Earl Crawley

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by Hook N. Sinker, Oct 7, 2007.

  1. http://dripinvesting.org/Boards/Read.asp?MID=55379

    The unlikely investor

    By Loni Ingraham

    He was told he would never go far.

    They were right. Earl Crawley became the parking attendant for the Mercantile Bank & Trust on Washington Avenue in Towson more than 35 years ago, and now that he is 69, he is still the parking attendant.

    But don't take "Mr. Earl," as they call him at the bank, at face value.

    He may be a parking attendant who never earned more than $12 an hour. But Mr. Earl has accumulated a portfolio of stocks and bonds worth nearly $600,000.

    His past did not foreshadow his future.

    He grew up poor in Baltimore and spent part of his childhood in an orphanage. He was the kid the teachers always put in the slow group.

    But he was astute enough to recognize good advice when he heard it. He may have been shortchanged in the reading department, he said, "but God gave me the gift to listen."

    It was one of the managers in the bank who took him aside in 1966 and told him that his limited education would prevent him from going far in the bank, so he ought to pursue investing in stocks.

    It took Mr. Earl 15 years to build up the courage, but that is exactly what he did.

    He did it through "nickel and dimin'," he said.

    And he did such a good job of it that "MoneyTrack," the public television series, is featuring his journey to financial security in an episode in its second season.

    Mr. Earl is described as "an ideal model for all investors" on the show's Web site.

    And National Public Radio financial commentator Deborah Owens has written about Mr. Earl in her book, "Nickel & Dime Your Way to Wealth: Wealth-Building on Any Income."

    Not bad for a guy who once thought he was "the dumbest thing on Earth."

    But when it comes to stock, "Mr. Earl possessed an emotional intelligence that you cannot learn in a book," Owens wrote.

    'This is my home'

    Mr. Earl is a familiar sight on Pennsylvania Avenue, standing under the dogwood tree at the entrance to the lot -- the tree is just big enough to provide a smattering of shade in summer -- or sitting in the booth that shelters him from the weather in winter.

    His job is to make sure Mercantile patrons always have space to park on the lot and to tactfully ward off drivers who are not bank patrons.

    Policing the lot takes a certain temperament, he said. "You've got to have a little stiffness about yourself; you don't want to anger anyone too much. And you have to be fair to people -- there are old people who can't walk too far. You need to bend a little."

    More often than not, he is chatting with bank patrons or passersby with a smile on his face.

    "I don't hang out with any crowd," he said. "This is my home right here. I just enjoy being out on the parking lot, being nice to people; I don't care who you are."

    He has always wanted to go to college like his baby brother did, Mr. Earl said. But he couldn't read or spell. He found out only later that he had dyslexia, a learning disability that can mask intelligence.

    "But what I got was better than going to college," he said. He was referring to the people he has met -- the bank customers, the investment brokers, the financial planners and the lawyers who cross his path every day.

    But inherited wealth played a role in his success -- as in the wealth of financial savvy and determination his mother instilled in him when he was a boy.

    When he was 4, he and his three sisters and brother were placed in St. Elizabeth's Orphanage on Argonne Drive after his mother contracted tuberculosis and was sent to City Hospital, which later became Johns Hopkins Hospital's Bayview campus.

    "She wanted us in Catholic surroundings," he said. "We were taught to pray, to be good and to try to help others out. To this day, I desire to be faithful, to be thankful for what we have."

    There were 200 to 300 youngsters at the orphanage, and the nuns were very good to them, he said. But it was during World War II, and sometimes the orphanage would run short of food.

    "They always had Cream of Wheat or oatmeal for breakfast," he said, "If you wouldn't eat it, they'd give it back to you for dinner.

    "I'll eat anything, but to this day I won't eat oatmeal or Cream of Wheat."

    It took nearly three years for his mother to get well and reunite the family. They rented an apartment on Saratoga Street near Lexington Market.

    "She did the best she could to keep us together," he said. "We got help from Catholic Relief and welfare. She was tough; she didn't take 'no' for an answer."

    Mr. Earl recalls he was 7 or 8 when his mother made it clear he was now the man of the family. He took it seriously. He wanted to do what he could to help out.

    His mother had gone only as far as the fourth grade. She made $5 an hour and carfare doing daywork, cleaning houses.

    "But she was really street smart, and she'd make you challenge yourself," he said. "We had a get-up-and-go about us."

    Like a lot of the youngsters living in his poor city neighborhood, he would "junk," he said. He could collect newspaper and cardboard and earn 35 cents for a bushel of broken glass.

    He was 13 when his mother suggested he go down to Lexington Market to see if any of the stall keepers needed help.

    He began earning $6 or $7 a day bagging groceries.

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  2. "I thought I was dumb, but I found out I could hold down a job," he said. "I'd give her all the money I'd made, and she would break it in half."

    His mother bought a bag of beans and flour one day, and they lived off that. "When she made biscuits and a pot of beans, it was like eating steak," he said.

    His mother taught him to budget -- they'd use part of his salary for carfare for his sister to attend St. Francis Academy near Pennsylvania Station.

    "I got my first suit for $29 with that salary," he said. "We put it on layaway. I'd get a little bit of spending money and go to the movies for 15 cents, and I bought my own shoes."

    All the kids had jobs. His older sister worked at Reads drugstore on Howard Street; another sister cleaned houses. His mother would send his younger brother and sister down to Lexington Market with 50 cents. By the end of the day, they would have sold 50 shopping bags for 5 cents apiece.

    Special education

    He stayed in Catholic school only through the fifth grade.

    "I couldn't keep up," he said. "It was tough; I'd have to read something three or four times before it would sink in."

    Because he was considered dumb, he was transferred into vocational classes at Francis M. Woods, a city school on Franklin Street that offered special education classes.

    "That was the beginning of me getting smart," he said. "That was the turnaround for my life. It was a gift."

    He discovered he had a special talent for woodworking -- and numbers.

    After his mother told him to ask his teachers if they needed any help around the house, his math teacher took him home and taught him how to clean a house and mow grass.

    "She paid me 65 cents an hour and made me figure out how many hours she had to pay me for," he said. "I liked figures."

    She recommended him to other teachers and soon he was running a housecleaning business and providing work for his brother.

    "I can still clean a house as good as anybody you want to see," he said. "I do floors, shampoo carpets, the whole thing."

    He owes a lot to his special education teachers, he said, including Isaiah White, who became a father figure for him and taught him how to behave and how to dress.

    "We had to wear a necktie every day," he said.

    He left school in eighth grade -- he later attended night school to get his high school diploma -- and devoted time to keeping his cleaning business thriving and taking on other jobs as he could. He was single and could work odd hours. He also worked as a janitor for the old Lutheran Hospital on Edmondson Avenue for a few years.

    He met Beverly, the woman he would marry, through a church social club for young adults. He had always tithed; his mother had taught him that from the beginning.

    They fell in love, then broke apart.

    "She had three years at Morgan on me," he said. "She didn't think it would work. But her grandmother told her to 'stick with him; he's got a lot of good qualities.'"

    He was 27 when they married.

    He needed more money. His mother found out about a job opening at Mercantile from one of her daywork clients.

    He filled in the application at the bank in 1964, carefully copying the information from a pad he had filled out beforehand. He didn't want to misspell anything.

    Taking stock

    The way Mr. Earl sees it, until then he had been "locked in a box with no way out of that box." That's what growing up in poverty and a lack of schooling can do to you.

    "But everybody has the desire to achieve betterness," he explained. "There was a drive there not to be the way I growed up.

    "Stocks were my chance to get out of that box."

    But it took time for Mr. Earl to embrace that concept.

    Mercantile hired him as a custodian for $80 a week in 1964. Later, he was promoted to parking attendant.

    He soon was mowing lawns for Mercantile people as a side job, and cleaning some of the stores on Pennsylvania Avenue and doing yard work.

    He always has had more than one job, he said; he's still in the cleaning business.

    He calls them "nickel-and-dime jobs." They paid maybe $20 or $30 a week, but the money added up. He had always been a saver anyway. From the time he first started working, his mother had told him to always put something aside in case times got tough.

    During his school years, he had saved up stamps to buy war bonds.

    At Mercantile, he was pleased to find out he could buy bank stock without the aid of a broker through payroll deductions and that he could participate in the bank's retirement plan.

    Sometimes putting away or investing money is a matter of deciding what you need in life and what you don't need, according to Owens, the NPR financial commentator.

    "The level of sacrifice depends on how badly you want the dream," she writes in her book about Crawley.

    Mr. Earl bought his last silk tie when Hutzler's closed nearly 20 years ago.

    "The older you get, you realize the less you need," he said.

    And he long ago had noticed that the wealthy people who came into the bank were not necessarily that well dressed.

    "You'd be surprised," he said. "I learned you don't judge people by what they drive or what they wear."

    Owens points out that Mr. Earl observed other things about wealthy people: While working-class people saved money in banks, and then used it up, wealthy people invested money in stocks and bonds. When they needed more money, they were able to borrow it by using their stocks and bonds as collateral -- they didn't need to touch their original investment.

    "If you learn how to put your money to work, eventually you won't have to," Owens maintained.

    Mr. Earl also observed that building wealth had little to do with the ups and downs of the economy or the stock market. It wasn't a matter of how much money wealthy people invested in stocks, which historically outperform other types of investments, but how long they held onto their stocks.

    "The most important factor in building wealth is time," according to Owens. Wealthy people don't dump stock when there is a downturn in the market; they view the downturn as an opportunity to buy more stock.

    Mr. Earl kept asking questions and getting answers and, finally, in 1981, he felt he was ready to make the transition to investor.

    He approached a broker he knew and bought two shares of Baltimore Gas & Electric stock, using the money he had earned from his nickel-and-dime jobs.

    "The key to your success is taking action, not waiting until you have enough to invest," according to Owens.

    From the beginning, Mr. Earl invested for growth.

    He may buy just two shares of stock, but he calculates how much they will be worth with the dividend reinvestment program.

    Not long afterward, Mr. Earl scraped together money to make a second purchase, two shares of IBM.

    This didn't sit well with his wife, he said.

    "We were poor, and we were hurting, but nobody ever went hungry," he said. "I had to be my own boss on this."

    He has been more than vindicated. Through the dividend reinvestment program, those two IBM shares have grown to 260 shares. IBM as of May 10 was selling for more than $100 a share.

    His portfolio also features stocks such as Exxon, Mercantile Bankshares, Chevron, Coca-Cola and Martin Marietta.

    Reaching out

    When he was a child, Mr. Earl used to listen to the radio and "visualize" becoming Sgt. Preston of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Lone Ranger, he said.

    In the same way, "You use your imagination to visualize your investments," he said. "You set a goal and meet it."

    His goal after his first stock purchase in 1981 was 1,000 shares of stock.

    "It sounded like a nice, round number," he said. "But I'm way past that now."

    Though he has no plans to retire, he no longer needs to work for a living. He and his wife live in a house in Ednor Gardens with the mortgage paid off; he has no debt, and his three grown children have good educations -- two of them have college degrees -- and IRAs.

    He would give them stocks on their birthdays instead of trinkets.

    He now is reaching out to other folks, making them aware that they can invest their money.

    He may give a talk occasionally at a church or school. But it's talking to people one on one that he really enjoys, he said, and explaining to them that they can start by buying just one stock.

    "A lot of people don't know they can invest like this," he said. "They think you have to be rich."

    He especially likes to encourage people who are black and uneducated, he said. "Growing up poor, I figure I can help somebody else.

    "I've been blessed by doing it. I can feel it."

    E-mail Loni Ingraham at lingraham@patuxent.com
  3. http://www.kiplinger.com/magazine/archives/2007/09/mystory.html

    Investing With Nickels and Dimes
    Earl Crawley, 69, better known as Mr. Earl, earns $20,000 a year as a parking-lot attendant. But he has amassed a stock portfolio worth more than $500,000.
    From Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, September 2007

    How did you get started investing?
    Soon after I started working for Mercantile Bank in Baltimore 44 years ago, one of the bankers took me aside and told me I didn't have enough education to go very far at the bank. He suggested I invest in stocks.

    Where did you get the money?
    I did it with good old-fashioned nickels and dimes. My mother taught me how to budget, which made me appreciate how a little money can grow. I saved what I could from odd jobs, such as lawn-cutting and window-washing, that I did in addition to my day job. I used that money to buy one share of IBM stock back in 1981.

    How did you learn how to invest?
    I really didn't know enough to be scared. In school I was considered a slow learner -- dyslexic, it's called now. My true gift from God is my ability to listen, and that's how I'm able to ask questions and use tips from the brokers, financial planners and bank customers I see every day.

    Do you have a formula for picking stocks?
    When I first started out, I had to be conservative and take my time because I couldn't afford to lose money. Now I look for companies with stability that pay dividends. I read the stock pages but don't claim to know everything about them. I have a broker, but many times I'll go where my spirit leads me.

    Any stocks you're excited about now?
    I've been buying shares of ExxonMobil.

    We've heard that you're helping others invest.
    I started an investment club at my church. And I've been coaching a couple of young men, such as bar-and-grill cook Antawn Davenport and Dana Mouse Smith, who toured with the late rapper Tupac Shakur. They can help spread the message that people can do whatever they set their minds to do.

    Crawley is featured in the current season of the PBS TV show "MoneyTrack." Watch the video.

    -- Interview by David Benjamin