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AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY LIFE

A MEMOIR



SUSAN PHILLIPS BARI


Wordeee

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An Extraordinary Ordinary Life

Copyright © 2017 by Susan Phillips Bari

All rights are reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author.

First Edition

ISBN-13: 978-1-946274-11-3

ISBN-10: 1-946274-11-9

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Publish Published in the United States by Wordeee 2017

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Also By Susan Phillips Bari

Breaking Through: Creating Opportunities for America's Women and Minority Owned Businesses (3 editions)

Partnering for Profit: Success Strategies for Tomorrow's Supply Chain

Yes, I Can Do That!

The Guide to Moving Mom or Dad or Uncle Henry


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Let me start with a confession. This is not the whole story. There is more to tell and maybe someday those stories will be revealed. But I can put this part of my story into perspective.

Several years ago, along with my senior staff at WBENC, I participated in a team building retreat led by Ellyn McKay who was then a consultant to the organization. We were asked a number of questions and then asked to share our answers with the group. As one after the other member of the group began to discuss their children as their greatest accomplishment, I looked down at my paper and saw WBENC. Their greatest passion? Their families. Mine? My career. I was a little embarrassed (but I also realized I could claim some credit for my wonderful step-children Caroline and John Bari who came to me mostly grown and who have since that time provided me with the joy of grandchildren). WBENC was my passion.

So my first acknowledgement is my husband Dick Bari. I love my husband dearly and appreciate, beyond words, the support he provided that allowed me to do the things I did. He has been my #1 cheerleader from the day we met. When we married, I made a commitment not to travel on weekends so that we would have dedicated time. I sometimes broke my promise. I remember one evening when I was working late (again) and Dick called to say, “Tell me again, why was it we decided to get married? Oh, we wanted to spend time together.”

Thank you Dick for patiently waiting for me to get home from work or from one of my many trips. Thank you for your business advice and your emotional support. Thank you for cooking wonderful dinners, entertaining our friends and taking me dancing. My mother always said that if you are going to spend the rest of your life looking at someone, it does not hurt to have a nice view. You fill the bill!

Every accomplishment requires a team, and I have been privileged to have the support of wonderful team members. Larry Woldt and Michelle Rossi supported me when we worked for The Conservative Caucus. Larry followed me to the Department of Education and Michelle to the Institute of Museum Services. In addition to my White House colleague Bob Tuttle, a big thanks to all the staff in the Office of Presidential Personnel. We were a closely knit team. The late Tag Tagliani was the conscience of the group keeping our focus on the President’s goals and values. My deputies and assistants Eric Vautour, Lisa Guillermin Gable, Maggie Pianpiano Trujillo and Kathleen Rexrode were my family and my friends.

I have mentioned Ellyn McKay and Molly Haley at AWED as well as famous board members Katherine Graham, Lloyd Cutler and Betty Scripps. Less well known, but no less dedicated, was Ginger Pape who took over as Board chair and dedicated herself to the organization’s success. Most important was Bea Fitzpatrick who created the organization in the ‘70s and hired me to lead its first expansion.

At WBENC, there were those behind the scenes who made it all happen. In addition to Billie Bryant and Doris Thomas who brought me the opportunity, a world of thanks to Susan Maxwell Gellinger of JC Penney who wanted no recognition for the enormous contributions she made to the launch of WBENC. If memory serves, she picked its name. She also encouraged her company to provide our first board chair, Bill Alcorn. She had JC Penney provide me with office space at their government affairs office in D.C., getting me out of my home office.

Bill was a leader and mentor whose guidance helped WBENC through its infancy. Lillie Knox was first a board member and then a staff member serving as Vice President and my closest confidante. Her death was devastating but I still feel her presence in my life. Many board members were influential in the success of the organization and while I cannot name them all, I must thank Carol Martin of Sears who not only became the first Marketing Committee Chair, but convinced her company to underwrite the hiring of Denise Stovell. Denise was the brilliant organizer behind our Salutes and Conferences and who helped WBENC become the premiere certification organization for women business enterprises. Dorothy Brothers of Bank of America was greatly admired in the supplier diversity community and took quite a bit of convincing before she agreed to join the board. Once on board, she was all in and became the chair of our 5th Anniversary Salute and the founder of our scholarship fund. Like Lillie, she died too soon, but not before leaving her mark for hundreds of women who have been the recipients of the Dorothy Brothers Scholarship Fund.

Family and friends have also played an important part in my life and I’d feel a bit guilty not including them in the dialogue. My sister-in-law Peggy Phillips has been a close friend for more than 50 years. My six nieces and nephews - Douglas, Amanda, Brad, Jennifer, Alexandra and Sam -were like my own children. Today, they are living around the world pursuing interesting careers of their own and raising the next generation already 20 strong. In addition to my Aunt Rita who I write about in this memoir, my cousin Barbara Mann Feldman was a big sister and best friend.

At Virginia Tech, the old guard has moved on but I will be forever grateful to my professor and mentor Bill Ward, President Charles Steger and Pamplin Business School Dean Rich Sorenson. Virginia Tech is proof that you get when you give.

I finally wish to thank my teacher, mentor and publisher Marva Allen of Wordeee who encouraged me to write this memoir and kept me on track when I questioned the why” of what I was doing.


PRAISE FOR SUSAN PHILIPS BARI

“Susan Bari has dedicated her career to furthering the development of women owned businesses and has created a legacy as the first President of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). As a founding architect of the organization, Susan was instrumental in the vision and growth which has led to WBENC being the nation’s leading third party certifier of businesses owned and operated by women. Susan has spent her life working to expand opportunities and break down barriers in the marketplace for women owned businesses. I have deep respect and admiration for Susan both personally and professionally and her counsel and friendship are invaluable and continue to contribute to WBENC’s successes today.”

-Pamela Prince-Eason, President & CEO, WBENC


Susan Bari has been successful in business, government, and her numerous volunteer activities through her determination, knowledge and awareness of others. I knew Susan while serving as Dean of the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) where Susan served as a long term member of the Pamplin Advisory Council; a group of prominent leaders who provided advice and guidance to the Dean, and to the College.

Susan was much more than just a volunteer. She had a deep interest in serving the college and frequently acted in a leadership role on the Pamplin Advisory Council. She took a strong interest in the college’s graduate programs, especially the MBA program of which she was a graduate. She also took a strong interest in working with female and minority students; serving as a very effective role model for underrepresented students. Her frequent on campus presentations and participation in various workshops, both on campus and away from campus served the colleges, students, faculty and alumni; especially female and minority students. She acted as a mentor as well as a very effective role model.

I congratulate Susan Bari for her many accomplishments and thank her for her outstanding service to Virginia Tech and the Pamplin College of Business.

-Richard Sorenson, Dean Emeritus, Pamplin College of Business


Susan Bari has made extraordinary contributions to the growth of women’s entrepreneurship in the United States. Her remarkable journey will provide valuable insights for the next generation of women to follow in her footsteps.

-Monica Smiley, Editor & Publisher, Enterprising Women and President/Founder, Enterprising Women Foundation


Susan Bari, a force of nature, creative, passionate, committed, with a nature forceful enough to accomplish the impossible. What a joy to work with her for our mutual passion of women’s economic empowerment through business ownership. To create a significant, impactful national organization, the Women’s Business Enterprise Council, whole cloth is an impossible task made possible, successful and impactful by Susan Bari!

-Hedy Ratner, Founder, Co-President Emerita

Consultant, Women’s Business Development Center


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Phillips Bari was a child actor with Boston Children’s Theater. She moved on to a diverse and interesting career as a teacher, manufacturer’s representative, nonprofit executive, business consultant, speaker and writer.

Susan is President Emeritus of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and was its founding president in 1997. The author of three books for entrepreneurs, she has been extensively featured in the business press as an expert on the growth of and challenges faced by women-owned businesses. WBENC honored her in 2017 with its first Life Time Achievement Award.

She was appointed by President Reagan as chairman of the Council on Women’s Business Enterprise and by President Clinton to a term as a member of the National Women’s Business Council. She was subsequently reappointed to the Council by President Bush.

Bari earned her MBA at Virginia Tech. She served as a member of its Board of Governors from 1998 - 2002 and on the Advisory Council of Pamplin College of Business from 1995-2015. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Women Presidents’ Organization and a member of the Advisory Council of Enterprising Women magazine.

She is married to Richard Bari and mother to her two wonderful step-children Caroline and John Bari.


CONTENTS

Introduction

Part One: 1945 - 1968

Part Two: 1968 - 1981

Part Three: 1981 - 1990

Part Four: 1990 - 2005

Part Five: 2006 - 2014

Part Six: 2014 to Present

References


INTRODUCTION

Why am I writing this memoir? I have had to ask myself who I am writing it for. When people hear my life story they frequently comment that I have done so many different things and some of them ask, “What is the thread?” I’ll answer my own question. ‘I am writing this for myself, to remember what I did and why, where I came from and how I got from there to here. I am also writing for the next generation of women who are looking for the thread that will weave their story.’

I have always considered myself to be an ordinary person. I grew up in a middle class family, went to college as was expected, taught school, as was advised, and got married - as was the norm (twice!). A child raised in the ’50s who came of age in the “Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll” era of the ’60s and ’70s, I have seen enormous changes in our society. Believe it or not, the biggest steps forward in the 1960s were the invention of panty hose (which freed us from garter belts) and the pill (which freed us from unwanted pregnancy) My societal awareness came to life in the era of Mad Men. If you did not watch that series and are interested in learning what it was like for women in the ’50s and ’60s, you should find it on demand. Our expectations were to find a good husband but until that happened, or if that failed we should make the most of what was available in the workplace. If we were going to type for a living, we wanted to have a successful boss. My friend, Leslie, said she would never admit to being a typist so that she wouldn’t be slotted into a secretarial slot. Maybe, if we were very good, we would get to be office manager. My friend, Julie Sue Auslander, captured the feeling of the times, “I never thought we would have a seat at the table, the current generation assumes they will. They expect to have a seat. We created that for them. It’s nice that the world has moved forward.

I have to admit that I have had wonderful opportunities throughout my life to participate in exceptional organizations and meet extraordinary people. The world has changed dramatically for women during my lifetime and I have kept up with the changes. I’ve taken risks, made mistakes and learned great lessons. I have learned to take pride in my accomplishments and recognize the team that helped to make each of them possible. With each decade, the landscape for opportunities for women has evolved. More women graduate from college than do men, but they still, on average earn less. The desire to get a college degree has increasingly tilted to the women’s side but the entry to the C suite of corporate America is still pretty much closed. Access to capital for women entrepreneurs is still a challenge. Sure, more women have ascended to the top ranks of the Fortune 500; more women have won seats in both Congress and their state legislatures. There are more women governors. Importantly, there are role models that can be seen on the covers of national business magazines and television interview programs. All of these changes, I believe, have occurred because brave women have taken risks. We have given up secure positions with health benefits and retirement programs to venture toward uncharted new careers both as entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Today, they are taking risks by exposing sexually harassment in the workplace. More than a decade ago, the Center for Women’s Business Research conducted a study of more than 800 women business owners. Then CEO Sharon Hadary summed up the findings: “Contrary to public perception, women business owners are indeed risk takers. Two thirds (66%) are willing to take substantial or above average risk…these studies also show that the women who own and lead the larger, faster growing businesses are confident in their financial decision making and their ability to lead profitable companies. I believe this self-confidence is key to their comfort with taking on risk to achieve their goals for business growth.”

The opportunities for women entrepreneurs have grown exponentially and I like to think that I had something to do with that. One’s life may play out in a chronological way but life’s accomplishments are not necessarily linear. There are ups and downs and even when we find our path, we are tempted by detours and tripped by the ruts in the road. My story is ordinary, but was made extraordinary by the people I have met along the way. They inspired me, mentored me, taught me important lessons and I hope we all inspire you.


PART ONE: 1945 - 1968

STARTING OUT

I have been working on the hyphen most of my life. What is the hyphen? Well, when you pass from this world they list the date of your birth and the date of your death. They are just numbers. But, the important thing is what you do with the hyphen in between those numbers.

Just two months into the launch of my adult life, the world was about to plunge into a state of shock. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Nearly 50 years before the question, Where were you when the towers came down?” That was the question of the day. I can remember what I was wearing - a hounds-tooth “skort” (glorified Bermuda shorts with a flap covering the front) in warm, autumn colors - and a coordinated turtle neck sweater. What you wore was still important and we did not hang out in denim. We wore real shoes, skirts and dresses. To the best of my recollection, the only pants I owned were ski pants. I thought I looked pretty sharp, it was one of my favorite new outfits. I’d lost 30 pounds between high school graduation and matriculation at college so everything in my wardrobe was new. I was ready for my life to begin and had the clothes to prove it.

Before the announcement, I was in the middle of dissecting a frog in my freshman zoology class in Fernald Hall. My male lab partner was leaving most of the delicate work to me. I was not happy with the division of labor but he totally destroyed the first frog and I wanted a good grade so I allowed myself to be manipulated. I was aware of the manipulation. My partner cooed, “…But your hands are so much more delicate.” Someone from the administration office came to the lab door and told us that the President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been shot in Dallas, Texas. We were all to go back to our dormitories and make plans to immediately leave campus just a day before our planned Thanksgiving break. The young, arrogant assistant professor made an inappropriate comment about our living in a banana republic and almost immediately apologized seemingly fearful that his remark would get him in trouble. I did not know how to absorb this information. What happens when a President is shot? Is he going to die? Back at the dorm, I waited in line for a phone to call home while watching the non-stop news coverage on the dormitory’s one television and confirming that Kennedy had indeed died from his wounds. My parents, Gert and Fred, offered to drive the normally two hour trip across the state from Boston to Amherst where I was a freshman at the University of Massachusetts. I told them it would not be necessary, they just needed to pick me up in a nearby town at my friend Flora’s house.

It would not have been possible to predict or to understand what the impact of Kennedy’s death would be on women and minorities in the coming decades and how those changes would impact my goals and opportunities. While the much-loved Kennedy was perceived as a progressive, a liberal who would change our world, it was his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who was on a mission to make a name for himself that would stand out in comparison to the romanticized Camelot years. He was the author of “The Great Society.”

LOW EXPECTATIONS

Mom loved me in her very 1950’s housewife way and with the dreams and expectations that had been formed by her life’s experiences. When I was a girl, my mother was proud and complimentary when I brought home a good report card but always criticized me for starting a project and then abandoning it. I followed that path throughout my life: starting careers and, if not abandoning them, morphing them into the next opportunity. I was not wrong when I was a girl to try different things. It was like trying on the clothes in the dressing room to see if they felt good and fit. Why can you try on ten prom dresses and not ten jobs? Without a lot of role models, I experimented with different things and took risks without really understanding that they were risks. It turned out to be a good strategy. Did I make mistakes? Of course, more for the things I said no to than the ones to which I said yes.

While family encouraged study and getting good grades, I also craved creative expression. Since I could not draw, I looked for other outlets. I took a course in jewelry making at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA. I loved it, but recognized early on that I did not have the talent to be a big success. I looked around the workbench at the other students and saw levels of creativity and execution that I was not able to match. But I had other skills. As a teen, my entrepreneurial genes surfaced when I combined the fashion trend for wearing trade beads with my jewelry making dreams and actually developed a line of bracelets and necklaces that I sold to friends, relatives and even a local department store. The success was short-lived as when the trend waned, I did not really have the skills necessary to craft original pieces for a new “line”. So I moved on to the next project.

I wanted to be an actor and was fortunate to participate in the company of Boston Children’s Theater but allowed my Mom to talk me out of any career ambitions. It was still a success as the skills I learned have served me well in all my endeavors. I am calling on those skills again in my latest endeavor - Voice Over Talent.

I don’t know where it came from but even in my teens, success, my own definition of success, was somehow an important goal. I certainly would not have been satisfied with today’s award of trophies to everyone just because they participate. I know now, without any humility, that I must have been born a leader; but when I was young, we never heard women described as leaders. My brother was a leader and always recognized as such. When I was in high school, I was president of the drama society and head of my youth group at the Community Center. The latter provided me the opportunity to speak at the Center’s annual meeting where grown men complimented me on my speaking style and poise. But no one ever congratulated me on my leadership skills. Public speaking was a natural follow on to my participation in Boston Children’s Theater. I loved being in front of an audience whether for a play or a presentation. Later in life when I joined the Reagan Administration, testifying before Congress always gave me a rush. But my failures were important, as well. I have discovered that many of my women friends also aspired to acting as a career. Perhaps we were trying to escape our prospective, mundane lives and seek another.

When I was the Executive Director of the Washington Regional Training Center of the American Woman’s Economic Development Corporation in the early ’90s, I was invited by a local chapter of Business and Professional Women to serve on a panel whose topic was “The Secret of My Success.” I created a “reverse resume.” Instead of listing the colleges where I received my degrees, I listed those who turned me down. Instead of the jobs I got, I showed the ones I wanted but did not get. Rather than discussing my success as the head of a successful non-profit, I shared that my 25-year-old goals of a husband and five children had not worked out. Of course, the lesson was that success is making lemonade out of lemons, but you don’t get the lemons or the lemonade without taking chances and taking advantage of the opportunities you got, not whining about the ones you did not get or the “what ifs?” of the ones you might have chosen.

I came to my love of speaking and acting and being in front of an audience by making lemonade out of lemons - an early and valuable lesson. When I was very young, I lisped. While this speech pattern is cute in a three-year old, by the time you reach six or seven, it becomes a concern. My family was fortunate as my public school had a speech therapist, Miss Jeffries. At first, it was a humiliating experience to be called out of a favorite class, usually art, never math. It became one of my most valuable learnings from elementary school. Miss Jeffries is the only teacher I remember from this time in my life. I am forever grateful to her.

As part of her technique to rid me of the lisp, Miss Jeffries had me read out loud. She taught me an important lesson that the written word was only the graphic representation of speech, not a foreign language. This is a fact that most people, children and adults alike, do not understand. I learned to love reading and reading aloud. Later, I learned to write by merely writing down what I would otherwise be speaking. She had me practice reading stories and plays out loud in front of a mirror and taught me to place in my reading the emphasis and timing the words and punctuation directed. Reading out loud soon became acting out the dialogue of whatever I was reading. My inner ham was emerging!

I already had a love of the theater, even though I as only seven years old. At that time, the early 1950’s, many Broadway shows previewed “out of town,” providing a wonderful opportunity to see the major acting talent, like Helen Hayes and Mary Martin, from the third balcony of the Schubert Theater in Boston. Even when I reached high school age, I could buy a ticket for $3.50 that allowed me to sit close to the ceiling in the balcony. In addition, my family took an annual trip to Manhattan where dinner at Mama Leone’s and one or two of the seasons top Broadway shows were always a part of the itinerary. My first experience was Guys and Dolls. I can still see myself in what to my mind was a big, comfortable chair on the aisle where the usher fawned over me and said I would have to “suspend disbelief” to enjoy the show, a great phrase that I look back on as inspirational.

Miss Jeffries recommended to my parents that I be enrolled in an acting class that would provide me with continued opportunity to practice speaking. My parents chose the acting class of the local “Red Feather Agency” and within a year, I was tapped to be in their acting company - Boston Children’s Theater (BCT). We performed a season of five children’s classic stories on Saturdays during the school year in a Boston theater where we had real dressing rooms, extensive costume resources and professional make up. We also were regulars on a local children’s television program, “The Small Fry Club,” and later, “Boomtown with Rex Trailer”, a singing cowboy. Proving the small world theory, at WBENC’s 20th Anniversary Celebration I met a woman who knew Trailer’s full story!

REX TRAILER

———

Still a teen in 1947, Rex Trailer, began his career as a scenery painter and quickly moved up the ranks to production coordinator and then assistant director. He worked for the DuMont Television Network in New York City.

While still in his teen years, Rex Trailer’s career as a painter of scenery took off, landing him a job as production coordinator and later assistant director at DuMont Television Network in New York City.

In 1949, he went to a casting call for a cowboy who was agile and able to do stunts. Trailer aced out the competition and became the host of the network’s Oky Doky Ranch, (formerly the adventures of Oky Doky.) The show featured Rick Trailer as a cowboy and Oky Doky, a puppet fashioned to look like a cowboy, and which was operated by Dayton Allen.

Rex Trailer was also the host of “Boomtown,” a popular children’s TV show from 1956-1976 in New England on WBZ-TV. As popular as he was in front of the camera, behind the camera he was a talented director, always filming segments for future shows and evolving as technology changed. In his next phase, he became a producer of TV Documentaries, programs and commercials. Trailer taught "Performance for Television" at Emerson College and conducted private coaching and workshops at his studios in Waltham, MA, for over 35 years. Many of his students became well-known producers, news anchors, actors and comedians.

Rex Trailer worked until the time of his death in 2013.

ADELE THANE

———

Since its founding in 1951 until Adele Thane’s departure in 1983, the Boston Children’s Theatre made a practice of using young people, ages 8 to 17, exclusively in its productions. She directed more than 40 shows, including Goldilocks and Heidi, which she wrote or adapted herself.

Much as another Boston native, Leonard Bernstein, introduced children to classical music, Thane introduced myriad children to the theatre. One of her protégées was Julie Taymor, director of Broadway’s The Lion King, who played the lead in Cinderella 35 years ago. Thane was born in Worcester, MA. Early in her career she performed at the Provincetown Playhouse and with the New England Repertory Company. She directed productions for children at various theaters in the Boston area and adapted half-hour productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas for a local Boston television station. She was also the author of a book, Plays from Famous Stories and Fairy Tales.

Adele Thane, founder and longtime artistic director of the Boston Children’s Theatre, died January 25, at a nursing home in Wakefield, MA, according to a report in the Boston Globe. She was 94. Thane leaves no immediate survivors.

On the Saturday mornings that the program we had filmed earlier in the week were to be shown, I jumped out of bed, turned on the family’s one television in the living room across the entry hall from my bedroom and then rushed back into bed and pulled the covers over my head, listening to the show but not being able to actually look at myself. Our director, the wonderful Adele Thane, expected us to perform as professionals. Miss Thane, as we called her, introduced myriad children to the theater.

Miss Thane allowed us to use our scripts for the first “blocking” rehearsal but we were thereafter required to have memorized all of our lines - an early lesson in discipline. We auditioned for each role. We were expected to be on time and be prepared, no excuses were allowed. These lessons of discipline, preparedness, stick-to-itiveness and punctuality defined my own leadership style. Later in life, when I became a boss, I expected nothing less of my employees and sometimes might have been very hard on them if they did not show these valuable characteristics that I had had ingrained in me as a child and teen. I got one of the biggest breaks in my life by being prepared and showing up.

At the beginning of the Reagan Administration I was a volunteer participant in a White House initiative to make federal regulations gender neutral. Wendy Borcherdt, Director of Public Relations for President Reagan was the leader of this initiative and I was one of about 15 women who met weekly. At each meeting the volunteers were given an assignment to complete and were expected to have the results for that assignment the following week. Everyone one of us enjoyed participating in this task force, not necessarily for the assignment but because we cherished that fact that the meetings were held in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House “Campus.” It was always a thrill to walk up to the security gate, give your name, show your identification and watch as the secret service guard found your name on the list and cleared you into the complex.

Week after week, the follow-up from participants began diminishing in quantity and quality and eventually, I was the only one who finished the assignment. One day, Wendy asked me to stay after the meeting. I was overjoyed when she told me that she wanted me to join the Administration. She promised that they would find the right position for me and I should get prepared to make the transition from the private sector.

I had learned to go on stage even though my knees were shaking and never let anyone know I was frightened to death. Though I feared not being qualified, rather than scaring me off, it gave me a rush and made me crave more opportunities. I continued to participate in BCT all through high school. Many years later I couldn’t have been more proud to write a letter that required President Reagan’s signature and that would be read at the celebration of Thane’s retirement. The letter I wrote for the President and Mrs. Reagan recollected their own acting careers and I got to read it from the stage in Boston at the celebration. I learned another important lesson during this period of time. The power of “Yes”.

YES, I CAN DO THAT

As with most life lessons, I learned the hard way that I should say “yes, I can do that” first and then figure out how to do whatever it was I was being asked to do. As time went by, my acting ambitions grew. I learned that the movie The Cardinal was to be filmed in the Boston area. Along with two of my BCT friends, I decided to go to the casting call and audition for walk-on and extra roles in the film. We all lined up in the hallway of what was then the Somerset Hotel on Beacon Street. Picture America’s Got Talent with its lines of hopefuls. We waited for more than three hours alternating leaning on the wall or sitting on the floor, eagerly awaiting our turn, our opportunity to have that first sought after movie credit. We came prepared with head shots and resumes and copies of news clips shamelessly promoting our accomplishments. How could they turn us away?

When the three of us were finally ushered together into a room filled with mostly men sitting at desks and behind cameras, it was overwhelming. We were introduced to a man that we were told was the Casting Director. I was both excited and very nervous as I handed over my photos and resume. The Director asked me just one question, “Can you ice skate?”

My life flashed before my eyes. I was not athletic. Still, I could picture the tennis courts at the public park down the hill from my house that doubled in the winter as a skating rink. I could also smell the fresh polish on my beloved white skates stored beneath my bed, ready for use. I also remembered how I craved the beautiful skating outfits worn by the girls at the Boston Skating Club, home to Olympian Tenley Albright, but I could also picture myself on my butt after one too many falls and the feeling of embarrassment when I couldn’t execute turns or even at times stay erect on my skates as my more graceful friends often did. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to skate…technically, I did. I had even taken lessons. But did I want to skate in front of a camera? I could not even watch myself on television as the wicked step mother in Sleeping Beauty, how could I allow the world to see me skate? My brain reinterpreted his question. Didn’t he really mean to ask, “Can you skate well?” I was certain that was what he meant. And so, I replied, “No, I can’t skate.” I waited for the next question that I hoped would be more in line with my talents. He thanked me and that was that. End of story. There was no hoped for second question, no encouraging, “Oh, I am sure a young Boston girl like you knows how to ice skate.” There was no chance to say, “Well, I actually can skate, just not very well.” All the way home on the MTA, I thought about what might have been. My dreams would have to be put on the shelf until the next opportunity arose, if it ever did.

The following year, I eagerly awaited the movie’s opening and was shocked when I saw right there on the big screen the young girl who had said, “Yes, I can ice skate.” She was pictured sitting by the side of the pond in a beautiful, period costume, while a cute young boy knelt before her tying up her ice skates. She never even had to go out on the ice! There is no proof that she was telling the truth when she said, “Yes, I can ice skate.” She just wore a pretty dress and hat and sat on a bench beside a pond. I vowed then and there that my theme would forever become, “Yes, I can do that.”

Throughout my professional life, on many occasions I have been asked, “Can you do that?” and I have learned that by saying “yes” and dedicating myself to making that a true statement, I have had an interesting and rewarding career. On many occasions, I had to “suspend disbelief” to make it happen, but I did indeed make it all happen.


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