The year was 1969 when gas prices were 33 cents per gallon, a postage stamp was 6 cents, Neil Armstrong made history stepping on the moon and said “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” and Charles Pray started work at the DS Smith Paper Mill in Riceboro. The mill was then called Interstate Paper. Little did Pray know that his small step starting at the Paper Mill would result in a marathon career making history in his own way by working for the same organization for 50 years. No other DS Smith North American employee has achieved that.
Only a year after its construction, on April 21, 1969, Pray joined the Mill as a general services probationary employee. He subsequently moved to a paper machine sequence and in 1975 transferred into the maintenance department as a mechanic where he has worked ever since. Pray has seen the mill change from its early days of manual operations producing about 400 tons per day to the extremely sophisticated and technically driven processes and production of 1,200 tons per day.
Pray stated, “It’s been a blessing to work at the same place so close to home for so long. The company has been good to me allowing me to raise my family and provide them with a good living.” Pray added, “I’ve worked with a lot of people during the years at the mill and built a lot of great relationships that will be there forever.”
Pray recalled some of the challenging days for the paper industry and Riceboro mill. He said “I remember going through some tough economic times when to keep the mill in operation we went to the scrap pile to get parts. We did what we had to do to keep it going.”
General Manager Al Cantrell, who himself has been at the mill for 27 years, said, “Charles is a big man in stature standing over 6-feet 5-inches, but he is also a giant of a man when it comes to respect and the legacy he will leave on this operation. Charles has made an impression on this mill unlike anyone else. He has earned the respect of his colleagues and has mentored literally hundreds of fellow co-workers over his fifty-year career. Fifty years, that is a remarkable accomplishment for an employee to stay with one organization and I am proud that I had the honor to work with Charles for over half of that. We will miss Charles and we wish him the very best in his retirement as he certainly deserves it!”
In addition to working at DS Smith, Pray also gave back to the local community by being a long time football and basketball referee for over 37 years through the Hinesville Officials Association.
“Come to work on time when scheduled, work safe, do your job, and stay out of confusing issues,” Pray advised, adding, “It will be emotional to leave the company and closing out this part of my life. I will greatly miss my fellow employees, but I will still be around growing my garden and being in the community.”