Michael C. Paterno, CPA

BY PAUL BONNER

  

 
 
 

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

SPONSORED REPORT

Revenue recognition: A complex effort

Implementing the new standard requires careful judgment. Learn how to make significant accounting judgments and document them and collaborate with peers for consistent application.

VIDEO

How to Excel pivot a general ledger

The general ledger is a vast historical data archive of your company's financial activities, including revenue, expenses, adjustments, and account balances. J. Carlton Collins, CPA, shows how to prepare data for, and mine data with, PivotTables.

QUIZ

News quiz: Taking an economic snapshot and looking to the future

Recent news included IRS actions that affect individuals and partnerships and a possibly influential move by a Big Four accounting firm.Take this short quiz to see how much you know about the news.