Frances Kirby Retires at 84 after 51 years at KDC

PROFILE. When Frances Kirby started working at what is now Knowlton Development Corporation (KDC), she had no idea that she would still be there and working more than 50 years later. At that time, it was still called Clairol and Paige Thornton was its President. Back then, Knowlton was still an independent municipality and Homer Blackwood was its mayor.

When Clairol planned to close the plant, it was bought by a group of employees and was known for many years as Knowlton Packaging (or LEK). Knowlton ultimately merged with 6 other towns to become part of the Town of Brome Lake. Many mayors later, Kirby is still living in Knowlton. She met Kirby and they lived in Waterloo for a dozen years, raising two of their four children there.

“Rolland and I bought my father-in-law Roy Kirby’s farm on Rosenberry Road in Sutton. We sold that farm and moved to Knowlton in the 1960s.”

“For me, working in the plant was a pleasure. It wasn’t work, it was a fun job,” she recalls. “I had worked on a farm. I had to milk cows, cut and split wood, harness the horses, skid logs, gather sap, spread manure in the fields, do the gardening, and a lot more. It was easy at Clairol compared to a farm.”

Kirby began at Clairol making up boxes with machines to staple them, stamped first with the proper code on them, then filled them and placed them on palettes for shipping. She did this for 25 years, before tape machines replaced staplers and other changes crept in.

Kirby later worked on filler (bottling) lines, rotating among the different product lines, eventually working on every machine in the place. Others sometimes said “I don’t want to work on that line”. In that case, it was always “Send Frances”, who was game for anything she saw as easier than farming.

“I like working. I didn’t want to retire,” says Kirby. “I liked getting up at 5:30, having my toast and coffee at work, there’s my day. I never sat on the line, I always stood. Other girls wanted a chair right away. I still walk everywhere, to Korvette, Sears, IGA, anywhere.”

What next? “I don’t really have any plans. Now that I’m retired, I might put in a garden.” 

Jim Ferrier, special collaboration