Grateful Goodbye

I was fortunate to attend the funeral of a wonderful work friend. I was asked to say a few words about Martha at the service. Saying goodbye to loved ones is always tough. I was especially sorrowful because it has been many years since I’d seen her. I did not know she was ill. I felt guilty. Had I not done enough? Why didn’t I reach out more often?

A funeral is a place to feel all of this. To reflect. To remember. As I was preparing my story of Martha, I felt overwhelming gratitude. My words came out this way.

In 1992 I met Martha. I was a regional manager for Bright Horizons Children’s Centers. We were recruiting teachers and staff for the soon-to-open Glaxo Child Development Center in RTP, NC.

We were fortunate to have more than one hundred applicants for the open positions. Someone quickly brought Martha to me for a second interview. It only took a few minutes to understand we must hire her. Her resume showed she was very qualified for a teaching role, probably overqualified. In the next few minutes of the interview, it became clear we needed her intelligence, compassion, and genuine love for children on this very new team. 

During orientation of the new employees, Martha’s many talents with her colleagues began to shine within the crowd. People were seeking her advice. Not only about how to work with very young children, but about life in general. There was laughter and encouragement everywhere Martha was.

It wasn’t long before I knew we needed her in more than one classroom. We needed her in all classrooms to influence and coach the teachers. She helped organize the environment to nurture optimal confidence and learning for the children. Patterned after Martha and how she did her job, we created the Program Coordinator position for the Glaxo center. The first at Bright Horizons.

The role, especially the way Martha did it, later served as the model for hundreds more talented teachers in Bright Horizons Children’s Centers all over the United States.

As the number of child development centers grew, I asked her to replicate that success in other centers. She became my educator extraordinaire, for parents, teachers, administrators, and center directors.  Martha invented another new Bright Horizons role, that of Education Coordinator supporting multiple early childhood centers.

But more than that, Martha became my friend. She made me laugh or gave a hug when things were not so funny. She shared herself unconditionally. With her beside me, I learned to be a better mother, wife, and leader.

Martha was my counsel in building a wonderfully diverse group of employees.  She seemed to have just the right advice for everything. In fact, the regional leadership team recommended we all get bracelets that reminded us WWMD What Would Martha Do.

After she retired from Bright Horizons, I missed her. We all did. But I knew she was out there influencing others. Likely she was spending more time with her family, children, and grands. For certain, she’d be generally helping others become better people.

Today as I say my final goodbye to Martha, I thank you all. For giving me her time, talent, and herself. I am grateful that some of Martha rubbed off on me.

Take one more look at her picture.

Ahh… that Martha Lewis smile. It could make your day.

If it’s been some time since you’ve spoken to someone that had a great impact on you, do so now. Put an appointment in your phone calendar right now to do it. Rather than message or text them, call them. Even better yet, write them a letter they can read and re-read whenever they need your influence and gratitude.