Carol Meade is 'not one to sit around'

To Carol Meade, working and life are one and the same.

This is not one of those sad stories where someone clings to their work at the expense of their personal life. Instead, Meade's work informs her life, and vice versa.

Meade is 69 years old and lives in Quaker Hill. She is employed as an administrative assistant at Progeny Systems Corporation in Groton, a Navy contractor. According to its website, Progeny provides "premium systems, services, and products for the Department of Defense, government agencies and commercial clients."

She has worked in the submarine community for the majority of her career. In 1973-74, Meade worked in the Electric Boat shipyard until an injury. She was with EG&G, a defense contractor, for 18 years. She also spent time with DDL Omni Engineering, an engineering firm that designs and installs electronic components for submarines. This was all before Progeny.

Preceding her career in the submarine community, when Meade was 16, she toiled alongside her mother in a laundry facility while growing up in Montville.

"I was trying to earn money for a car," Meade said. "It was summertime. It was like 120 degrees in there, and women were fainting left and right. My mother didn't drive, so she would walk up Mohegan Hill and down to Red Tag Laundry every day. She'd come home and she'd put her feet in our kiddie pool and tell me to get her a beer. She had her beer, then we would cook dinner."

Nowadays, Meade doesn't take vacations. She's one of those people who accumulates weeks of unused vacation days before the year is out. She attributes her work ethic to her mother.

While Meade prides herself on being kind and helpful to co-workers and clients alike, she hasn't always received the same courtesy. She remembers being teased by some in the shipyard.

"I got picked on by the men at that time because it wasn't as prevalent for women to be working on the boats," Meade said. "I would clean an area, and they would come along and dump all the stuff back out on the deck. So I'd start all over again. I'd be down in the lower level in the bilge, and my vacuum cleaner was on the next level, and they would turn it off, so I'd have to climb the ladder and turn it back on again."

This never really affected Meade. She loved her work, and she still does. She adores the fact of working as much as the tasks she has to perform: receptionist duties such as answering the phone, directing people where they need to go, receiving materials, labeling them and then handing them off to engineers, those sorts of things.

Her entire life, she said, she has tried to be "useful." Whether that means bringing coffee to visitors and hanging up their coats at work, or in her marriage, or in her continued donations to charity, Meade is very much of the world. She's been involved in her Anglican Church for years, as well.

"It's just satisfying to help people, to be useful to someone," Meade said. "That's why I had such a happy marriage, I was always useful to my husband."

Annie Gould, a friend of Meade's for 40-plus years, said they met because Gould's husband at the time worked with Meade and her husband. She said Meade loves her work and is a "sweetheart."

"She has a lot of patience," Gould said. "I can't imagine her not working. She's not one to sit around, and she's always been like this. She has a lot of integrity and dedication, and it comes from her heart."

Meade says she would rather be useful than take vacation; if she wasn't working, she'd be volunteering. Her charitable donations span the gamut of arts and culture causes in the area: The Lyme Art Association, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, the Slater Museum, the Waterford Public Library, the Groton Public Library and the New London Food Pantry are some of the organizations that have benefited from Meade's giving.

When she talks about her late husband, Ken, Meade brightens. They first met while she was working the counter at a Dunkin' Donuts in Norwich. She becomes excited while recalling their trips to go fly fishing in Vermont.

Gould said the Meades were "soulmates."

Meade wrote a poem for her late husband to be included as a Christmas placement this week in The Day: "Dearest Ken / We always found the best / Christmas presents to be / the love I had for you / and the love you had for me."

Meade genuinely enjoys and looks forward to working. She says she won't retire until her health forces her to.

This comes back to Meade's mother.

"There's something about Polish people," Gould said of Meade's mother. "They want to do things right. And no fooling around."

Meade agreed.

"I saw what she did every night when I went to work that summer," Meade said. "I was floored. I was like, 'Oh my God, these tiny women are lifting bundles bigger than they are.' My mother made $40 a week, and she made it go so far."

s.spinella@theday.com

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