To celebrate women’s history month, I’ve chosen to highlight one of my favorite personal influential women – my great Aunt Celia. She was one of three sisters, along with my grandmother Elizabeth (from whom I got my middle name) and my great Aunt Dottie. She grew up in an era where women married, had kids, stayed home and took care of the family.
I have so many fond memories of being at her house as a kid, but always remember the great conversations we had as adults about just about everything. My Aunt Celia and I had a lot of fun together and had a great friendship. She was thoughtful, a great listener, and always up for any kind of adventure, including going to a gay bar in her seventies. One of the things that I found so inspirational about Aunt Celia was how later in life after her husband, my uncle Sydney, had passed, she really started to engage in ways which were less typical for someone from her generation. She started painting when she was in her sixties and was extraordinarily talented. Within a few years, she had an entire wall filled with amazing artwork that she had created—everything from portraits, landscapes, and even what could be considered abstract art.
What I also got from Aunt Celia was an extraordinary sense of commitment to other people and to never being complacent. She knew her mind was a muscle and always kept herself busy. In addition to being a prolific artist, she worked at the Y at Highland Park for many, many years collecting lunch money and socializing with her regular group of friends. Aunt Celia took care of herself and worked into her late eighties. Until age 88, she was never seriously ill. Even then, she still took charge of making sure she did everything she could to keep herself healthy.
Independent and astute, and always one to make smart decisions, Aunt Celia knew when it was time to turn over her car keys and stop driving without someone else having to tell her. She managed her own affairs financially and did all of the smart and responsible things, including making all her own funeral arrangements. She made sure that her paperwork was in order so that she wouldn’t become a burden to anyone.
When she first got sick, I spent a lot of time in and around the hospital and rehab taking care of her. I would stay at her apartment or have her stay at mine, and I did all the grocery shopping. I had her key fob for Stop and Shop, and kept it even after she passed. To this day, more than twenty years later, I still grocery shop with that savings pass and think of her every time I do.
My company, DEK Leadership, is 100% women-owned, women-led, and women-run. In building my business, I think often about my Aunt Celia and seek to bring to my all-female team the same sense of purpose, nurturing, collaboration and fun. My friendship with her has helped me define my personal philosophy, and a culture of growth and support that help all of us here at DEK become the best that we can be.