One of the persistent clichés in modern life revolves around the idea of family in other contexts. We’re always trying to describe some group we are part of as “just like family”. It gets creepy when politicians exhort us to think about society in this way. We need a competent executive to run the country, not a National Daddy (or Mommy!). Businesses love to use this trope in advertising: “from our family to yours”, etc. Let’s just stipulate that your family is your family and leave it at that.
That said, at Elite Envelope & Graphics, my partner Dave Theriault and I have always said that we like a family atmosphere at the company. What that means to us among other things is we consider the family obligations of our employees to be at least equally important as their work duties. We’ve also maintained a company size of around 30 employees which allows us to be in daily contact with everyone as well as maintain an open door policy for anyone who has something they need to talk about.
We also have actual family members working together at Elite. The Gorman brothers, Chris and Steve have been with us almost since we started the company in late 2003. And then there’s the three generations of paper cutters; Luis Sousa who recently retired, his son-in-law John Verissimo who also serves as a plant manager and John’s son and Luis’ grandson Cameron Verissimo who joined us a couple of years ago and now is one of our best cutters. Luis recently decided to hang it up after over forty years of cutting paper for various envelope companies including the past twelve years or so at Elite. We recently threw him a retirement party at his favorite Portuguese restaurant Sagre’ in his hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Luis has an interesting story. He was born in the Azores, the beautiful islands off the coast of Portugal. Luis was one of six children, 3 boys and 3 girls. His father was a bus driver and his mother a homemaker. Eventually Luis’ family moved to Brazil where he met his wife Maria. He and Maria had three children and moved to the US in September of 1972, following his parents who had done the same a few years earlier.
At that time, Sousa’s brother Manny was working as a paper cutter at the now defunct Boston Envelope Company in Canton, MA. Manny set up an interview for Luis who was eventually hired and trained for the same job to work alongside his brother. Sousa worked at Boston Envelope for many years before moving to Northeastern Envelope in Braintree, Sheppard Envelope in Auburn and eventually to Elite Envelope & Graphics in Randolph. In 2015 Luis’ beloved wife Maria passed away. Shortly thereafter, he decided it was finally time to retire.
Cutting paper is a physically demanding job. You’re on your feet all day lifting large and heavy reams of paper onto a cutting bed. The paper is cut with a large steel die that resembles a cookie cutter. The die is placed very carefully on top of the paper. When it’s in just the right position, the cutting bed slides under a metal press which pushes the die through the ream of paper. This creates the individual “blanks” which are then taken to another machine where they are folded and glued to make the envelopes we all use.
It’s a job that can wear down much younger men. But remarkably Sousa was able to keep cutting paper well into his 70’s. His longtime friend and co-worker Al Berardinelli remarked, “Unlike the rest of us, Luis never seemed to age!” Sousa attributes this to the fact that he enjoyed his work very much. For the past 12 years, he would rise early in the morning and go to his favorite local bakery where he’d get a Portuguese pastry and a cup of coffee before driving about 40 minutes to Randolph to arrive at 7 AM. In the envelope and printing industries, it’s typical for the production day to start early in the morning. That never seemed to bother Louis Sousa.
Sousa’s sense of humor and impish grin were a constant feature on the job. He could also be a bit of a practical joker by his own account: “Years ago my son and I were working side by side on the production floor. I decided to tie a trip wire from my machine to his and every time he would try to operate his machine, I would pull the wire and it would shut off. He was so aggravated until he realized what I was doing!” he said with a smile.
My partner Dave Theriault spoke about Luis’ value to the company. “We were thrilled to have Luis join us shortly after we started Elite in 2003. We sought him out specifically. He was our first and only cutter for a long time.” Dave went on to rave about Sousa’s skill at his craft. “Luis is probably the most skilled cutter I’ve ever seen. His many years of experience and the pride he took in his work each day made him a key member of our staff. He solved many a problem for me.” When Luis wanted to scale back his hours a bit, we gladly accommodated him. Dave said, “Just having Luis around to answer questions and tackle some of the more challenging jobs was a big help. Plus he’s just a great guy to have on your team. He’s always upbeat and works hard and very productively every day. We miss him!”
Despite missing his many friends and long-time colleagues at Elite Envelope, Luis says he is enjoying his retirement. In addition to his 3 children he now has 6 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. A proud family man, he enjoys spending time with all of them as much as he can. Sousa still enjoys his trips to the local bakery for coffee except now he can do it at a more leisurely pace and include spending time with his friends catching up on the local happenings. Ever the jokester, Sousa says he’s teaching his great-granddaughter how to keep herself amused at restaurants by flicking sugar packets with her spoon. Some things never change! And the family tradition continues at Elite Envelope & Graphics.