By Tim Hayes

In the (then unbeknownst to me) waning days of my final corporate PR employment, a full 18 years ago now, I found myself sitting in slack-jawed amazement while listening to a speaker bowl over a ballroom full of people.

My reason for attending this event tied to the fact that I had written opening remarks for the company’s CEO, who then introduced the woman at the microphone as the keynote speaker.  She held herself with such confidence and grace, telling her personal story of crushing poverty, unplanned pregnancy, and being forced out of her family, left to fend for herself and her daughter – and all before she had reached the age of 18.

Starting with selling fire extinguishers door-to-door, she forged a path ahead, in time raising a bright, articulate, accomplished daughter, and building a successful business.  Her story became such an inspiration to entrepreneurs that she began a new career as a highly sought-after speaker, complete with her own set of materials available for sale.

I had never met anyone quite like her.

As the event wound down that evening, I introduced myself to Georgina.  We chatted for a time, she asking about my responsibilities at the company, and me asking more about what it took to achieve all she had accomplished.  And then we parted ways.

Less than a month later, I got swept up in a wave of layoffs, and faced a crisis.  It didn’t take long for my wife and I to agree that breaking off on my own – where my career and my family’s future would never again be at the mercy of unforeseen and uncontrollable forces – made the most sense.  So I pulled Georgina’s business card out of my desk and gave her a call.

Forget Robert Frost and his two roads diverging in a wood.  That single act of picking up the telephone and reaching out to that one person is what has made all the difference.   She became my angel on the line.

You need to understand that starting my own practice had not been a priority.  The plan called for me to remain as a full-time employee in a corporate communications department until age 50 or later, and only then begin to consider running my own shop as a means of easing into retirement.

But, as they say, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  I was three weeks shy of my 40th birthday when the corporate gig came crashing in on me.  So, having been thrust into this new role of business generator, project executor, client relationship builder, invoice issuer, and occasional bill collector, I needed help.  Advice.  Reassurance.  A good kick in the butt, whether to correct a knuckleheaded mistake or to get me back in gear.  Georgina filled that role magnificently.

She taught me the importance of not panicking when business looked sparse, or when clients changed their minds about projects.  She helped me realize the moral and practical wisdom of referring opportunities to others in the field, sharing the fact that there’s enough business for everybody and that a good turn gets reciprocated eventually.  She encouraged me to take on projects and assignments that forced me to stretch beyond my standard repertoire, stressing that not only would that bring personal and professional growth, it also would expand my menu of offerings to more potential clients.

Any time I needed her, she was there.  Some phone calls lasted hours, especially in those very early days, but she remained patient and helpful and funny and wonderful.  She would insist on lunches or coffees in person, to check up on my latest news, answer any new questions, and offer her always invaluable advice.

As I mentioned, most of this happened nearly two decades ago.  Georgina and I have not had the chance to catch up for a while.  I hope she is resting, enjoying her well-earned retirement, maybe traveling and enjoying her grandchildren.

But I doubt it.

If I know my dear mentor, she’s still on the road, speaking to audiences, knocking them out, finding and founding new business opportunities, and no doubt selflessly sharing her hard-won brilliance with new entrepreneurs the same way she did with me.  We all should be so lucky.  So fortunate.  So blessed.

Godspeed, Georgina, wherever you are.  I only hope I can follow in your remarkable footsteps, as a respected business person, as an incredible mentor, and as a cherished friend.  A true angel on the line.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes