of the pink in their state flower, the Showy Lady¹s Slipper. Added bonus: When the pink color runs through the blue threads in the Tartan, it becomes purple, the color of the Thistle, Scotland's national flower. Inquiring minds want to know… We can only assume there are more examples we have overlooked.

So, thanks to Lee Burge and other like minded corporate fashion plates we can wear our pink shirts of any persuasion and be comforted that we are not compromising our masculinity – “a real man can wear any color he wants.”

My reality is that as my hair turns more silver, a pink shirt really doesn’t look half bad….. So, support breast cancer awareness and programs any way you can and thank Lee Burge for all he did.

Fashion trends aside, are you tough enough to wear pink?


Ned Buxton

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