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Eleanor McGrath: Most girls wanted a Barbie for their 10th birthday ... all I wanted was a shares certificate. And I got it too

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Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange .

Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange .

Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange .

TO say I idolised my Dad might be too strong a word, but truly when I was nine he really could do no wrong. As I approached my tenth birthday, the year was 1975 and I was an avid reader of Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail. Possibly it was because I was interested, but more likely it was because every morning I could sit with my dad at breakfast and talk to him.

As I drew closer to the “double-digit” birthday there was a more important discussion for the breakfast table and that was what I wanted. It was not Barbies (my mother did not approve of these “breastie” dolls) nor an Easy Bake oven, I wanted for my 10th birthday Gold Stock, not any specific company -- it just had to be Gold. If it seems strange that a child wanted shares in a company, it was not foreign in my family as Dad belonged to a small group of individuals in Toronto who worked in Corporate Finance. He was an underwriter and would occasionally bring home “tombstones” outlining the achievements of the last deal when millions would be raised for companies to spend…for a ten year old, my dad was cool!

The day came, April 29th 1975 and I was so excited. For certain my cake was a Donald Duck cake as my mother and I had purchased on special order from the local bakery, but uncertain was my gift. When I opened the large Manila envelope and pulled out the share certificate it was not gold stock but the most practical shares for widows and children, Bell Canada Convertible-Preferreds. Looking back, I was rude. Dad tried to explain my gift from the research he had done and how one day they would be very handy for my university education but that was not good enough. Disappointment hung heavy in the air.

For years those Bell dividends arrived in the mail and in fact I voted at the Annual General Meeting by Proxy and converted my Preferreds into Common Shares. My tenth birthday gift was indeed a lasting lesson in all that the world of the stock markets offer…except excitement. The most boring Bell Canada’s delivered but as I grew into my teens I would on occasion remind Dad that if he had bought me gold stock in 1975 I would have enjoyed that addictive stock roller coaster up with the price of gold!

When I did sell my shares in Bell Canada it helped buy my first car, a red Honda Civic DX. Buzzing around Toronto in my twenties I was invincible and in the dawn of the late 80s there was money to be made on IPOs (Initial Public Offerings). When I learned that Dad had brought out a New Issue I thought there was money to be made and invested into the company at $18 a share. Then that day in October 1987 came. I was there. I was a secretary to six stockbrokers at the esteemed firm of Walwyn Stodgell Cochran Murray and I can describe exactly to this day where everyone stood watching the small TV screens, watching the tape coming in on the system, hearing the dot matrix machines push out orders of SELL SELL SELL! I was now like everyone else who had invested in the stock market –broke!

Years later, I joined the illustrious world of finance as a stockbroker. As I walked my children to school one morning, my son Jack told me about Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” That day I went to work with my mantra in place: Slow and Steady wins the race. My clients were widows and seniors and content in the knowledge that the bond portfolios were as exciting as it got with me.

Again the day of reckoning arrived on Black Monday 2008 but this time at the speed of light, algorithms and internet brought it down with the news that money had taken flight. Crooks, bad political oversight and fast money were to blame. I sold out in 2009…I was and remain finished with the stock market. Today, I adhere more firmly to my grandmother’s approach to money and savings, that is put your money under the carpet!

I will never know if I would have bought my first car with a gift of gold stock; just as we cannot turn back the many dark days on the markets. But I can tell you of the joy I have in remembering walking over the Heath Street Bridge trying to keep up with my Dad as we walked together, me to school, him to the bus for work. I can tell you of the joy I had today as my youngest reached out to hold my hand as we walked to the same school that I went to and my dad before me. Here it is 2012 and we are living in a world in the state of chassis, as O’Casey wrote. Yet if we could reach out to a neighbour and offer a hand, we are not alone.