A Tribute to One of My Fallen Heroes

Posted on May 4, 2011

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I believe most people who have worked in the corporate world for a while can remember someone who made a significant impact on their lives. For me, it was a previous manager at Sprint named Diane Taylor whom I call one of my heroes.

Battle With Epilepsy

She wasn’t a firefighter, didn’t fight in foreign wars and never boxed in the ring. She did, however, fight a lifelong battle with epilepsy. It’s an insidious disease that helped create the perfect storm for her death.

Diane Taylor — The Person

Diane Taylor was outgoing, intelligent, attractive and single. I don’t know how else to explain it, except to say that she would not let you NOT be her friend. People who knew her, know exactly what I mean.

Diane Taylor — The Manager

In 1996, Diane hired me as a project manager to work for her in a new work group at Sprint. I was new at project managing wholesale projects and she was new at managing people. I thought I knew what I needed to know to be a good project manager … but then Diane taught me how to be an exceptional project manager.

At first, she was a micro-manager and that drove me crazy. I didn’t see any way out of it, though, so I eventually partnered with her in her micro-managing and decided I could learn something from her. When I first worked for her, she painstakingly walked me through different analytical processes that helped me dig deeper into the reasoning and problem solving of project management. I’m a fast learner, so I picked up on it all rather quickly and began to soar in my work. I believe she would say that I made her proud.

I brought game to the table, too, however, and she recognized that. She honored me and my coworker by nominating each of us for a separate elite Sprint award, which we each were awarded. By that time, she became more relaxed in her management style, and she and I were good friends. After work, she occasionally called me to talk about her seizures that recently increased, and we’d pray about it together. We had deep, meaningful conversations.

The Birthday Card

The first birthday I celebrated while working for her, Diane gave me the most wonderful card I’ve ever received from someone at work. I kept it all these years, but couldn’t find it as of the writing of this post. I will find it and update this post later on with the exact verbiage. It went something like this:

“On this birthday may you revel in the magic of your existence.” It was so much more ethereal and mystical than that. The words I’ll never forget are “… the magic of your existence.” They gave me goosebumps.

I hardly ever keep cards, but that one, I kept. I wasn’t sure why, but was very grateful that I did after her death, because it held even more meaning. It made me think about the magic of her existence and the impact she had not only on my professional life, but on my personal life, too.

Diane’s Death

It was a weird Monday. I walked into the office and everybody was really solemn and acting strangely. Finally, someone asked me if I heard what happened, and I responded that I had, but that it was not a big deal. I thought my coworker was talking about something that happened the previous week.

About 10 minutes after I arrived at work, my director called me into her office. It was odd that she did that, because she never called me in without Diane to discuss a project status. I figured there was some kind of emergency related to Diane and that she had taken off for the day … little did I know.

She stood in front of me and apologized that she could not get in touch with me over the weekend. She couldn’t find my phone number.

Then … she told me that Diane was dead. I screamed and burst out into deep, guttural sobs. My body convulsed with anguish. She immediately buried my face in her stomach to muffle the sound. I was hysterical. Diane and I were finally friends. She quit micro-managing me, and, after so much work, we finally had this great relationship. It was surreal, to say the least.

I calmed down after several heart-breaking minutes and went back to my desk. My director, Deb, decided to excuse me for the day. I was devastated and fell into a deep depression. I had never been that close to someone professionally and personally who died so suddenly.

How She Died

You see, her on-again/off-again boyfriend came over and was fixing her downstairs shower before they went out that night. Her family didn’t like this guy, but she finally decided to challenge their wishes and begin seeing him again. Her only option to get ready was to take a bath upstairs, since that bathroom did not have a shower.

Because of her epilepsy, she never took a bath for fear she would have a seizure and drown. That’s what happened, though. Tom didn’t find her until it was too late. His tools were so noisy, he never heard her thrashing around. He tried mouth-to-mouth, but she didn’t respond. It was clear he was still guilt-ridden at her funeral.

Her Funeral

Her funeral played out just like her life. It was packed with mourners — family, friends and coworkers. There were wall-to-wall people in one of the biggest (maybe THE biggest) Catholic churches in Kansas City. The family asked my director and her work group to come eat afterwards, so we did.

There was no lack of incredible food. You would have thought it was a celebration, it was so fancy and delicious, and I guess it was a celebration of sorts — a celebration of Diane’s life. She loved good food like that, and I’m sure she was looking down on us thinking she would like to have had a bite or two.

Life Goes On

I overcame my depression and began thanking God that I had the privilege of knowing her — even if it was for such a short amount of time. After her death, our work group re-orged several times, I received additional promotions and was eventually laid off from Sprint in 2002 … but I always kept that card she gave me. It reminded me of how short life is and that we should never forget … the magic of our existence!

Have you lost someone close to you that you worked with who left a special, lasting memory?

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