As an avid sun worshiper, I am never a big fan of Labor Day. Sure, it's always great to have a 3-day holiday weekend, but it also signals the end of summer and my weekend outdoor "office" where I catch up on industry reading - and a fashion magazine or two - at our neighborhood swim club.
However, this year it took on an even greater sense of finality. It was a beautiful early September morning in Baltimore, Maryland. I couldn't wait to head out to the pool at the start of this unofficial end of summer.
First, however, I fired up the computer to check emails. As I scrolled down for new messages, there it was. An email from Amanda's husband, Tim.
In the preview window, I could only see the words, "I have been asked to tell you...."
But I knew the rest.
It was not unexpected. Although Amanda had two years of successful treatment following her cancer diagnosis, it eventually stopped working as she had informed me exactly one month to that day.
Hi Barbara - I know it's bad news but your American optimism doesn't apply in this case. I won't be able to go back on the chemo as the blood levels are too affected by the progression of the cancer. I don't know how quickly it will progress so am just taking it a day at a time. Unfortunately this means I can't commit to as many things as before but my energy levels are lower anyway - and still have my piano playing and lots of reading to do, plus upcoming visits from friends. Am very sanguine about things as I've dramatically beaten the odds for this type of cancer and had two great years of 'retirement' with so many new activities.
Before her "retirement," Amanda had spent more than 20 years in higher education marketing.
We met when she was the external relations manager at the University of Bath School of Management. I was working as a consultant to boost enrollment for Bath's executive MBA program and Amanda influenced the head of school to keep me on board as the School's first MBA admissions and marketing manager. With that, she changed my life and my career. At the time, I was a newly married expat expecting my first child in remote and rural Wiltshire. It was a big change from living in Boston's Back Bay and working in the corporate sector. Amanda opened the door to a new career in MBA admissions - recruiting and interviewing candidates from all over the world and traveling to MBA recruitment fairs in exciting places like New York, Toronto, London, Munich, and Tokyo.
Although Amanda left Bath in 2000 to pursue a new opportunity as director of marketing at the University of Exeter, she continued as a wonderful mentor - and a good friend - for the next 14 years.
Her accomplishments are impressive. A graduate of the University of Bristol, Amanda earned her MBA with Distinction from Warwick Business School. At the University of Bath School of Management, she developed an international brand and positioning strategy and created an award-winning MBA marketing campaign. At the University of Exeter, she was responsible for creating the University's first marketing and brand communications strategy and visual identity. In 2009, she founded a succesful strategic marketing consultancy, Evidence Consulting, and was a dedicated mentor to young marketers from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
For me, however, it was the everyday touches that made Amanda such a special person. So, I wanted to dedicate this blog article to Amanda and share some of her lessons with you.
How to be positive in any circumstance
I am amazed at Amanda's grace and positive outlook at all times - even with the worst news:
Saw consultant today and unfortunately the test results are too low for me to have any more chemo. So it's now down to pain management and symptom control. I always knew the cancer was incurable and that the chemo would eventually stop working. But it's given me a great quality of life in the past 2 years compared to the original gloomy prognosis. On a brighter note I got a distinction in my Open University music module which really cheered me up when I heard yesterday.
No complaints. Instead, she was always looking at the positive side.
Make time for doing what you love
When Amanda learned she had cancer, she left her consulting business and spent time doing what she loved to do. That meant music and art history courses, singing in a choir, taking Pilates, visiting friends, traveling to Paris. She had a high level of intellectual curiousity and it showed in her pursuits. (In fact, I remember her once asking me at work if American broadcast journalists were so outgoing because of the American education system). She was intellectually gifted and worked harder than anyone I know. She was in the office late in the evenings, worked on weekends, and her tireless dedication paid off in accolades for the University of Bath School of Management. Yet she also traveled to Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Nice for REM concerts. Right up to the end, she lived life to its fullest.
Be a team player
Long before teamwork was a fashionable word in business schools, Amanda was an incredibly collaborative colleague - viewing those around her as peers no matter what their level or roles. When launching a new branding strategy, she gathered everyone's input including current students and colleagues. Amanda handed over the recruitment fair budget and decision-making to me when I came on board (one of the more fun aspects of the job that is typically hard to give up). She wanted to give others opportunities. Amanda was open to new ideas, to constructive input, and always shared the credit.
Lift colleagues up - literally
When I started at Bath, the MBA programmes (I'm using British spelling in honour of Amanda) were staffed by two program secretaries (full-time MBA and executive MBA) and a programme director. Amanda noticed that the position levels for the secretaries were not on par with similar roles of responsibility in other parts of the university. She lobbied the director and head of school to upgrade each of these positions to "administrator." It wasn't in her job description. They didn't report to her. Yet she felt it was the right thing to do. And she did it. She was supportive and looked out for colleagues at all levels in the organisation.
There's been plenty of research lately about how helping others is the key to happiness. Even though Amanda had ongoing chemotherapy and endured painful moments, she found the energy and time to apply her marketing and communications skills to volunteer work in community education and at her hospice. She was always serving others. There was never an unanswered email when I reached out for her guidance or a question.
Do something nice for someone
I don't think I ever heard Amanda say anything bad about anyone. She was such a nice person and brightened your day with kindness. She always sent a birthday card (and introduced me to beautiful Jacquie Lawson animated e-cards). In her last Facebook posting to me, exactly one week before she died, Amanda commented on this photo taken during a recent trip to Boston.
In retrospect, I thought how appropriate that her last communication to me was a compliment not just to me but to another dear friend who happens to be an English professor. Amanda was a talented writer and stickler for grammar. In fact, her last Facebook wall posting was this:
I hope her lessons inspire you as much as they inspire me. So, with that, my call to action in this blog article is simply:
Reach out and connect with a colleague or friend with whom you haven't spoken in awhile. Time goes by too quickly.