Thousands of times over her 35 years as a telephone operator for Southern Bell in downtown Stuart, Dorothy Anderson’s sweet Southern drawl helped connect calls for residents, even before there was a dial on the phone and before you even had to know the number you were calling.
“There were less than 300 telephones in Stuart, and pretty soon I had all the numbers memorized,” says Anderson, who is a healthy 96 years old and living with her daughter, Debra Sigafoose, in Tropical Farms. “Stuart was a quaint little town, even smaller than Port Salerno.”
Still, it was quite a change from the tobacco, cotton and peanut farm where she was raised in Valdosta, Ga. When she graduated from high school in 1936, Anderson left the rural life behind and took the Greyhound bus to Stuart to stay with her cousins.
Her first job in downtown Stuart was at Harrison’s Café just around the corner from the Stuart Daily News building on First Street. It was there that she accepted a date from Dalton Anderson, who worked as a printer at the newspaper.
“He kept coming in and asking me out,” she says fondly of her husband of nearly 50 years.
In between bicycle excursions over the wooden Jensen Beach bridge to the beach, taking in movies and fishing, Anderson worked at McCrory’s 5 & 10 Store, once on Osceola Street near the Riverwalk. This was before becoming one of the town’s three telephone operators in 1943. She quickly learned how to connect calls on a large switchboard located in Woodmen Hall on Akron Avenue.
During the war, when Dalton served overseas, Anderson moved to Camp Murphy, a large Army base used as a radar training school on the grounds of what is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park. As one of six telephone operators for the base, Anderson lived in the barracks with the other girls for about three years and enjoyed driving to dances at the civic center, now the Flagler Recreation Center downtown.
After the war, her first son, Dale, was born, followed by son, Larry, and daughter, Debra. She continued working as an operator, while also making all of her daughter’s clothes by hand and volunteering as a den mother for her sons’ scout troops. The family built a house on Camden Avenue, and she watched the hurricane of 1949 rip off her neighbor’s roof. The families took shelter together and survived the storm.
But an even bigger scare came in 1955, during her overnight shift at Southern Bell. Strikers with the union wedged a bomb underneath the building, and it exploded minutes after Anderson left the room.
“I went to the bathroom. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here today,” she says, remembering a call coming in immediately from a neighbor. “She called the switchboard and said, ‘Operator, did you hear that explosion?’ I couldn’t even answer. The police brought me home.”
Life calmed down in the years that followed, as she and her husband, who passed away in 1990, traveled in an RV to nearly every state in the nation. Known fondly as “GG” to her five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, Anderson enjoys games, crafts, sewing and gardening. She just gave up her driver’s license a few months ago and remains mentally sharp and quite healthy, except for a little hearing loss and arthritis in her knee.
She says she has no secret to her longevity, but being a sweet, helpful voice to Stuart’s residents for decades sure didn’t hurt.