This is a story about someone whose simple act of kindness made a major impression in my life. I am telling it as my gift to her on her retirement from the position of executive director of the Alaska Public Radio Network.
At one of the first press club award dinners I ever attended, the Daily News and Times were still battling for survival in the Anchorage market. This made the dinner a crowded affair as each paper competed for the most awards. It was immediately evident on entering the room that it was divided into a bush versus urban contingent. Urban people had on formal dress. Both men and women had haircuts that said “salon” instead of “friend-in-the-kitchen”. Bush people were easily recognized by their jeans and plaid shirts. No one actually had on carharts but the outfits stopped just short of them
Being from the Bush meant we were there on time for the food. People out here are rarely fashionably late when meals are involved – especially if someone else is paying for it. In this case, most of us were on expense accounts so we didn’t want to take a chance on missing any of the courses.
As my friend and I wandered through the room looking for seats, we found that none were available. Everyone had sent an advance team to claim a table for their particular group. The first people there then leaned the rest of the chairs against the table to indicate they were taken. I guess this allowed the others to make a fashionably late entrance. But it made us feel more than a bit uncomfortable as we asked again and again if “those seats are taken” and were rebuffed. I suddenly felt as if I was doing the Bible scene about no room at the inn.
Until I hit the table where an older woman sat with a few people who were clearly in TV. (Believe me, you can tell!) We asked our usual question and got the usual answer. And then the woman spoke up. She said if those people couldn’t be on time, then the seats were ours and she was pleased to have us sit with her. Since she was then running the station they worked for, the seats became instantly available.
This woman made a conscious effort to include me and my friends in her conversation throughout the dinner. She pointed out people we didn’t know, explained some of the dynamics of the rivalry that dominated the night, and in general made us feel very welcome. When the rest of her staff arrived and found their seats taken, she was courteous but not terribly sympathetic.
The woman at the table that night was Julie Guy. When she retires from her position as executive director of APRN this month, we will miss the skills and insight she brought to that position. But I can never really think of Julie as the executive director of APRN. I always think of her as that kind lady who made room for us at her table, who made our discomfort disappear, whose graciousness made me feel welcomed in a strange place.
My mother had a name for people like Julie. She said that people like her were the real definition of the word “lady”. It is still today the highest compliment my mother can give. Since I have nothing else to give Julie that truly speaks to how much that night meant to me and how much she has influenced me by her life and work, let me give this to her on her retirement. She is truly a lady.