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How to toast my late mother, mentor, and dog

Liz Guthridge Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.

Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications. 

How to toast my late mother, mentor, and dog

Please join me in toasting the memories of my late mother, a mentor, and Gustav who’s featured in an important new book on animal transitions. All three taught me valuable lessons that you may benefit from as well.

As background, over a seven-day stretch in August, I lost my 85-year-old mother, Ruth Lieberman Guthridge, and my 88-year-old mentor, Thomas H. Paine. They never met each other, yet they both played significant roles in shaping who I am as a human being.

Considering that all three of us are/were dog people, it seems fitting that between their two deaths a copy of the just-published book, Peace in Passing: Comfort for Loving Humans During Animal Transitions, thoughtfully inscribed by the author Maribeth Coye Decker, arrived in the mail for me.  Several of the author’s stories revolve around our dog Gustav, including his rich inner life and how we handled grieving his sudden death last October.

As for the two humans, while they inhabited different worlds, they both valued education and were both clever problem solvers.  (For example, my younger sister Rachel, younger brother David, and I will always be grateful to my mother for bringing a dog into the family before she became pregnant with me and naming him “Jake” — one of my father’s favorite names.)

My mother and Tom also stressed good manners. They believed and practiced in spending more time listening than talking, and taking the initiative to introduce yourself to strangers to make them feel welcome. (I think she would have been proud of my father and me for following her advice at her memorial service.)

As for Tom, he was one of the early partners of the pioneering benefits consulting firm, Hewitt Associates (now part of Aon),  which was my first employer after I graduated from Northwestern University.

Tom was known inside and outside Hewitt Associates for his technical prowess, conscientious client service, and strong support of new consultants.

(Tom also was a trail blazer in how the firm’s consultants dressed. As the legend went, Ted Hewitt believed his consultants looked more professional in hats so he outfitted his client-facing staff members with hats and leather briefcases. But Tom kept leaving his hats in trains, planes and client offices, so the firm gave up and dropped the hat requirement. The company-issued briefcase tradition continued.)

Here are my three favorite lessons from Tom:

  • To serve multiple clients well, you have to juggle. Occasionally, you’ll drop a ball. Just try to pick it up on the first bounce and go from there.
  • You can be influential wherever you are and regardless of your position. The Social Security Administration approached Tom to serve in a leadership role. He declined the offer because he believed he could make a greater impact on retirement policy on the outside than in the government. During his time at Hewitt Associates, the retirement field experienced many changes, including ERISA, 401(k) plans, ESOPs, etc.
  • Whether you have a calling or a career, you can and should have other interests outside of work to keep you healthy, well-rounded, and grounded. Tom was a master gardener, baker and mixologist. Plus, he and his wife Teresa Norton, also a Hewitt Associates partner and my awesome first boss out of college, started the highly-rated boutique winery Vineyard 29 after they retired. Tom and Teresa also actively supported several charities in Napa Valley and then in the San Diego area where they moved after selling the winery in 2000.

Over the years, I formed a strong friendship with Tom and Teresa outside of work, especially once they retired, and enjoyed their company immensely. I appreciated how they welcomed my husband into the mix, once I met him.

While on the plane to my mother’s memorial last week, I read Peace in Passing. While this ground-breaking book is definitely intended to comfort humans during animal transitions, which can be more challenging at times than human losses, many of the messages apply to all creatures and humans, great and small.

Namely, love never dies.