I arrived in San Francisco the fall of 1992. My boyfriend at the time [now my husband], Ahmad Madjlessi, grew up there and given the chance to keep living in St. Louis or to move to a dynamic city in the Bay Area, I jumped for the chance to see the ocean every day. I packed my few belongings, my two-year-old son in my Datsun 510 and with my $500 in savings I was ready…San Francisco or bust! I never realized how quickly I would be bust-ed though monetarily.
Wow, it’s expensive to live in San Francisco (and that was 25 years ago!). I burned through that $500 in mere weeks. Ahmad and his family were so kind to let me stay in their home rent-free and work part-time in their family daycare. I wanted more, though. I came to San Francisco to work in the big city! So that winter I started looking for a job.
Every Sunday I would get the Help Wanted ads and started faxing resumes. I went on so many interviews; it was getting a little scary. I thought I would never get a job.
Then, I got a phone call.
I went into the 333 Market building that day in February 1993 having no idea what a “Marketing Assistant” was or anything about insurance. I met a really nice man named Robert Brumby. He had the most gentle voice and demeanor and do you know: I lied right to this man’s face!
“Do you know how to use a computer?” – YES! (No, I had never seen one!)
“Have you worked in a business office before?” – SURE! (I was in the McDonald’s cash office once, does that count?)
“Do you know anything about insurance?” – OF COURSE! (My dad paid my car insurance, is that good enough?)
Against all odds, Robert Brumby gave me a job. That job stood for so much more though. It was a chance for me to be independent for the first time in my life. I would be making $19,000 per year and have full benefits for me and my son. (Before you cringe at the amount, the most I had ever made at that point was $7,800 one year. I felt rich, are you kidding!) He may not realize how much of a savior he was in my life.
Think about it from Robert’s perspective: He took a chance on a naive girl from St. Louis who traveled more than 2,000 miles in a piece of crap car, to move in with a guy she met on the phone and start a new life in California where she literally knew no one. Those scenarios always go well, right? No family, no reliable transportation, shaky relationship, no permanent address – this is gonna go great!
Robert spent a lot of time refining me. From professional needs for the job such as communication, spelling and business politics to personal growth such as clothing suggestions, restaurant etiquette and office behavior. He was an example of all he taught. Through watching him, I also learned how to be:
- a good spouse (that boyfriend married me in 1993 and I had a great mentor in my boss showing me the ropes even though he didn’t know I was watching)
- a good friend (he remembered birthdays, laughed at funny stories and sat and listened to others when they needed it)
- a good boss (his patience is unprecedented)
So many others would have given up on me…and he never did. I knew he would get frustrated with me from time-to-time, but his threshold was so high that he kept those times at bare minimums. I was so lucky to find him out of all those interviews!
The BEST lesson from Robert?
I never forgot what he did for me and I pay it forward every chance I get.
Long after I left working at that insurance company and way before things like Facebook where keeping in touch with people is so much easier, I thought of Robert often. Part of the success I’ve experienced in my life is 100% due to the fact Robert took a chance and invested his time into a young woman entering a mostly male-dominated field of work to teach me how to be gritty, resourceful and look for purpose in my work. He gave me permission to ask for what I needed to be better and to keep learning – always be learning – to stay ahead. He told me never to settle. Today, I do this for those I work with because of the example he set.
Years later when Facebook became more commonplace, we reconnected. Since that time, Robert has been a mentor still offering his objective advice whether I want to hear something or not. I recently was able to fly to Atlanta and spend part of a day with him. I’m not bashful to tell anyone I love him. He’s been an integral part of my life and I wish I had a way to repay him for all that did for me. I try to do that through the person I am today: my interactions and my relationships – all to be an example to others of what I was taught so many years ago.
A few weeks I was able to go to San Francisco, retrace my steps up the BART station and walk into the 333 Market Street office building where Robert and I spent several years working together. I sat on those steps you see in the picture and took a moment to breathe in my gratitude.
Thank you, Robert Brumby.
I appreciate all you have done for me.
I love you dearly.
Be bigger, better and more BIONIC,
Sheryl Brown / @BIONICsocialite