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Thank you, Marion

This was taken with three of my bosses a long time ago, the only picture I have of Marion. Peter from the Gardner, who doesn't talk to me anymore because I ratted out a prior employee we had fired for having child porn on his computer who then got a job at a school, my dear Marion and Hetty, my boss at Carter's back in the stone age, also still a wonderful friend.

This post has all kinds of things that HR people aren't supposed to spill. We are sworn to a secrecy similar to an NDA, (which are hopefully going away soon). No longer in. HR I couldn't figure out a way to explain how important Marion is to me without giving you some of the grizzlies.

The first clue appeared when Irving was sipping his tea on the day we’d met, his pinky sticking out in perplexing, almost humorous contrast to his shiny, badly cut navy blue suit which could well have had an American Airlines insignia in a prior life.

But the most surprising thing was the noise when he drank, similar to that of a child when their milkshake is finished but there’s more to get out of the bottom. I looked to his face to see if it was a joke, then to Mike, expecting to lock eyes and communicate our mutual amazement with a straight face. But neither noticed me, they were busy talking at each other. I realized that despite Mike’s promise to let me weigh in on the hiring decision of my next boss, the deal was done and he wasn’t going to acknowledge any signs that indicated he might not have made the right decision. I suppose someone who, leaning back in his desk chair with his big belly showing in the gaps between shirt buttons while clipping his fingernails is unlikely to be put out by something as minor as an objectionable noise while drinking. I suppose they were two of a kind (both coming to similar endings).

It was not long after that I had to put Irving’s offer letter together, at double the salary of the prior director, and by then I’d had a chance to delve into his background and have my gut concerns confirmed. But I loved the BSO so very much; Symphony Hall, Tanglewood, the mission, my colleagues, the orchestra. I had to keep an open mind and give him a chance.

Irving arrived on his first day with two images on foam core boards to dress up the white walls of his windowless office. Declining the typical BSO posters most of us had, he chose an 18 x 24 amateur photograph of a turtle, blown up to a point that made it blurry and hard to see what the image actually was. On the other wall was Mickey Mouse.

He was wearing the same suit, which during his time as my boss, was alternated with one other, black but otherwise identical, and judging from the smell of stale deep fried food that eventually took over our offices, not laundered any too often.

From the beginning, it was bad. While I had, with two years in, significant autonomy before, he insisted I be his secretary as he didn’t know how to write a letter, spell simple words, have any knowledge of HR, benefits, employment law, the Symphony. I waited, thinking he’d pick up the culture, the ways of working. He didn’t. He had a practice of receiving employees into his office, closing the door, and then when they had left, asking me what I would do in a given situation. He would then invite them back and give them the advice I had shared with him. It’s hard to exaggerate his lack of knowledge, someone who sold cars and had never worked in an office would know as much as he did. He lied, and sometimes didn’t come to work, a director of HR. Friends told me to vote with my feet, but still in my twenties, I didn’t believe there’d be another place, another community like this one. And in retrospect, I may have been correct.

I went to his boss, the fingernail clipper. He feigned ignorance and told me to shut up and do my work. When there started to be implications resulting from his ineptitude, I got up the nerve to speak to the Managing Director who, with a similar aspect in height, beard and general looks to Abe Lincoln, would, when spoken to, peer intimidatingly down over his gold-rimmed half glasses and say “hmmm” and nothing more. He thanked me for my time. A few weeks later, when there was misrepresentation going on that would have significant legal and financial consequences, I tried again and got the same non-response.

If you know me, you know that obscuring my feelings is not one of my strengths. As Irving realized I was on to him, he became aggressive, using his authority to have me do demeaning things. There were others high up in the organization who were concerned and communicated their support to me, telling me to sit tight and eventually finding me an office away from his. But the blank face of the Managing Director, his literal lack of response was unnerving and caused me a great deal of lost sleep. As I began to see my mental health and personal life suffering, I sought a therapist.

Then one Monday he and his pictures were gone, though his smell remained for too long. . In walked a woman wearing a funky dress that was part leather, part knit, she had a New Yorkish vibe about her and always seemed to be in a hurry. She had funky glasses and perfect red nails. She spent the first few days behind closed doors, I would imagine cleaning up and advising on legal messes. When I finally got to meet with her, I made an effort to not begin our relationship with a cornucopia of complaints. But from her questions and comments, I knew she knew and she somehow communicated compassion without saying anything specific.. But I was still injured, it would take a while to restore my trust.

Perhaps the first encouragements were external and visual. Immediately, there was a different tone in our office and in the Hall Tulips, always,, a photograph of her young son, a giant box of Twizzlers, sometimes a crate of tangerines, sometimes one of cherries. She came in an hour early to read the paper and call her mom. Staff began to arrive in our offices, heavy and grey, leaving gentle, relaxed. HR became helpful, kind, able. We hired another person, she gave me a generous bonus and thanked me for hanging on during those difficult times.

Over her years at the BSO, Marion brought humanity to all of our work. Trust and respect were the glue of her relationships with MIT PhDs and immigrants who signed their name with an X. She had a natural ability to combine humanity and accountability that I’ve never seen in another human. She was direct when there was an issue, and always fair, honest, and egoless. She taught me how to straightforwardly confront an uncomfortable situation, acknowledging its presence while making room for compassion. Her ability to be successful at this is evidenced by the many people she had to fire who remained her friend after. . On a lighter side, her introduction of a Costco membership for staff and orchestra was an act that allowed us to be more informal and relaxed (Remember when it was not OK to talk about your personal life at work? This changed it for us). She also began an annual tradition of Latke Day, when orchestra and staff would take over the industrial kitchen to cook and eat latkes, using equipment that Marion brought in from home.

Marion was my boss for five years and during that time and after, our relationship deepened so that she became also my friend, big sister, mom, all combined. True to her style, while I reported to her she had clear boundaries, though she made her care evident. By my side for a new and troublesome boyfriend, marriage, miscarriage, family challenges, death of my father, divorce, another marriage, parenthood, career changes, a mother with dementia, another divorce, ethical dilemmas and greek pizzas at Woody’s, I’ve been the recipient of her profound generosity; love without judgement, her stories and great sense of humor, thoughtful actions, gifts and meals too numerous to count.

When Nat was born and in the ICU, Marion was the first person to come and visit. She held our baby with such love, the tears in her eyes brought the same to mine, and I wondered how anyone could be brave enough to express such clean and unadulterated love. That our baby smelled like Chanel No. 5 was somehow perfect.

Since Marion’s retirement and my moving away from life in an organization, we have more time. We no longer have rushed lunches that require jamming all our news into an hour.

Today, I’m sitting in the chairs outside Loeb’s in Lenox typing this on my phone and thinking about how lucky I am to be staying with her in Stockbridge, going to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me live at Tanglewood, while reviewing the rich tapestry of our friendship and her kindness. And there it is, another thing she’s taught me, a feeling of unadulterated love, for her. Thank you for everything, Marion.


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