I was about 24 years old. Out of college just a short while and desperately trying to find my place in this post-academic world called real life. Hood College was sponsoring a women’s conference. It looked interesting so I registered to attend.
The room was filled with women of all ages and places in their professional journey. At 24, I was still rather timid and certainly not at ease at networking events of any kind but attended every session. I clung to every word spoken by the dynamic and very confident women who spoke, urging us to create the life we visualized, to be bold, to not be dissuaded by the proverbial glass ceiling that would surely challenge us on our climb to the top.
One speaker stood out that day. Her name was Dixie Miller and I remember getting the impression that she was the “ring leader” and organizer of the event. She was, by my best guess, in her 40′s, but when you are fresh out of college, everyone seems much older and wiser than you. She was audacious, outspoken, filled with confidence and conviction, controversial, and challenged us all to be resilient when we encountered obstacles during our journey in life. She possessed such a command of the audience–I clung to her every word. I was captivated by her.
I never forgot that day.
Over the years I remember seeing her pictures in the newspaper and reading about her many professional accomplishments but our paths never crossed nor did I ever have the chance to meet her face-to-face.
Until just a few years ago.
I was asked to speak at an event sponsored by the Frederick Business & Professional Women. As the coordinator of the event showed me to the table where I was to sit that evening, there sat Dixie Miller as an honored guest. The woman who, thirty years prior, I wanted to emulate.
For a split second I felt like I was in my 20′s all over again. I could feel my pulse quicken as I introduced myself to her. She smiled and said that she knew me! She KNEW me!
Imagine if you were about to give a presentation and just found out that a person you had admired from afar for most of your professional life was in the audience!
Nervous, excited, honored…. I thought I was going to throw up!
I don’t remember my presentation.
I DO remember that I began by telling this story. The story of a young girl who was moved and inspired by a woman who came before and paved the way.
She just smiled.
That all-knowing, you’ve-got-this-grasshopper, now-you’re-that-woman — kind of smile.
Rest in Peace Dixie Miller.
I promise to keep passing that torch!