Bonnie Beattie, recently retired as manager, meetings and conventions, for Equitable Life of Iowa, has been spending a lot of time in the hospital. Not as a patient, but as one half of a team going from bed to bed, visiting people recovering from surgery or living with long-term illnesses. The other half of the team is a schnauzer named Libby.

"She loves it," Beattie says of her dog's role in the local "pet therapy" program. "I put her on the bed and they tell her everything. She just listens nonjudgmentally."

When Beattie herself spent months in a hospital with an undiagnosed illness, her husband got permission to bring Libby in for a visit on Christmas Day. The dog cheered Beattie so much that once she'd recovered, she wanted to share that experience. "I started doing it to make a contribution to other people," she says. "But I benefit more. You just feel so good about it."

That may be, but it's easy to imagine the positive effect that Beattie's warmth and optimism must have on the patients as well. This is a woman whose interests range from needlepoint to golf, from entertaining to woodworking (with power tools, she points out). As the planners and suppliers who have worked with her over the years will attest, Beattie approaches life with style--and a smile.

Planning Pioneer In fact, Beattie's personality and creativity would seem to make her a natural for meeting planning. But the truth is that six months after Beattie joined the meeting planning department, she wanted out.

She began her 37-year career at Equitable in the mailroom, straight out of high school. "It was a great way to start. I got to know everybody so fast," she says. She applied for every job that came up and wound up doing calculations in the pensions department.

Not long after, Ted Cobine, then the head of the meeting department, needed a new assistant. Beattie interviewed for the job but decided not to take it. She loved her department, and she'd just gotten married and wasn't sure she wanted to travel. But Cobine wouldn't take no for an answer. Instead, he made a deal with Beattie: If she would try the job for six months, they'd hire a temp to do her job in pensions. If she didn't like planning meetings, she could have her old job back.

Six months later, Beattie told Cobine she wanted to go back to pensions. "He got this awful look on his face," she recalls. "He said, 'We were so sure you'd like the job that we hired a permanent person.'" So, Beattie says, "I buckled down. It was scary. It was a much more visible job. And at that time there weren't many women on the meeting planning end, and there were very few women on the hotel end."

Things have changed. And not just in the number of women who hold corporate meeting planning and hotel sales positions. Beattie remembers shaking hands for room blocks and never signing a contract. "Every hotel had a big book with every day and every function space listed in it. They'd just write you in," she says. And sometimes another salesperson would erase you, she laughs. "It happened a lot. It was all in pencil."

Beyond the Business The biggest change may be in the sheer volume of meetings Beattie's department handles. In her first year, the three-person staff planned four meetings. In 1998, she and her assistant did more than 160 meetings and events. "Of course back then everything took so much longer. We didn't have computers; we didn't even have fax machines. You couldn't do the quick-turnaround meetings that we do today."

One constant in the meeting industry, she believes, is the importance of building relationships with suppliers and with planner peers. And for Beattie, these relationships go beyond business. "You really care for the people in this industry. They're your friends."

Anyone who has worked with Beattie on a program, spent four hours with her on a golf course, or gotten to know her at an industry meeting would surely say, "Right back at you, Bonnie."