WHEN I INTERVIEWED meeting industry veteran Mickey Schaefer, CAE, American Academy of Family Physicians, for the first installment in our series profiling women leaders in theand CME professions, she said that her most important mentor was her mother (see page 47). After that conversation, I thought about the person who was my mentor — my dad. As founding editor of Meetings & Conventions magazine in 1965 and then editor-in-chief for 21 years, my father helped shape the emerging meeting industry.
I worked in his office as a teenager in the 1970s, a time when, as Schaefer remembers, women needed to wear bow ties and suits to prove that they were serious businesspeople. Not in my father's office. He felt strongly about mentoring women and encouraged the women on his staff to make their own decisions and mistakes, to find their own voices as writers and editors, and even to ask for higher pay. Watching these empowered women in action was an inspiration to me.
Since I was hired only as a gofer, I was excited when he sent me on my first writing assignment, to cover a newon the meeting circuit who talked about Eastern healing and martial arts, subjects I was researching on my own. With the unthinking arrogance of my youth, I wrote a scathing review of her presentation. Years later, when I was a speaker myself, I realized how damaging my review might have been to her and I talked to my father about it. He smiled and said he had toned down my comments — but added that he had respected my opinion.
His mentoring of me began much earlier, when I was five years old. Our synagogue announced a contest for the child who did the best job of reciting the four Passover questions in Hebrew. These questions, the centerpiece of the holiday that commemorates the Jews' escape from slavery, are traditionally asked by boys. But I wanted to compete. I sat on my father's lap as he patiently taught me the questions in the unfamiliar language, going over them again and again. Despite the fact that I was a girl, I won the contest.
My father didn't impose his expectations on me; he wanted me to pursue my own dreams. When I was promoted to editor of MM in 1999, nine years after his death, I missed terribly the opportunity to hear his reaction. I knew he would have been happy because I was so elated — not because I was following in his career path. He taught me that leadership is about respecting people's needs, opinions, and ideas. To this day, I am guided by his example. When I run into a difficult situation with colleagues or readers, I ask myself how he would have handled it.
When my father died, Yvonne Middleton, who worked for him when I was a teenager and who now runs her own successful public relations firm specializing in the hospitality industry, produced a video compilation of photos of my dad. For the soundtrack, she and her team used the chorus from “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” That choice expresses exactly how I feel.
As I observe the 15th anniversary of his death this February, I want to thank all of you in the meeting community who have shared your memories of him with me. It's comforting to know that he continues to be loved, respected, and remembered.