On this date in 1903, a special little baby girl was born. This child grew into an amazing woman who, unbeknownst to me at the time, drastically impacted my life. I met Mary Sheffer when I was preparing for my freshman year in college. The meeting turned into a working and personal relationship until she passed away five years later. Although I only knew Mrs. Sheffer for five years, I still feel her presence and benefit from the lessons she taught me.
To say that Mrs. Sheffer
was unique would be an understatement. She was an eccentric, well-to-do
woman who felt that she had earned the right to be opinionated by virtue
of turning 90 years old. She was totally blind, the result of an injury
(which by her own omission) she sustained due to being stubborn.
Ignoring her husband's directive, she decided to load some wrought iron
rods onto a truck. One of the rods slipped and went through her eye
socket, severing the optic nerve.
She lost her vision when she
was in her 70's and lacking any rehabilitation training, she adjusted
well. She lived with her housekeeper (who was 86 at the time of our
meeting) and ran small philanthropic ventures. I met her when I applied
for a scholarship that she was sponsoring. Her committee did not choose
me for the award which angered her and prompted the invitation to her
Several times a week during every college break, I worked
for Mrs. Sheffer. Lacking any secretarial skills (I couldn't even type
at the time), I struggled with the duties that I was assigned.
Thankfully she was patient as I fumbled my way through the filing,
typing and organizing that she relished. I enjoyed spending time with
her, but I hated the work!
During our visits Mrs. Sheffer and I
forged a unique relationship. Slowly, she became a mentor. She was quick
to remind me that answering "yeah" was incorrect and unacceptable. She
loved reviewing parliamentary procedures and insisted that I speak with
correct diction at all times. Without ever seeing me, she managed to
shape me into a poised young woman.
Typically it is easy to look
at somebody who has passed with rose colored glasses. Mrs. Sheffer
dramatically shaped my life, but she was not always an easy person. She
has been gone now for 17 years, but I don't think I'll ever meet another
woman who was more cantankerous or opinionated. Two examples leap to
mind when I remember her.
One Thanksgiving I made an apple pie
and surprised her. She called me later that evening and, after politely
commending my efforts, informed me that she was arranging for me to take
pie making courses because my pie was not good. I obediently attended
pie school, only to have her fire the master pie maker because she
thought her crusts were too tough as well!
When I was a senior in
college I was dating a foreign exchange student from England. During
break I took him over to introduce him. Later that afternoon she phoned
and asked to speak with him. She proceeded to yell at him for five
minutes because she found his accent offensive and difficult to
Mrs. Sheffer, with all of her opinions, did not mean
any harm. She was well-intended, even if her approach was socially
unconventional. Insisting that age had given her the right to speak
mind, she was unapologetic about her comments and her decisions. She
Today is Mrs. Sheffer's birthday. She
frustrated me and one more than one occasion brought me to tears. She
also taught me how to remain confident when you feel like falling apart.
I wish she had lived long enough for me to realize this lesson, and for
me to thank her for taking me under her wing.