Surprise Heroes

This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.

And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.

It had already been an awesome stay.

I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).

I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.

Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.

Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks.  Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.

And then I was seated next to Mary.

Mary has had a long incredible career.  The kind of career most dream of.

She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends.  I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous.  Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.

I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles.  Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.

I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her.  I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.

Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up.  She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”

I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another.  I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities.  I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.

She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine.  She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years.  She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.

What struck me most was her honesty.  She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.

I love meeting people that inspire me.  I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.

You can find Mary’s bio here.

Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.


6 thoughts on “Surprise Heroes

  1. Great write up – my cousin Patricia Aguilo is off to Sudan – she works in DC for the Secretary of State dept.

    Happy Sunday !

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. That was awesome! She speaks Korean and French, did a PhD in Asian Studies, and worked in what I would call hellish places: “She served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana from 2002 until 2005…Ambassador to the Republic of Burundi from 1999 until 2002 (Note: Burundian Genocide (1972, 1993), Burundian Civil War (1993–2005), Second Congo War (1998–2003), and
    Titanic Express massacre (2000),” she worked extensively to bring peace and stability through the Burundian Peace Process in Arusha… She also serviced in Kinshasa, Zaire (DRCongo) as political officer and then public affairs counselor from 1991-95 occurred during the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.etc. She is amazing! What can you say?! WOW!

  3. I love how you find yourself surrounded by these fascinating people and how you make the most of those occasions! (I have a sneaking suspicion that THOSE fascinating people tell their friends about a fascinating person they met too – and that person is you.)

    • THANK YOU. I am humbled by your comment, honestly. You’ve also made my day and the next two probably :). Thanks for the support and push to keep going. Hope you’re having a great Monday.

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