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When the Lady Wore Red

April 3, 2011

When I was in my early 20’s I worked at an interior design office. I had images of days filled with design meetings, creative thought processes and fantastically wonderful people sharing their ideas while pouring over swatches and catalogs. The reality, alas, was quite different. I answered phones, filed everyone else’s paperwork, photocopied things and barely saw the design team

I did however, have a chance to meet one of my first mentors. Her name was Joan Townley. I remember my interview with Joan. I had waded through snow (in high-heels and a skirt) at the end of the day and found myself to be delighted by this woman who had a British accent, a charming laugh, every hair on her head in place and wearing a very stylish outfit.
Joan hired me. and told me later that she was impressed with ME.   She told me that she thought I must have really wanted the job, to show up for an interview in a skirt, during a snowstorm.

Throughout the two years I worked at the design company, I met several people who made impressions on me. There was Valarie, who was engaged to Joe, she was one of the designers and her side job was as a singer. I thought she really had it made. Valerie has since become a well-known country singer/songwriter. There was George; Joan’s husband. George, smoked a lot and hung out in the warehouse. He cursed and spit. I was perplexed by  that relationship. Night and day. I could always tell though, how much he loved Joan.

And there was Joan. The woman who came in every day dressed to the nines, who would compliment me on my clothes and would talk to me like a person not a “staffer”. She would share stories with me about her past as a model, she shared some of her best business advice (and much of it was about how to work with other people).  She wooed the clients and charmed the business community.

And then, I began to hear rumblings of things that weren’t going well between the partners (there were 4, two men and Joan and her husband, George).

One day, Joan came to work, dressed in a beautiful red dress. She went to her office and picked up a photo, she stopped by my desk and apologized for the awfulness of what had happened, and what was to become of the company. Apparently, since Joan and George only owned 49% of the company, the other two owners were able to take over the company. And they did.

I am forever grateful to Joan, for showing me how to behave properly, dress like you  “mean it”  and to speak to people, not at them. There was one parting image of her and a comment that she made that has stayed with me.

That last day in the office, leaving the business she loved. In her beautiful red dress, as she left the building, she said  to me that when Queen Mary of Scots was on her way to her beheading, underneath her robes she wore red.  She wore red so no one would be able to see her blood.

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