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BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Houston there has been a new revelation almost every day about Enron, once known as the city’s ultimate corporate good citizen. The headlines tell the story: Alleged financial mismanagement; the resignation last week of Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay; and then, on Friday, news that the former Deputy Vice Chairman J. Clifford Baxter had committed suicide. Like other Enron executives, he lived well here in this Houston suburb, but quit last year after warning Enron was engaged in questionable accounting practices. Some of the 4,000 employees who lost their jobs in the Enron collapse are still reeling from all this, and trying to figure out how to put their lives back together.
SPOKESPERSON: Do you have the certificates?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Ex-Enron worker Nathan Childs and his wife got some help last week, a check from a new non-profit organization called ex-Enron Employees Relief Fund. Since being laid off December 3, Childs and his wife have had to give up their apartment and hospitalize their oldest child, and then, on January 3, 29-year-old Adena had a stroke.
NATHAN CHILDS, Former Enron Employee: Well, pretty much we don’t leave the house anymore.
ADENA CHILDS: Doctor’s appointments.
NATHAN CHILDS: Just to go to the doctor’s appointments, and we drive 90 miles round-trip to the hospital at least four times a week for her therapy sessions, for doctor’s appointments.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you have medical insurance?
NATHAN CHILDS: No, or my medical benefits ran out December 31, and her stroke was on January 3, so of course nothing’s covered.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Rebecca Rushing put the relief fund together. She is also an Enron employee who was laid off. Rushing recently landed a new job as a receptionist with a Houston oil exploration firm.
REBECCA RUSHING: I just wanted to follow up with you and let you know we received your request.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Although thrilled with her good fortune, rushing was haunted by the heartbreaking stories she heard about other laid-off people.
REBECCA RUSHING: I think each individual story in some way has gotten to me. I’ve heard stories about people who have, you know… Went to get food stamps, and it was so humiliating to them because these people, they’ve never had to go through that type of process before. And they were asked, "how much is in your bank account? Let me see how much money is in your purse."
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Other organizations have pitched in to help former Enron employees deal with their myriad of problems, but Rushing’s relief fund is the first organized by the laid-off workers themselves.
REBECCA RUSHING: First of all, I want to say a big thank you to everybody who has contributed to our fund; it’s just been very, very overwhelming to me, and I am so appreciative. (crying) I’m so appreciative… Okay. I am so appreciative of what everybody has done and so many people that are going to be able to be helped by people who gave to our fund. I am so excited to say that today we will be able to help about 30 people and be able to give out between $40,000 and $50,000.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It started out a week ago with less than $200; then, as word about it spread, the fund mushroomed to over $70,000 overnight, fueled mostly by politicians who donated money they received from Enron in their last political campaigns.
SPOKESPERSON: These are copies of the checks that we paid on behalf…
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Even though she lost most of her retirement fund at Enron, former Enron accountant Sue Nix helped Rushing set up the relief fund. At 57, Nix was hoping to retire in a few years; now she’d be happy to just find a job.
SUE NIX, Former Enron Employee: It’s very hard, because they will, first of all, select a person who’s much younger. Second of all, if you’re heavyset, it’s still discrimination, but they will always take a pretty younger woman even if you’re a back- office type or worker. I get up in the middle of the night and sit in the chair and read the paper again and again, to hopefully get sleepy. About daybreak, then I’ll feel sleepy, maybe nap for an hour or two.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And what are you thinking at those moments — is it that you’re worried?
SUE NIX: Yeah. Worried that everything you’ve worked for, that you have materially, that you don’t have to go out there and sell your car or sell your home just to be able to eat next week.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Another Fund recipient, Bill Peterson, was laid off as a computer specialist while he was undergoing chemotherapy.
BILL PETERSON: Yeah, we sold our second car. We have our house on the market. We’re going to sell our house. We’ve had it for 15 years.
CATHY PETERSON: That’s all we can do. You know, we’ve never, our married lives, been without life insurance or medical insurance. We’ve been professional people.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And the Petersons are very angry at Enron’s former top brass.
BILL PETERSON: They’re the ones that cashed in a lot of their options and, you know, $101 million for Ken Lay. What was it, 70-something for Jeff Skilling? I mean, gee, that’s… I could live on that.
CATHY PETERSON: I would say we’re disappointed because to be an Enron employee was like being a Marine. They were the best of the best. They only hired the best of the best. We’ve lost our pride. To say you’re an Enron employee, it was like the Green Berets of the Marines. Anyone who worked at Enron was a team player, a hard worker, a go-getter. You looked at the end goal, never, never at your own needs even. And she was a queen. She was a "Titanic" that couldn’t be sunk, and she was. And like the "Titanic," it’s amazing who made the lifeboats.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But it isn’t just the rank and file who are hurting. Enron gave millions of dollars to community programs. It promised $6 million this year alone to the United Way, which made after-school programs like this one possible in poor neighborhoods. Now that money is in doubt.
ACTOR: Everybody knows where I’m at.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Enron was a huge presence in the arts community. The Alley Theater lost $75,000. But that’s not what worries director Paul (Peter) Tetreault.
PETER TETREAULT, Director: The indirect is sort of the fallout from no longer having Enron as a corporate citizen. There will be all the employees that are subscribers and patrons to the Alley Theater who, when they gave money, they had a great matching plan. There will be the businesses that Enron was an important client of theirs that gave them a lot of money so that they were then able to, in turn, turn around and give us corporate contributions. I’m more concerned about that than the actual "here’s the check from Enron that supported XYZ Program."
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And although the Houston Ballet took only a $30,000 hit from a $12 million annual budget, that’s not what executive director C.C. Conner thinks is the problem.
C.C. CONNER, Executive Director, Houston Ballet: I think more in this town, it’s a psychological loss of one of the very visible leaders isn’t there leading. It feels, I think, a little bit scary, especially in view of where the economy is in general. If our largest corporation was still there leading when other companies are maybe having a hard time in a downturn in the economy, we’d feel more secure than one that was one of the most visible now not having that presence. (Singing opera)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Houston Opera lost $100,000 in contributions from Enron. In an effort to keep attendance up, former Enron employees who held season tickets to the opera this year have been offered free ones for the next season. It’s been like that throughout the cultural community:
Give a little bit here, tighten the reins a little bit there, but the big unresolved question for everybody is, who will fill Enron’s very big shoes?