Remembering a Mother-in-Law Who Embodied Resilience & Leadership

It is only fitting that as this Mother's Day rolls around, I stop to remember the person who raised and nurtured my husband to be the loving, humanitarian man that he is.

My mother-in-law was ahead of her time. If she had grown up in my generation, she would have been a highly successful business woman. I was always impressed with her pride in being a smart woman. There were a number of things that activated her to feel passionate and excited, the primary one being when women she knew would achieve and succeed. She always championed my drive to grow in my professional life, and often her support and cheer was far greater than that of my own peers or family. In a way, she got to live vicariously through my success and my rising position in the work world. From my own vantage point, I strongly sensed her angst at not being able to have more access to getting paid for what she was worth and gleaning respect that comes with compensation.

My mother-in-law was smart as a whip and, while frustrated and unhappy about the limitations placed on her by social norms of gender inequality, she took on the challenge by becoming a leader, joining the men on boards of directors, finding her way to emerge in her own sense of power and influence.

In last week's obituary on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer Metro section, Jorja Fleezanis, violin professor in Bloomington, Indiana and founding concertmaster of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in the 1970s, said she was "one of the great missionaries of the arts. You couldn't say no to Florence. It was one of her greatest traits." The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra was a "cottage industry," Fleezanis said, before Florence helped set up its board of directors, obtained donors, promoted and arranged performances and even sold tickets.

How did she know how to do these things? Clearly, she was a self-taught person with an instinct for understanding organizational structure and the necessity of fundraising to sustain long-term growth of any organization. She was a natural leader, confident, gutsy, with a keen strategic mind. She was a get-things-done kind of woman, the volunteer extraordinaire that any organization dreams to have working on their behalf.

Last week, Florence assured the doctor that she wanted them to do all they could to resuscitate her. At that moment, I realized that my mother-in-law at age 94 and a half was happy. Despite gasping for breaths and being in pain, she continued enjoying her day-to-day life -- enough so that she wanted to stay on for a while longer. What a gift -- to know that one could feel that way up until your final days. Thank you Florence. We will miss you and your legacy will remain in our hearts.

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