I first met Pamela in the fall of 2012. Our charter bus idled as we gathered inside a remote conference center surrounded by nature to kickoff the Opening Retreat for Leadership Nashville. I was one of 44 individuals in our class, each of us with different backgrounds and outlooks on life, shaped by our unique experiences.
We were comprised of bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, activists, and educators; some of us working in arts & entertainment and non-profits, while others in healthcare and corporate settings for international brands.
And then there was me — a 32-year old, freelance, self-taught graphic designer. I lead the charge for the city’s oldest young professional organization at the time, but was convinced that people consistently wondered how exactly that had happened.
My first steps into the room were intimidated and cautious. I knew no one, but soon met Pamela. With a pillow in tow, she walked slowly and stiffly. She was determined not to let back surgery get in the way of this opportunity.
We sat a lot, listening to speakers and occasionally participating in interactive breakout sessions before loading the bus for a 2-hour trek up the mountain. She had to be suffering, but none of us ever heard her complain. I never saw her without a smile.
Over the weekend through our various activities, we familiarized ourselves with Pamela’s laugh. It was the type of laughter that was full and sincere; the type that made whomever caused it to feel proud and accomplished.
I learned this morning that Pamela shared her middle name, Joy, with my mother and grandmother. This is a perfect descriptor.
After our Opening Retreat, I never coordinated time to see Pamela outside monthly Leadership days or coincidental run-ins, but that didn’t seem to matter how she received me.
She and I served on an Arts & Entertainment committee for five years that followed. Even though, I’d grown in confidence and transitioned my career from a freelance gig to a corporation, I still felt a little small walking into a room of seasoned professionals. It was always a relief to see Pamela waving her hands in recognition with a hearty smile stretched across her face.
Warm, thoughtful, resilient, passionate, dedicated, and kind. I feel these words fall short of who Pamela was, but for how little I knew of the life she lived before our class came together, it’s how I’m remembering her today.
In the wake of her passing, one of our classmates said, “I resolve to be more like Pamela from now on.” I think that’s the best legacy one could ask for.