Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What – or Whom – I Want to Be When I Grow Up

When I was little, I really liked a movie called “To Sir, With Love.” It starred Sidney Poitier as a teacher who made a difference to a disadvantaged group of kids. I find myself thinking a great deal about that film this week, because my own personal “Sir” is getting ready to leave.

Let me clarify: This “Sir” is a woman, and she’s not only leaving me, but a couple dozen other folks in the cube farm we call “home” five days a week. And to say we’ll feel her absence is an understatement; Linda has clarified, for many of us, what we want to be when we grow up.

Linda is of the “a lady doesn’t tell her age” generation, but to suffice it to say her retirement comes on the heels of more than five decades, give or take a year or two, in the workforce. She has worn a number of hats, from writer to project leader to the manager of a store that sold, among other things, whoopee cushions.

And not only has she adapted to her environment, no matter what it’s been; she’s taken it and commanded it and made it her own. Linda takes no prisoners and makes no excuses; she is who she is, and she’s never, ever apologetic. She’s a proverbial force with which to be reckoned, and that’s but one of the things that makes her worth our admiration.

Linda does more in a day that people half her age do in a week. It’s hard to find a spot on her calendar unless you book her weeks in advance; she chairs committees and volunteers on boards of directors, and at her church. She has standing lunches and dinners with various groups, regular theater engagements, and weekends of dressing up in period clothing to interpret at an outdoor museum.

She travels frequently to see her daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Colorado. She rides bikes and fixes plumbing and will probably end up building a new deck with her own two hands.

And yet she’s never too busy to lend an ear or a word of encouragement -- no matter who you are, and no matter how long you happen to need her.

Linda hasn’t been immune to adversity, and that’s one of the things that makes her relatable; she incurred some pretty monumental losses at a young age, and she’s seen her share of struggles. But what I admire most about her –- and what has bonded us most, I think -– is her behavior in the face of adversity. She chooses to be strong because that’s what she was taught, and because there’s no other option.

You won’t find Linda making excuses for anything, nor will you find her relying on any type of crutch to get her through a trying time. A client was upset with her about something? The boss shared a concern? Her response, most likely, is this: “You know, that person had a point. I really should have done such-and-such. I need to remember not to make the same mistake again, and now it’s time to move on.”

She grew up in a matriarchal household and understood the need for women’s rights before the issue became part of the public lexicon. And in a “stand by your man” era, Linda made the decision to leave a marriage that was no longer working for her. (She even found a way to handle divorce the right way; she talks often about the close friendship she and her ex-husband enjoyed till the day he died.)

No one’s perfect; Linda certainly won’t be surprised to see in print that I think she starts chatting too darned early in the morning! But hearing her go from cube to cube, greeting all her co-workers while enjoying her coffee, is something I daresay most of us will find ourselves missing.

When Linda walks out the door for the final time tomorrow, we probably won’t think about the contributions she’s made to communicating about variable universal life insurance, although her years of expertise in that realm will be missed as well. I know that I'll think of her support during my dad’s illness and death. I’ll think about her empathy and her ability to zero in on what makes a person tick -– and her wish that humans in all walks of life would treat one another with a little more respect and a little less judgment.

I guess this is what it means to leave a legacy. Linda, you’ve left one indeed, and your sensible shoes will be hard ones to fill.

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