Today I seek your indulge while I tell about my friend. We said our final good-byes to her today, and she left us far too soon. She was a truly remarkable woman, and the role model that I was blessed to have. She combined energy and enthusiasm and kindness and grace and beauty and vision and competence in a way that few are able. She touched the lives of so many people.
My friend owned and operated the pre-school our children attended in my small town. It was not her first pre-school, because she knew long before so many others the value of early childhood education, and she went on to found a third school in her long and remarkable career. She was a trailblazer as a woman business owner, and she presented the kind of professional image that paved the way for so many other women to follow.
The children at the schools loved her, and she was the Pied Piper they yearned to follow. The parents loved her because she helped them raise their children, mothers like me loved her because she assured us that there was no shame in being a working mom when so many others were doubting us, and we all loved her because she was kind, always sought out connections to help people, found the good in all things and demonstrated incredible faith and strength and courage when her daughter died young in a tragic accident and when her husband left her at an early age. Quite simply, she carried on because it never occurred to her that she had a choice.
Today, the church was full of people telling the stories of my friend’s life and making it clear that she was a leader and role model for so many others as well. She never entered a room without a huge smile, and she was the helping hand at the same time that she was the graceful beauty. She worked hard, she played hard, and she loved fiercely.
I was not among her closest friends, not by a long shot. She had so many. But, I was close enough to the periphery to engage with her, observe her and admire her. Three weeks before her death, I had a lovely exchange with her. As always, she asked about the children, marveling yet again at their accomplishments, and asked about my work and about my mom. She never missed an opportunity to put someone else in the limelight, and that was the secret sauce to her success in life. She gave effortlessly of herself without asking much in return.
She taught my children, and she has taught me. Because of her, I have a high standard for my own behavior and expectations. I can gauge my effectiveness by the success of the people around me and not by the accolades of others. Because of her, I can love without abandon, and most of the time, I can take that important extra moment to consider my response and make certain it is measured and not harmful. And, I can try, try, try to demonstrate the kind of grace and dignity to make others want to follow me that came so easily to her.
So, when you ask about leadership and consider a role model for today’s modern woman, think of my friend. She was a leader to so many people. She demonstrated the kind of behaviors and character traits to inspire us all. She is gone, but not forgotten. She has touched so many, and she lives on in those she touched.
If only we all could say that.