Cheers from the Chair

Russell Rawlings

North Carolina Bar Association

My first big boss was a woman. Her name was Elizabeth Swindell and she owned The Wilson Daily Times. That is where I began my professional career as a sportswriter in 1974 – before the rest of the women I’m writing about in this column were born.

Miss Swindell, as we knew her, would never weigh more than 100 pounds, yet she remains to this day the toughest woman I ever met. In addition to her duties at the newspaper, she was also a mother, grandmother and, by the time I starting working for her, a great-grandmother.

The experience proved beneficial for me in many ways. It has never felt the least bit foreign to me to work for or with women. The newsroom was split roughly 50:50 male and female and the composing room, where we put the paper together every morning, was predominantly female. We all worked together each day toward a common goal without the slightest notion that we were not equals.

Fast forward 42 years and I find myself sitting around a conference table with my esteemed colleagues who comprise the executive council of the NABE Communications Section. The women outnumber the men six to four and all of the females, unless someone tells me otherwise, are under the age of 40. Well under the age of 40!

When I leave town for NABE meetings, my biggest concern is Brownie, our beloved rescue dog who is half collie, half hound, and 100 percent love. On the rare occasion when my wife is not also traveling with her job, I have no worries at all. Otherwise I either pay the dog-sitter for a few extra visits or board Brownie at the vet.

For Leanna Dickstein, Heather Folker, Carissa Long, Sarah Coole and Sayre Happich, leaving on an NABE trip, or simply leaving to go to work every day, is an entirely different matter. The same is true for Sharon Nolan, who chaired this year’s workshop and previously chaired the section. They all leave behind this whole other world of responsibilities about which I know so very little.

They leave behind children who as of yet are incapable of driving themselves to school, preparing their own meals, transporting themselves to soccer practice, scheduling doctor’s appointments or, perhaps worst of all, knowing when it’s time to go to the emergency room, much less having a clue how to get there.

My esteemed colleagues have a support system that helps fill the void, but the void exists nonetheless because no matter who stays behind to take care of the children, they ain’t Mama.

So as I sit around the table responding to the latest “crisis” that arises at the N.C. Bar Center on my mobile device, these remarkable women never know what they’re going to get in their next email, text, phone call or voicemail. Ninety percent of my problems fall under the heading of information technology; that’s the least of their worries.

With that in mind, and remembering that Mother's Day was observed last month, I offer a tip of the cap and a raising of the glass to Leanna, Heather, Carissa, Sarah, Sayre and Sharon, and to all of the moms out there whose workday has only begun when mine ends.

I do admire you so.

You’ll never be as tough as Elizabeth Swindell, but God bless you, you’re just as strong.