Remembering My Personal Hero

My boss used to call me the glue that held things together, but I always knew better.

On November 24, 2010, five days after Carol passed away, I faced the most challenging moment of my then 28 years. After her funeral ceremony, I shook the hand of her 16-year-old son, the same son she’d leave every afternoon meeting to talk to on the phone, and somehow managed to say, “I’m Julie. I’m so sorry.”

For almost two years, Carol battled a rare form of lymphoma. She diligently led her team of over a hundred people, until June of 2010, when she finally took a leave of absence. On that late June afternoon, she came by my cubicle to personally tell me of her plans, like she would do on any normal day. I was afraid to ask questions, and Carol knew me well enough by then -after 5+ years- to know I couldn’t handle the gory details. Her eyes spoke a grave truth, but there was no doubt in my mind she would recover and return.

She’d get better, of course, because she was strong. The strongest person I knew. My hero.

Even though 87 pay grades separated us, Carol refused to let anyone take advantage of my original position as a glorified secretary. She genuinely sought my opinion whenever people were interviewed, or a process wasn’t working out. When I had my first meltdown, she handed me a box of tissues and told me she knew I could do it.  A few months before she took a leave of absence, when I dyed my hair brown, she told me it wasn’t me. I wondered who she saw.

Our paths first crossed unexpectedly. Right after graduating from college, my then boyfriend’s (now husband’s) sister suggested I come work in her department – in Big Pharma. “It’s only a year-long contract,” she explained, “and the pay is really good.”

With student loan payments looming, and no other prospects on the horizon, I agreed. As a creative writing student with dreams of pursuing fame and fortune in the arts, I simply couldn’t appreciate how lucky I was to walk into this kind of position without so much as a formal interview. I knew nothing about drug development; I’d never even taken biology or chemistry, for god’s sake. I was completely out of my element in a department full of MDs, MBAs, PharmDs, and some degrees I didn’t know existed.

Some people never understood why I was Carol’s right-hand woman. I can’t say I know for sure either, but the one memory that quite possibly sums it up? Why, it just so happens to feature a favorite guilty pleasure:

One day in 2005, Carol stopped by my desk and pointed to a sign that I’d had on my cubicle wall for the past 6 months, since I’d started working for her – this one:

“You know,” she said, “after all this time, I finally came over and read what it said, because I couldn’t believe you’d have one of those posters. I should have known better.”

[Photo credit: despair.com]

23 thoughts on “Remembering My Personal Hero”

  1. It is so hard to lose a mentor/hero. And I do believe people come into our lives for a reason…Sounds like landing the job was lucky for you in a whole lot of ways…and I do love the poster.

    1. It is, and I completely agree.

      I could spend all day on despair.com looking at those posters! And you know, you can design your own and put it on all kinds of stuff – t-shirts, calendars, posters, cards, mugs, etc. (I’ve done it; they come out great).

  2. That was beautiful. I was watching a tv show last week and two of the characters were talking about their lives and their pasts and how they got to where they are now. One character talked about “not fighting the current”. He had started in one career and ended up some where completely different. Life just happens that way. You can fight the current and try and lead the life you THINK you should be living, or you can not fight it and let it take you where it will take you.
    It seems like you didn’t fight the current and ended up right where you should be; and you found a beautiful friendship along the way. I love kismet.
    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and hero, but I’m happy for you that had the opportunity to know her.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss. She sounds like she was a Vibrant Mother figure (not saying a mammy) and those are so important for us! At least you recognise what you had and for that, you rule.

    1. Thank you so much, and you rule, too! She DEFINITELY was a mother figure to me; actually I once told someone she had many qualities of both my mother and father. So loving and so strong at the same time.

    1. She definitely was a wonderful mentor; I think of her as the type of person who had more integrity in her little pinky than most people have in their entire body.

    1. Thank you so much, Deb 🙂 Truth be told, I’ve been working on this for months and was hesitant to post it here. I really wanted to do her memory justice, especially since it’s a topic I don’t normally broach.

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