Is there anything tougher than following in the footsteps of a legend?
No matter what line of work a person is in, the challenge of living up to a respected predecessor in a key role is never easy.
That's why, when RCMA board member and President's Award recipient Linda de Leon announced her plans to retire as meeting planner for the Seventh-day Adventists World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., it created a great opportunity — and apprehension — for her protégé and successor.
“I was honored and pleased that the organization thought I could pick up where Linda left off — not that anyone could fill her shoes,” says Sheri Clemmer, who became the church's new meeting planner in July 2002.
Fortunately for Clemmer, who assumed responsibility for the organization's day-to-day meeting needs, as well as its fall and spring meetings, de Leon stayed on until the church's general conference session in 2005.
The Seventh-day Adventists' quinquennial (occurring every five years) is a citywide, 12-day conference that attracts 60,000 attendees. Asgo, it's a monster.
“Linda did not retire until after that,” Clemmer recalls. “The church allowed me to shadow her for the remaining years leading up to that event with her as a mentor, sort of on-the-job training.”
Like many, Clemmer is an accidental meeting planner.
“I fell into it,” she says. “I started out as a medical secretary a number of years ago. I worked for our denomination at our hospital in the 1970s and then for a private-practice doctor, part-time for 15 years, while our children grew up.”
In 1994, with her children heading for college, Clemmer sought full-time employment again. She took a job as an administrative assistant in the Seventh-day Adventists' stewardship department and stayed in that position for six years.
Clemmer then accepted an opportunity to join the church's treasury department and worked as acoordinator, particularly assigned to 450 student missionaries headed to points far and wide around the globe. “I arranged their travels, visits, and insurance,” she recalls.
That was the job that established Clemmer's bona fides for the quinquennial. She learned the ins and outs at de Leon's elbow for three years leading up to the 2005 conference; in 2010, when the group will use the Georgia World Conference Center and Georgia Dome in Atlanta in 2010, she'll be on her own.
A year into those preparations, does she feel prepared?
“Um … No!” she says, laughing. “We won't feel prepared until it's over!” But Clemmer isn't alone in this Herculean task.
“We have a committee and 14 sub-committees and sub-subcommittees. It's not all on one person's shoulders — there's no way one person could manage it alone. We have committees for music, security, AV, platform, and the program. There are many, many people who have a lot of important tasks. We try to keep others on track; my job is to know everything that's going on.”
As big a job as the quinquennial is, it's not Clemmer's only responsibility.
“I may review afrom a hotel for a meeting,” she says. “I may try to negotiate that, have a breakfast included, have a space fee waived. I will work with the department that requested the contract, see if it meets their needs. I may work on the Atlanta meeting and hotels. I will contact our division officers. I attend several different committees here in the building. And I'm part of the administrative committee, so I'm aware of what's going on in the building.
“We also pay all the hotel bills out of our office,” Clemmer adds. “I have an administrative assistant who does that, but I have to sign off. We also do letters of invitation for our international guests for visa purposes. I just know that I'm busy all the time.”
She often finds herself on the job even when she's not.
“I recently came up with a local artisan shop that shears its own sheep and dyes the wool,” Clemmer says. “I had seen it in a magazine while I waited for a medical appointment. I thought maybe our Shepherdess group — they're the wives of pastors — might like that.”
There are, of course, numerous perks to the job, including travel.
“As I've taken digital pictures of places to which I've traveled, I put them in my screensaver,” she says. “If I'm eating lunch, I love to see those photos. It's great to have those memories and meet people that I wouldn't meet otherwise, such as mayors. That's a nice perk.”
Still, there's no place like home.
“I am a homebody,” Clemmer says. “I miss my family greatly when I'm gone. I'm always counting the days when I'm gone. Not that I don't have a good time, but I'm always happy to come home. It's just the way I am.”
Family: “I have a husband, Darryl, and a lovely golden retriever, Sienna, just like the color in the crayon box. We've been married 33 years and have three adult children: a daughter and two sons. I'm empty-nested but have two grandsons that I can't wait to get home to.
“My husband is the director of a retirement community; we live on the grounds. My perspective there is that I'm really young. The average age is 83. It's been a great place to raise our three kids.”
Hobbies: “Music is my strongest hobby. I enjoy playing the piano. I have conducted choir in the past. I also enjoy cooking, especially when the whole family comes over.”
Born and raised: Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Clemmer's family moved to a suburb of Silver Spring, Md., when she was 2.
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