My friend, co-worker, artistic supporter, and mentor passed away about 3 and a half weeks ago. I started writing this about 2 weeks ago, but I was hoping to have more info on what happened by now. But, nobody (who I know anyway) has any new information other than that there will be a “Celebration of her Life” in two months. So figured I’d just go with this post instead of waiting anymore.
Last Thursday (7/7/2011), I got an email from a friend informing me that my old boss passed away. Most of you who will read this won’t know her, but her name was Mary McDonald. The story of the moment (7/11/2011) is that she came home from yoga on Friday 7/1/2011 and had either a stroke or a heart attack. Her apartment is under police seal pending an autopsy/investigation, so who knows what that will uncover. But until that, I’m not going to speculate on how she died, but rather how she lived.
I met Mary back in March 2000. I had interviewed with her for a consulting job at PaineWebber. After burning out on a previous job, I had taken a 3-month sabbatical between consulting jobs to try and make a go of Lantern Media Web Design. But that didn’t go over so well (a blog entry for another time perhaps), and after much prodding from a particular recruiter who thought I would be a perfect fit for this job, I decided to give it a shot.
Mary gave me a phone interview that went well, and I went in for a face-to-face interview with Mary, and three other interviewers. Other than one interviewer (who I found out over the years has an industry-wide reputation for not-liking any candidates), I had a GREAT set of interviews. I had such good connections with 3 of the 4 interviewers that I almost felt like I was goofing off there since each of the interviews were more friendly than business-like (FYI until this interview, I had never met any of them). That recruiter was right on the money about me fitting in there – I was pretty much told I had the job before I walked out the door.
So now I was working for Mary and some other cool people in an organization that people liked (at the time anyway). Work life was good again, and slowly I started to enjoy coming to work again. All the work got done in an efficient manner, but there was a friendly environment that I had missed in the prior few jobs. Mary actually supported my film-making aspirations, and gave me a lot of freedom to work on my Richard & the Young Lions documentary (as long as my work got done – which it did) – Mary was thanked in the credits of that movie.
Over time, Mary & I became good friends. I found that she was an expert in many topics that I was interested in – and I’m not just talking work-related stuff, although she was quite the expert there also. I thought I knew punk music but Mary’s musical knowledge put mine to shame. And it wasn’t just punk music, she knew jazz, blues, classic rock, and some of the most horrendous sounding death metal that I had ever heard LOL. If I needed to research “anything”, I usually asked Mary first, and 4 times out of 5, she knew exactly what I was talking about..
I found out later thru some recruiter friends that Mary had quite the reputation amongst recruiters for giving one of the toughest technical interviews out there. When one found out I worked for Mary, he was majorly impressed that I passed her technical interview since he saw many of his candidates fall to her interview. When I asked her about it, she told me that particular recruiter used to send her resumes that had nothing to do with the job she was hiring for. Which brings me to a big part of her personality that people didn’t “get”.
Many people were afraid of Mary based on her honest nature. They heard stories of how Mary ripped someone apart for asking a simple question. What people didn’t know about those people is that most of them asked the same simple question over and over. Mary didn’t suffer fools very well and usually let them know how she felt. Sadly, many people only saw that side of Mary.
But there was so much more to her. As a manager, she was fiercely loyal to her people (i.e. me) and she would not let ANYONE talk badly to or about us – even if we deserved it. She would also fight harder for us around bonus time than I had ever experienced before or after. If you worked for Mary, and you actually “tried”, it was a great time working with Mary. On those times I was a slacker (it happens LOL), she called me out on it… I felt horrible – not because she was calling me out, but because she was 100% right and I let her down.
Towards the later years that Mary worked with me, the economy had gotten bad and things were really starting to suck at work and morale plummeted, Mary & I had our first really big blowout. I was trying to escape the suck of the job by applying for an assignment to our Swiss offices. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mary had gone to our boss to put the whammy on me not going. Of course, when I found out, things were tense for quite a while. (Yes, I know that the reason that she stopped me is that in her mind, she was trying to protect me. But that didn’t matter to someone who thought Switzerland was his only escape from the crappy situation we were in)
Soonafter they offered a voluntary separation package (i.e. she voluntary layoff), Mary took it and told me I was to blame. That sucked, but months after she left, she told me that taking that package was the best decision she ever made, and thanked me profusely for giving her the reason to leave. She used the opportunity to take a much-needed sabbatical and eventually found a job she was much happier with.
And more importantly, we went back to being friends.
I guess that was about 3 years ago. Since then, we kept in touch and traded plenty of emails over a plethora of topics. Usually one email would turn into 20+, and I could write books on the conversations we had.
One of the biggest regrets I had is that we didn’t talk much on the phone since she left. I just knew that a simple call would turn into a 3-hour thing, and I really didn’t have the time to spend on the phone. Looking back now, I wish I had made more time for those calls…
I last saw Mary at my Ducky Boys Gang book presentation back on December 16th, 2010. It was great seeing her, and I really appreciated the support she ALWAYS had for me in my artistic endeavors. I know she was proud of me knowing that I didn’t walk away from the Ducky Boys book after all the hassles it gave me over the years – starting out as a film and ending up as a book. It sounds weird, but I’m actually a little choked up now thinking that was the last time I saw Mary alive.
Mary was an Atheist, so she wasn’t expecting an afterlife. She’d kill me for saying this, but I hope she was wrong on that one… Because I’d really like to see her again on the other side. The world lost a truly interesting person.
Rest in Peace my Friend…