Never Say Quit to Charlie Tucker or He's Likely to Give You the Brush

UPDATED 07/10/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/10/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

When Charlie Alexander Tucker steps into his office—a faded blue '67 Plymouth Fury—he is likely to be singing a snatch of his personal theme song:

My eyes have seen the glory
Of a million homes or more,
But there are a million more to welcome me
If I'm just able to approach their door.

To customers on his door-to-door sales route in Chattanooga, Tenn., Charlie doesn't seem to have that much trouble reaching the front door. Oh, he may have lost a step since that heart attack 10 years ago, and he has been laid up recently to have a tumor taken out. But at 90, the country's oldest active Fuller Brush salesman may just ring another million doorbells before he's done.

Tucker, the son of a farmer, began working at 13 in a small company store in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia. His duties included issuing dynamite to miners and driving the company truck, hauling groceries and occasionally the caskets of mining casualties. He took up selling after World War I when he saw a vendor hawking magazines and candy through the aisles of the train carrying him home from the Army. After two years working the rails between Bristol, Va., and Chattanooga, he switched to selling ladies' ready-to-wear until his employer went bankrupt during the Depression. Studying Help Wanted ads, he chose Fuller Brushes over insurance sales because "I knew even with things so hard, you could sell a toothbrush, a broom, a bowl brush faster than you could sell insurance. I knew there wasn't a home in America that didn't use something I would be selling."

Doors did sometimes slam in Charlie's face (one so hard the glass broke), but he persisted and by the mid-1950s was the third-best Fuller salesman in the country. "I reckon I just create a desire to overcome your resistance," he says, pondering the secret to his success. Charlie cut back to half days two years ago, a concession to age, but his enthusiasm remains as strong as his evening highball, a concoction of orange juice, bourbon and Pepsi that he makes by the jar and keeps in the fridge. "He just talks about those brushes in his sleep, selling and delivering them," says his wife, Neoma, 81. "I don't sell hard," counters Tucker, but then he admits, "On some calls, I have had people say that they didn't want to buy anything but they would if I'd just shut up."

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