Blog 12 of 76

Wisdom from Catherine the Great

By Wm. May
Published: 01/09/17 Topics: Education, Gratitude, People, Self Improvement Comments: 1

Catherine the Great

For a dozen years Catherine and I worked hand in hand with sometimes demanding clients and difficult people. She was never confused. Never flustered.

She talked with people on the phone from all corners of the U.S. and Canada. When I met those people at conferences they always wanted to know about Catherine instead of me. Who could blame them, she was far more intriguing.

She addressed everyone with their title such as "Mr. Jones." But when they insisted on being called Robert she would agree. But on their next phone call she was back to "Mr. Jones". She believed, "Everyone likes to be respected. It is such a small thing, why not?"

For many years, she had been an assistant to the mayor of a major city at a time when protests, riots and even bombings were common due to opposition to Vietnam and ongoing racial unrest.

Catherine saw herself as the only voice of reason. At our office, she always "dressed up, because you never know when you have to dress someone down." And yet, even that was said quietly, calmly and with a hint of a smile around her eyes.

In client meetings she always wore white gloves because "Everyone should learn how to conduct themselves graciously to be taken seriously." And, "Why not, I love to look lovely in gloves."

Catherine always donned a lovely, well-coiffured wig and had quite a collection to go with her every outfit. Along with gracious manners, she did not mince words. "I tell it like it is, but tell it respectfully" and she demanded the same from others.

"Be friendly with everyone, and soon they will become friends."

"If you can't say something nice, I recommend you learn how."

"Never raise your voice, or they will scream back at you."

"If you don't stand up for something, you will fall for everything."

At home, Catherine was a different person. A 6 foot 2 inch power house who spoke forcefully, sported 2- foot long dreadlocks (although we never actually saw them), loved dashiki's and performing her poetry. She had a laugh that could shake buildings.

She often wrote well into the night, but was never late for her 9am start time. She never missed a day of work, because "I can count on people, if they can count on me."

Catherine said there are always three sides to every issue, not just two. We talked often about religion, politics and racism. For example, there are not just racists and non-racists, but a third person she tried to be.

She lectured me that African Americans are no more homogenous than anyone else. "Like all races, rich may look down on poor, thin people avoid fat folks, tall people feel superior to short people, and - this was news to me - some lighter skin African Americans look down on darker skinned people."

"Racism among all Americans is the more overt part of "me-ism," she explained. "Everyone starts with 'me first', my children second, my family third, my friends fourth and, then, maybe everyone else. You can't wipe out racism until everyone of us admits that."

That led to her absolute conviction that "We are all prejudiced. Not just whites, but yellows and reds and blacks." She concluded that racism could be eliminated if every one of us does it personally and the place to start is in our own hearts.

"The question isn't whether you are racist, the question is are you trying not be?"

Sadly, we lost Catherine with a late night phone call saying she had died unexpectedly at the age of 52. We were stunned. My son had adored her. My wife had been charmed. We called her Catherine the Great.

But she left behind this - for years I have accepted the truth of me-ism and that every day I must try to do better than the day before. Maybe someday maybe slowly bigotry will become a thing of memory, if we can all do just that. Try.

Author: Wm. May
Blog #: 0752 – 01/09/17

Comments: 1

Kate Quinn 06/09/20

This should be published in every newspaper in the US! It's a message we should all - black, white, yellow and red - take to heart.

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