Donald Dooley is a natural-born salesman. It’s essentially all he’s ever done, but he’s done it all over the world successfully for a long time.
At 84 he’s still representing certain wine brands locally, getting out to the many small liquor stores across the province and pushing his product.
One thing he doesn’t have to sell is a story.
His apartment in St. John’s where he lives with his wife, Mona, is filled with pictures and other gems that tell the story of his life.
And like any great storyteller, there’s no real point in trying to paraphrase.
It’s best to get the goods right from the salesman himself.
What is your full name?
Donald Ignatius Dooley.
When is your birthday?
Where are you from?
St. John’s, Newfoundland, Logy Bay Road. We grew up there for 100 years. The Dooleys.
What is your occupation?
I’m a wine agent. That’s what I am right now. Just before that I was 33 years with an American company in Greenwich, Conn. selling to the United States military bases. I was hired in ‘58 and worked with them until ‘66. I was selling liquor and food products to American (military bases). Only Americans. We represented the finest companies like Cutty Sark scotch, Jim Beam bourbon, Smirnoff vodka, Heineken beer, Pabst beer. All top lines. And my territory from ‘58 to ‘66 was Newfoundland. Then I was asked to go to Thailand. I spent four years there. After the Vietnam War, I was to come back and they assigned me Bermuda, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — I’ve been to Cuba 45 or 50 times — Iceland, Azores, Thule in Greenland and Newfoundland. I finished after 33 years.
How did you end up with that job?
It was very simple. I worked for C.R. Bell Ltd. and they sold Johnny Walker whiskey. And they sent me up to Labrador to visit the base. On the airplane going up I met a fella by the name of Tommy Tucker. He asked me what I did for work and I told him what I was selling. A week later, I got a phone call from the United States inviting me down. They wanted to offer me a job. I was making $3,000 a year here and they offered me $6,000 plus five per cent. After working for them I got into the wine business in 1972, which I’m still into locally. But I was big-time local (at) one time because I had Wolf Blass, South African wines and Chilean wines. My job would be to visit the liquor stores and ask them to put a different kind of wine that they don’t have on the shelf and that I represent. That’s what I’m still doing.
What wines do you represent today?
I represent Dr. Zenzen from Germany, Carl Jung non-alcoholics, and Finnish liqueurs called bakeapple and partridgeberry. But the two of them are so small they squeak. I don’t make any money on them.
How many places in the world have you lived?
I’ve only lived in Newfoundland and Thailand. But I used to cover seven military bases (in Thailand) that the American military had during the Vietnam War. But when I was living in Bangkok I used to go to Nepal and India to the exchanges. They were just satellite-type stores. Not much business.
On your business card it says that you’re an Irish Senator?
That’s a story in itself. My wife and I were in Melbourne, Australia, and we went to Catholic mass on St. Patrick’s Day. After the mass we went up to the Irish club to have a bite to eat and a drink of beer. When I went in and signed my name “Dooley,” they said they had a Mr. Dooley visiting from Ireland. His name was Seamus Dooley. And he was out to Australia recruiting people to come to Ireland for 1997 for the Battle of Vinegar Hill (anniversary) to join the Wexford Senate. The original Wexford Senate was in being for 10 days and then the British disbanded it. So they were revising it. (If you were of Irish ancestry, you could join this Senate that was being built as part of the commemoration of the 1798 rebellion). So I said to Dooley, “if you send me the application, I’ll join.” And sure enough he sent me the application. There was 500 people there from around the world including the prime minister of New Zealand who became an Irish Senator. There was only four from Canada and I was the only one from Newfoundland.
There’s a thank you letter from then premier Danny Williams on your wall. What’s that for?
I was in Ireland at one of the Senate meetings when the girl from the United States Embassy said, “We regret today that Mike Sullivan, United States Ambassador to Ireland is not here. He’s down in Waterford opening a new Viking Centre.” As soon as I heard his name, I went up to her and asked of he was the former governor of Wyoming? And she said yes. I went down looking for him and I met him coming off a barge. I asked if he remembered me and he said no. I said, “do you remember I tapped you on the shoulder in Catholic Mass in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and asked you who the governor was?” He turned around to me and said, “I’m the governor.” Now you talk about fate. Because I was down there with Dooley whom I met in Australia, I got invited to the opening of that Viking Museum and I got put right next to this man named Redmond. And he had just donated a piece of Waterford Crystal to the Irish for their 1,000 anniversary. And I said to him that next year in Newfoundland we’re celebrating our anniversary and asked if he would donate a piece of crystal for us. He was the chairman of the board for Waterford Crystal. He said yes. And today that piece of crystal sits in the boardroom of the Premier of Newfoundland. Now that’s all pure fate.
Why are you still working?
I just enjoy working and I enjoy travelling around Newfoundland. I do like that.
What’s your favourite spot in the world?
I’m motivated towards Thailand because I spent four years there. But I like Australia and New Zealand. Connecticut is a lovely spot in the United States. And there’s a lot of nice countries in Europe like Ireland and Scotland. I’m going on a cruise later this year. Twenty six days around England and Ireland and Scotland and Iceland. And I just got an invitation to the Canada Day celebrations, July 1 in Dublin, Ireland, from the ambassador (Loyola Hearn). You can only get invited. My wife and I have been invited. I’ve already got the tickets booked.
What do you do with your free time?
At my age I don’t do very much. I did play a lot of golf. I’m in the Sports Bowling Hall of Fame. I was on Newfoundland’s first golf team. I won the first gold medal for a Newfoundlander in lawn bowling in P.E.I. And I’m the first Newfoundlander to win a golf championship overseas in Thailand.
Do you go back to Thailand at all?
I’ve been going back each year now for awhile. It’s home and we got friends there.
Is there any other job that you’d like to try?
No. I don’t think. It would have to be sales.
You sell all these alcoholic beverages.
Do you have a favourite drink yourself?
Oh I drink beer. Right now I like Iceberg beer. I never did like hard liquor. But I do like wine. I drink wine and I drink Iceberg beer. I used to drink Heineken because I sold it for 33 years. It’s the beer that reaches parts of the body that other beers can’t reach. That’s what they used to advertise in England on the big billboard. But that was only good for fellas your age and not mine.
What’s the most exciting moment that you’ve had?
I told you about the Waterford Crystal. And I flew the Concord in 1976. I think I was the first Newfoundlander to do so. I flew from London to Washington D.C. It was three hours and 50 minutes. And it took me three days to get to Newfoundland by Air Canada. The buggers went on strike or something.
What’s your favourite meal?
Jiggs’ dinner. That never changed.
What do all the degrees on your business card stand for?
GE means Grade 11. SPH is for St. Patrick’s Hall School. CLM is for College of our Lady of Mercy. The nuns. BHS is for Bally Haly School on Torbay Road. And HQP, well that stands for Highly Qualified Person. My niece suggested that.
What is about sales that you like so much?
I like going in talking to people. I don’t have a computer. I refuse to pay my bill online with the banks. I like to go in with my Visa and get them to stamp it. And I talk to a teller. But that’s me. That’s only my trait. And I don’t have email. I don’t have a cellphone. So I’m illiterate.
Any plans for the future?
My wife is not as interested in the travel as I am. I like to do the travel. I enjoy doing what I’m doing as long as I can keep selling.