There you have it. Encompassed in one word is the magical mystery which permeates our existence. Change will come, it will happen, the question is when. Do you make it happen, or does some higher power guide your path? The only sure answer is change is inevitable, growth is optional.
Life is not stagnant, life is ever-moving…there is ebb and flow, at times effervescent, at other times dark and ominous. Like any great drama on the screen or the stage, we see life play out right before our eyes. We are all actors and actresses in this performance, directed by, if you believe in such, a higher power asking us to take our roles and embrace them with all their magnificence, imperfections, joy and strife.
Play your role in life and watch it unfold, act by act, day by day… this stage of life is your story.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (136): An “Act” of Service
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”
From the time she was a little girl Patty Lewis wanted to be an actress. Patty was bit by the acting dog, not the bug…the dog. More on that in just a moment, but first a question.
Who attends Northwestern University and doesn’t get a job in acting? Graduates of that university are the likes of Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Megan Mullally, Ann-Margaret, David Schwimmer, Seth Myers, Gary Marshall, Stephen Colbert… the list goes on and on.
But as Patty will tell you she’s probably the most non-famous graduate of NWU, though in life what is true fame? Another question yet to be answered.
Patty does know that she loved the city where she attended school and perfected her craft, but the cold weather of Chicago was a deal breaker. She made the conscious decision as well not to head east to New York, or west to LA, but south, back home to Texas. Family concerns also pulled her to return and for a time she gave up pursuing her dream. Instead she worked, but unhappiness and feeling unsettled her attraction to the stage sent her back in pursuit of living her art.
That’s when the dog bared his fangs and life changed.
“Yes I was bitten by the theater dog, not the bug,” says Patty. “I went to this theater to pick up a script, but apparently I went in the wrong door and the director’s girlfriend had a giant dog and the dog bit me. The director and his lady friend were very apologetic, and I guess they felt bad so they gave me a role in the next show.”
Her canine encounter led to a few years of working in local theater, especially at Pegasus Theatre, where they perfected the art of Living Black and White – a performance, lighting and make-up which creates the illusion that the audience is watching a 1930’s-40’s black-and-white movie brought to life on stage.
“I worked a lot in local theater,” says Patty. “Mostly in comedy and then transitioning to improv comedy, which is one of the most fun and scariest things a performer can do. I have a good comic persona, even though I look a little meek I’m really not and I was always able to play opposite my personality. I actually worked in a troupe that did a lot of risqué stuff.”
Theater is also where Patty met Spencer, the man who would become her husband. They met in a movement class, ended up working together in theater and Spencer pursued Patty. “I had no intention of marrying him, but he chased me around asking me, so I said if I want to keep him around I better do it,” laughs Patty. Eventually she accepted the offer and took on her next role in life to become Spencer’s wife. It was an artistic collaboration that led, a dozen years later, to the birth of their son Chase. A marriage which took center stage for more than two decades, ending not by choice, but by chance.
Community theater doesn’t pay the bills and so Patty worked a number of jobs. But it wasn’t until her work at the FDIC, and the prospect of the government doing massive layoffs that she sat down with a job counselor who asked her why she was doing all this acting stuff, he told her she had a mind and a talent for business. “At first I was furious”, says Patty. “I told him you don’t know how hard I’ve worked and I’ve studied, but I sat down and thought about it and about five days later a friend of mine told me she got this offer to work at a company called Impact Productions. I walked in for an interview and these guys were playing foosball – and I said to myself, I love this place!’
“They were putting this TV show together called Common Courage, about quiet heroes who were improving lives and my job was to go out and collect footage and help get this show started. They hired me and I worked hard, but Impact also did live events for companies and I couldn’t help notice one of the companies they were working with, this sales organization called UGA, and all the activity surrounding this new guy in charge named Troy McQuagge. When the person in charge of doing the live events left, I ended up taking over to produce all the events for this company from 1997 to 2008. What was important to me is I got to see Troy speak, over and over again.”
It was the company Impact in synergy with the impact of a dynamic individual, who when life turned would also impact her own, especially when Patty’s favorite actor was about to star in his final performance of life.
In 2007 Patty’s husband Spencer started having back and stomach issues. A man who always took good care of himself, at first it was believed to be kidney stones, but after more testing and a biopsy, it turned out to be pancreatic cancer. “We were blessed about a million ways when Spencer got sick,” says Patty. “Pancreatic cancer is about as bad as it gets, most people live less than six months. But my husband was determined to live because Chase was only 7-years-old at the time and Spencer wanted to live long enough for Chase to know him.”
With the help of MD Anderson in Houston, some pancreatic specialists and Spencer’s will to survive, he ended up living with what Patty says was “a good quality of life” for the next 2-1/2 years, eventually succumbing to the disease in 2009.
But it was right after Spencer’s cancer diagnosis where Troy McQuagge directly touched Patty’s life. She says UGA was planning a Super Trip to Hawaii which meant Patty was looking at being away from Spencer and Chase for more than two weeks. Instead of living the separation, Troy flew both husband and son to Hawaii and put them up in a separate hotel for the entire time. “I would go to work during the day, interact with the agents and every night I would go back and spend time with my family. It also gave Spencer and Chase the time to be together and bond. When the company trip ended Troy extended our time in Hawaii for another week so we could be together as a family and have that memory. It was like a Troy McQuagge Make-a-Wish Trip.”
Patty also says her theater friends and that community also stepped up to help, especially when toward the end Spencer’s illness left him confused and forgetful and for much of the time unable to care for himself. But everyone pitched in to assist, providing meals and comfort. “I had been retired from the theater for almost ten years at that point, but it didn’t matter. So many people wanted to help and wanted updates on Spencer’s condition which I posted on Facebook. We were super blessed to feel so much love.”
After Spencer’s passing that life event and other changes with UGA led Patty to start her own business doing live event and video productions, eventually creating a partnership. Patty eventually dissolved the partnership and in 2011 Troy came calling. He said the original team from UGA and some others were building a new enterprise called USHEALTH Advisors and he asked if she would she like to participate. Patty says she didn’t hesitate, she accepted and joined in.
Patty will tell you herself she is a like a jack russell terrier, full of nervous energy – drawn to new experiences and opportunities and in 2013 she decided to take on one of her life’s desires and earn an MBA. She went to school and graduated in 2015.
At the same time, and as luck would have it, another opportunity presented itself with USHEALTH Advisors, a chance for Patty to put her degree and her outgoing personality to good use. She now serves as Vice-President of Customer Service for the company…developing her own system called PEAK.
Patty says, “PEAK stands for Performance, Enthusiasm, Ability and Kindness”. Patty says she wants her team to be the best of the best. She says she is working the “Troy culture” with her team and with the customers and agents they serve. This past year Patty’s customer service team has worked incredibly hard – an intense year of training, motivating, improving and growing, that they entered their story into the competition for a 2017 Stevie Award for Sales and Customer Service… Service at the speed of Sales. They are finalists and later next month will learn if they have won a Bronze, Silver or Gold Stevie. (The Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service recognize the achievements of contact center, customer service, business development and sales professionals worldwide.)
None of this is acting. For Patty it’s all so real – her time on stage, in theater and in improv served her well, teaching her to reinvent herself at every turn, in business and in life. Change happens and though life goes on without Spencer she has her son, 17-year-old Chase, an artist in his own right, and her USHA family.
Through all of her experiences and even more so today, Patty has discovered the role of a lifetime, one for which she is earning thunderous applause and worthy of a standing ovation…an act of service.
Until next time thanks for taking the time.