MARCO ISLAND EAGLE • January 18, 2007

From the Peak Your Profits!® newspaper column by:
Jeff Blackman, J.D., CSP, CPAE
Business-Growth Specialist

© Blackman & Associates, LLC

To gaze into the future, often requires a brief peek into the past.

And I see before me a little boy. A little boy who at the age of six stands in his first-grade classroom. He’s asked by his teacher, Miss Northrup, to pronounce two words: “listen” and “rabbit.”

The little boy, confidently, proudly exclaims, “Wis-sin and wabbit!” And ev-wee-buddy waffs. So he repeats the words again, more loudly this time. Once more he says, “Wis-sin and wabbit!” And this time, ev-wee-buddy waffs even woud-uhr and wong-uhr.

The little boy goes home, tired, depressed and frustrated. He says to his pehr-ints, “My teach-uh, Miss Nawth-wup is cwazy, she cwaims I need speech caw-weckshun wessons. Can you bih-weeve that? She’s wong. I can too pwo-nounce my ahs and ehls, just wis-sin.”

Every day, that little boy works very hard on correctly pronouncing his Rs and Ls. Finally, one day, after three years of speech correction lessons, he’s able to enunciate, articulate and communicate. And I assure you, I know that little guy, real, real well!

Eventually, he grew-up to become a professional speaker, a business-growth specialist, an attorney, a radio and TV talk-show host and…the author of a book and newspaper column called, “Peak Yaw Pwofits!”

Yep, I’m that little boy! At the age of six, (unbeknown to me at the time), my life and career choice were being shaped, influenced. I’ve often wondered, what my life would be like if I had properly pronounced “listen” and “rabbit.” (Maybe I’d have played shortstop, batted third and led the Cubs to a World Series championship? Okay, maybe not!)

The reason I share one of my childhood experiences with you, is because it’s a story about a journey. A journey of results. Confucius said, “Every great journey begins with a single step.”

And those steps aren’t always sure and steady. Often, there are stumbles. Missteps. Or even falls. Yet the key, is to dust yourself off. To rise. And to give it another shot.

Those shots and attempts are significantly easier, when you have folks who believe in you, standing at your side. Encouraging you. Urging you to reach your potential. To stretch your self.

In my fifty years, I’ve been incredibly blessed to have lots of encouragers and mentors, who pushed, prodded and pulled me to excel. And one of my earliest, was my first grade teacher, Donna Northrup.

Even at the age of six, I knew Donna was a knockout! A stunning redhead. Yet most important, she believed in me. She knew I could convert ridicule to results. An impediment to talent.

Over the years, Donna and I stayed in touch. Yet the first time as an “adult” that I saw her, was in the summer of 2000 at a party. There, I gave her a copy of one of my books, Peak Your Profits, which featured the preceding “speech caw-weckshun” story. She thanked me. Hugged me. And cried.

Then, in January of 2004, I sent Donna my new book, Stop Whining! Start Selling! In the “Special thanks to…” section, I wrote:

Donna Northrup…My first grade teacher, who didn’t laugh when she first heard me speak. Instead, she cheerfully encouraged me to attend my daily speech cuh-weck-shun wessons. Little did she realize she was shaping my life and career.

The Chicago Cubs…As a diehard fan who bleeds Cubbie blue, you’ve taught me to always believe, dream, and imagine the possibilities, even though you keep finding ways to rip my heart out! While any team can have a bad century, let’s hope the 21st isn’t another one!

Then, in February of 2004, I got a call from Donna. She asked, “What are you doing on June 2nd?” I said , “I’m in-town, why?” She enthusiastically replied, “Since you’re a Chicago Cub nut like me, how’d you like to go to a Cub’s game and sit right behind the visitor’s dugout?” I exclaimed, “Cool! Do I have to turn in any missing assignments from 1963?” She laughed and said, “Be ready at 11:00, I’ll pick you up in a limo.”

June 2nd, 2004 was a memorable day. Almost surreal. I cheered on my beloved Cubbies, with my first grade teacher!

At holiday time, Donna and I would always chat. Catch-up. Reminisce. She was always interested. Encouraging. Teaching.

Then, in October of 2006, Donna was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. I was devastated. As were her friends, family and 33 year’s worth of first grade students.

When we chatted, she was optimistic, although accepting of her plight. She asked, “Jeff, do you think you can see your first grade teacher one more time?”

On a crisp, November, Sunday afternoon I visited Donna at her home. When she greeted me at the door with the help of a friend and her niece, I gave her a bouquet of red roses. The card read, “Red roses for my favorite redhead!”

Her face lit up. And she motioned me toward her kitchen table. We chatted for about thirty minutes. What I remember, is we held hands. We laughed. We began most sentences with, “Do you remember the time that…?” Or, “Whatever happened to…?”

Yet, what I especially remember, is the kitchen clock ticking. Loudly. With each tick, it erased another second.

Donna said, “Jeff, I’m tired, but so glad you came. She slowly walked me to the door. We embraced. And both said, “I love you!”

Just before Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 2006, we spoke again. Just wanted Donna to know I was thinking of her. With each conversation, she was alert, but her voice was softer. Weaker.

On January 7th, 2007, my favorite redhead began “teaching” from a new classroom. Located not in Lincolnwood, Illinois, but a far loftier place.

She’ll forever be missed. But never forgotten.

Henry David Thoreau, once said, “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look. To affect the quality of the day – that is the highest of arts.”

Donna Northrup Duffy affected the quality of my day. And the quality of my life. And I’m grateful.

Whose “day” will you affect? And who has affected your “day?”

Have you said, “Thank you.” Have you told them, “I love you!” If not now, then when? For remember, the clock is ticking…