Michael C. Paterno, CPA




Grigoraci, Trainer, Wright & Paterno
Charleston, W.Va.

I’M 99 AND STILL WORKING as a CPA every day because I like it. When I got my license, I was the youngest CPA in West Virginia. I was 21, and the year was 1929. We had the terrible Depression, and I didn’t have enough business. But I’m an optimist, so I never gave up. Now I’m the oldest CPA still practicing in the state.

MY FATHER WAS A COAL MINER, l ike many other Italian immigrants in this part of West Virginia. He came here in 1901 and worked until 1936, when I was able to earn enough money to help him retire. That was what I was living for, to be able to make enough money for him to retire from the mines. They’re bad enough today, but not like they were in those days. Once, a big piece of slate fell on him, and he was laid up for six months with a broken back.

MATH WAS MY BEST SUBJECT. When I was in fourth grade, I had finished eighth-grade math. In those days, when you finished eighth grade, you went to work with your father, and that’s what I did. When we came home that first day, I was all black. My parents saw me and said, “We’re not going to let you work in the coal mines; we’re going to send you to school.” I went to college just across the Kanawha River, at what was called New River State; they’ve since changed the name to West Virginia Tech. They sold me on the idea of becoming a CPA.

AFTER FIVE YEARS, I had only a few accounts. So I called a prominent accountant, Harry R. Howell, and offered to work for him for $100 a month. Well, he could hardly turn that down. After five years, business got better, so we formed a partnership, and I became managing partner for 55 years after that.

MY WIFE, MARY, IS A CHARLESTON, W.VA., GIRL. We’ve been married for 77 years; she’s 95. We have two boys, Frank and Vincent. Vince became an auto dealer; together, we had a Pontiac dealership. Since I was a CPA and an auto dealer, we got all the dealers around the area to let us do their accounting work. Later, I became president of a bank in South Charleston where I live, and we did auditing for all the banks. Frank is a public accountant, and he was with us for about 30 years until he retired. In 1987 Trainer & Wright, a firm in Huntington, wanted to buy us out. I was about 82, and I figured maybe it was time to retire, but they said they wanted me to stay; they could use the clients. So I agreed to stay, and I’ve been here ever since.

I’VE NEVER MISSED WORK on account of health. Maybe a day or so, but nothing to speak of. I take a couple of aspirins a day. No exercise—I never did. I’ve never smoked, haven’t gained any weight. I’ve been pretty active in a lot of things, including our church. I used to play cards some at a local country club, where I’m a charter member. Of course, at my age, I’m a charter member of a lot of things.

—As told to Paul Bonner


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