Women’s History Month

While cleaning out a closet, I found a Christmas letter sent to me 24 years ago by a woman I had worked with several years prior. In the letter, Lisa introduced me to her first child, a girl, born a few weeks earlier. It is interesting the things you just throw in a box and keep for years. Re-reading this old letter made me wonder where Lisa and her family were now. Did she still live in East Tennessee where I had worked with her? Since genealogy is a hobby, I jumped on Ancestry to see if she had a recent public address record. I was shocked to find an obituary record instead. Lisa “went home to be with her Lord Jesus after a year long battle with breast cancer.” She was 58, married with three children.

1986 – Wanda behind desk at Signetics field sales office in Greeneville, Tennessee.

I had an unusual history with Lisa. I didn’t like her before I ever met her. I worked in a tiny, two-person sales office in equally tiny Greeneville, Tennessee for an international electronics company. The salesman in the office (no saleswomen at that time) sold and I, in an administrative role, processed millions of dollars of electronic components annually in service of a large television plant that was the sister company to our company. They were the second largest company headquartered in Tennessee at the time. Our little office grew to the point where we needed to add another employee to handle forecasting and scheduling of our products to the TV plant who had just converted to the new “Just in Time” method of holding inventory. I desperately wanted the promotion, but I found myself in the position of having plenty of experience but no college degree. Between raising two children, working full-time and being supportive of a husband who was teaching school, coaching, farming, and studying toward a master’s degree, when was I supposed to get a degree?

The company hired Lisa. Lisa worked at our company headquarters in Silicon Valley in a role like what we needed in our office. We had worked with her by phone and our salesman had met her on trips out to HQ. She was just what we needed. Lisa was young, smart, ambitious, willing to move from California to Tennessee, and she had a college degree. I entered what the salesman called my “snit.” I was polite but not overly helpful to this young woman who had just taken my dream job.

I really tried not to like Lisa, but she was utterly alone in Tennessee and quite out of her element. The girl did not know what a biscuit was and had never heard of Jesus. I unwillingly took on the role of “big sister.” I remember the morning she arrived at work bawling because she had hit a dog on the way to work. As we got to know each other, I shared Jesus with her. She told me that her grandmother was the only person who had ever talked about Jesus but that she personally didn’t know anything about Him. I gave her a bible for Christmas, the first one she ever owned.

News of my “snit” reached HQ and the lady from Human Resources came all the way from California to take me to lunch at Augustino’s, the best restaurant in Greeneville. She explained the company’s educational reimbursement benefit and suggested that I take advantage of it. She said it might help me later even if it didn’t help me get a promotion at my current company. To this day, I am grateful that Vivienne saw something in me. With Jerry’s encouragement and support, I started taking night classes at the local community college. Initially, I had no plans of getting a degree. That seemed to be an unobtainable dream.

1989 – Wanda on sales call at Philips television plant in Juarez, Mexico

After a couple of years with us, Lisa accepted a sales job with an electronics distributor and moved to Knoxville. The night classes at the local community college paid off and I was promoted into Lisa’s position though I still didn’t have a degree. We hired a new admin person to take my job and I moved into my first office. Lisa met her husband in Knoxville, started going to church with him and accepted Jesus as her personal Savior. Though never close, Lisa and I did stay in touch. After all, we were two of very few women in non-admin roles in the electronics industry at the time. I thrived and was given a sales title and assigned my own account. When she was offered a new position with another electronics company, she called me and suggested I apply for her job. By then, I had my associates degree, and I got the job. I sold wholesale electronic components to manufacturing companies in East Tennessee, worked from my home office and had a company car with a mounted cell phone. It was 1992.

Mine and Lisa’s paths were intertwined. We came from totally different backgrounds and lived vastly different lifestyles but, yet, God had brought us together for a reason. He put Lisa in my life to push me out of my comfort zone to become the person He meant for me to be. God put me in Lisa’s life to share Jesus with her even though, at the time, she didn’t know what that meant.  Lisa’s obituary said, “Lisa loved Jesus and lived to share His light and love to those around her, having an encouraging impact on many who knew her.” I planted a tiny seed, her husband watered and nurtured it and she grew into a mighty Child of God. Well done, Lisa. Once again, I am following your example.

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