This week we said good-bye to an amazing woman. Rhonda Parent was a wife-mother-daughter-sister-coworker-friend and party girl extraordinaire. And she was so, so much more to all of us who knew and loved her. I’d like to tell you a little bit about why she was so special to me, and the impact that she had on so many of us.
Rhonda was 46 when she lost her 13 year battle with breast cancer last Sunday, a week shy of her 7th anniversary as an employee of Ovation Benefits. Remarkably, she was the first employee we ever hired when we started the company in 2002–the first original member of the Ovation Nation after our merger. And she was so much more than we could ever have hoped for as a role model and inspiration for everyone who followed.
It may be helpful to understand a little bit about our business strategy and philosophy to understand exactly how lucky we were. When we started the company in 2002 we had a very simple vision, which we described as follows:
Our vision is to be “the place to be in benefits”, a dynamic, energetic and innovative organization attracting the highest caliber employees, customers and industry partners in our mission to help the people we serve to achieve their health and financial goals.
Mission accomplished!!! We didn’t have any clue at the time, but with our first new employee we fulfilled our vision–we had attracted the highest caliber employee imaginable! We were SO LUCKY- little did we know, but our first employee became the model for everyone who followed. Kudos to Bill Mauke and Joe B for finding her and convincing her to leave her comfortable surroundings at CIGNA where she worked for more than 15 years before.
We’ve since adopted a set of attributes that we look for in employees, our PATRIK principles, which could easily have been coded in Rhonda’s DNA:
- P-Positive energy
- A-Ability to collaborate
- T-Taking ownership
- R-Running with the Ball
- I-Inspiring others to reach their full potential
- K-Keeping personal ambitions aligned with our company mission
We also launched a peer nominated quarterly award-the PATRIK Award- a few years ago to recognize the employee who best exemplifies these attributes. Not surprisingly, Rhonda won the first time we made the award in an absolute landslide. It wasn’t even close-like I mean 55 to 0 unanimous landslide! I know she was so proud of that honor because she was so proud of our company and so proud to be honored by her peers who she respected and appreciated so much.
As we speak, our internal workgroup that oversees the award is in the process of redesigning the criteria to more explicitly honor Rhonda’s memory and the fact that she inspired all of us in so many ways. She was PATRIK.
As she began to fail earlier this year, we had a long line of Ovationites who were willing to give their time to be with her through her treatments and appointments- to drive her to and fro, to help out in the office and at home, to make a meal or share a meal, or just to sit with her during weekly chemo. Dozens of us took advantage of the chance to spend a little time with her and to try to shoulder just a little bit of her burden. And she let us, not because it made it things a little easier for herself but because of the time we got to spend together. She did it for us because she new how special she was to us. (She was many things, but humble she was not!)
So what made Rhonda so special anyway??? To me, there are three things that stand out. First, she had an incredibly positive attitude–not a flowery, always sunny, always bubbly positive attitude, but more of a ”no b.s” positive attitude, if there can be such a thing. She expected others to share her sense of perspective, to appreciate all that is good in life and to not dwell on the negatives that are all around us. By having this attitude herself and (more importantly) EXPECTING OTHERS to have it as well, she raised the bar and lifted all of us with her. Like Larry Bird, she made us all play better.
Secondly, she was a party girl in a pink, fun-loving, I-am-the-life-of-the-party kind of way. As her husband Ricky said a million times, “It’s all about Rhonda”, and it really was. Always laughing and smiling and dancing, Rhonda dragged everyone else to her happy place whether we wanted to go or not. She was in the middle of every company party and event that we ever had, and whether she was feeling up to it or not, she always knew when to put her “game face” on and focus on the party at hand. And to the cops in Avon, her “Pink Party” at the Marriott is still the talk of the station house.
But most of all Rhonda was courageous beyond belief. Like so many people who have endured cancer treatment, she was ravaged–and I mean all of her. Her body, her mind, her spirit, her family, her friends and most of all her psyche went through hell and back–years and years of procedures and treatments and drugs and assorted other stresses and abuse that I can’t even begin to imagine. Yet through it all she smiled, and she laughed and she cried and she fought and she worked and she played and she lived her life with a spunk and spirit and energy and passion that inspired everyone around her and made all of us say “Wow-what an incredible woman…”
I like to think of myself as a pretty successful person, and like all successful people I have had the incredible luck and good fortune to work with a lot of very special and talented people. But I only worked with one Rhonda. In my 23 years working in the “real world”, no-one has ever had a bigger impact on me or my success. She taught me about people, how to treat them and how to spot the best. She taught me about faith, how to believe and how to persevere when the going gets tough. And she taught me about life, how to fight and how to live to the fullest. Rhonda inspired me, and her memory will inspire me for the rest of my life.
Please join me in sharing your thoughts and memories for her husband Ricky, her sons Austin and Nick, her Mom, Brother and Sister and everyone who called Rhonda a friend.