Last Friday, my colleagues at work hosted a wonderful send-off party. There was a “B” theme to evening, as we had barbecue (Rocklands, my local favorite); bourbon (with gifts of several very nice bottles of whiskey over the course of the week); and bluegrass (the latter supplied live by the By-and-By Band). The band was even kind enough to let me sit in with them on a spirited rendition of Sitting On Top of the World!
Friends, former and current colleagues, and partners came in from as far away as Los Angeles to celebrate. I used the occasion to say a few words (no surprise there), beginning with the observation that I was finding that almost anything that was said in the office brought to mind something that happened 10, 20, or 30 years ago—what I’ve dubbed the Old War Stories part of my transition.
I knew everyone would be thankful if I kept it short, so I brought notes. On the occasion of my 60th birthday, I composed a post entitled 60 Lessons From 60 Years and I used the send off to call out five of them.
Lesson #2: The graveyard is full of folks who thought the world couldn’t get along without them. This lesson is always a good reminder that no one is indispensable, so while I appreciated the many nice accolades that came that day, I pulled this one out in order not to get too big for my britches.
Lesson #8: I will cry at the movies, so I need to bring a handkerchief. It was an emotional day and I brought along a handkerchief, just in case. However, I used it more to wipe the sweat from my brow than for wiping tears from my eyes. It was an unseasonably warm late winter day in Washington.
Lesson#10. All things considered, I’d rather live in a community full of old buildings. I have lived in five Main Street communities during my life – including two that won our Great American Main Street Award at the National Trust. Somehow, old buildings and walkable communities are in my bloodstream. I joined the National Trust in 1975 and attended my first Trust conference in Philadelphia in 1976. As a young professional, I carried my back issues of the Trust’s newspaper from the 1970s and 1980s — Preservation News — through 3 moves. Suffice it to say that it has been the privilege of my professional life to help the National Trust do its vital work over the past 22 years.
Lesson #59: A few years ago I became intentional about saying “thank you” to someone every day. It is one of the smartest things I ever did. I thought about so many people I could thank, but that would take much too long if I were to touch on all the people who have touched and supported me. So I simply want to thank my Executive Assistants—the individuals who live with me during the work day and do so much behind the scenes to make me look good. In many ways, these individuals taught me a great deal about how to be a good boss:
- Kaye Garris—My first assistant when I moved to Charleston to be the director of the Southern Regional Office. Kaye was the voice of the talented, young Southern staff (when we were all much, much younger).
- Liz Welsh McGonagle—The first assistant at the Trust that I hired. Liz, a wonderfully kind and friendly Minnesotan, set the standard for the type of “public face” I wanted my EAs to have with other staff and the broader public. I went to see the Minnesota Twins at Target Field with Liz and her husband Dave and my daughter Claire on our cross-country trip back in 2014.
- Susan Neumann—Susan helped me set up the Executive Office as Chief of Staff and died much too young.
- Erin Dowling—When I was managing the capital campaign at the National Trust, Erin was my EA on the development side. She now works in the real estate business in Colorado, where I see her on occasion.
- Amelia Sams Whittington—Amelia could write in my voice better than I could, so she quickly took on composing letters, notes, and even speeches for me. She works in development for a theatre troupe while her husband continues his life’s work as a chef in New Orleans.
- Leigh Ivey—While only with me for a short while, due to a death in her family, Leigh was the first EA I had to make me feel old. Her mother went to our high school—with my younger sister!
- Kelly Schindler—With an interest in museums and historic sites, Kelly worked as my EA until a better opening / opportunity came up in our historic sites department, where she continues her admirable work today.
- Lisa Thompson—Lisa had worked as a Main Street Manager and for a local preservation non-profit, so when she came to work as my EA I knew I wouldn’t have her for long. Sure enough, she left in 2018 to be the National Register Coordinator for the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office.
- Chelsea Lundquist-Wentz—Chelsea is my current EA and combines many of the great traits I like from some of her predecessors. She is, quite simply, a gem.
If you do the math, you can see that I keep assistants for 2-3 years at a time. That’s because I want to hire smart people, help them move along their chosen career path, and support them after they leave. Amelia recognized the pattern and began what is officially called the Chief Preservation Officer (CPO) Operational Guide but what I took to calling The Users Guide to DJB. It is 6-7 pages of single-spaced directions on setting up “the prefect trip,” organizing meetings, writing letters, and the like. The last two pages are a grab bag with the subtitle “Miscellaneous DJB Facts and Preferences,” and I want to share a few of them with you (to see what these individuals have to put up with!
- David’s wife’s name is Candice. Everyone spells it Candace, which is incorrect.
- David likes to drink unsweetened iced tea at lunch, and bourbon (on the rocks) or red wine at happy hour.
- David does not like beets or olives (and Lisa later added “and avocados – except in guacamole”)
- David likes honesty.
- David dislikes rumors and confidentiality breaches. You are going to hear a lot of confidential information. It will be tempting to spill things you know, even a little bit. Don’t do that. Keep it all to yourself, and you’ll be the most valuable assistant around.
- David is on a quest to visit every major league baseball stadium in America. When thinking of trips, make suggestions of those he could visit while on work travel — he’ll love you for it!
Now you know how Liz and I ended up together with our families at Target Field in Minneapolis!
Lesson #60: Savor every moment. It passes faster than you can ever imagine. Enough said.
More to come…
Image: Several of the nice bourbons and whiskeys from friends and colleagues