Monday, April 24, 2017

COLUMN: Christy

When I first started as a Telesales Rep here at the Dispatch-Argus -- you know, in the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we chiseled the paper out of granite -- it was essentially my first real job out of college.

Sure, I'd spent a year behind the counter at a record shop, and worked third shift at an answering service for a bit, but the Dispatch was my first time ever stepping into a professional office setting. And it was a little scary.

Salespeople, as a rule, generally have strong personalities. And when you put a room full of strong personalities together, it can be intimidating, especially to a perennial slacker like me. When I first started, sometimes I'd sit at my desk listening to all these Type A personalities milling about and think, "What on EARTH am I doing here?"

And then I met Christy.

Christy Cravens sat at the cubicle across from mine, and was one of the folks tasked with showing me the ropes. By the end of my first week, it felt like I'd known her my entire life. Christy loved to talk, and it didn't take long for me to learn all about her family, her kids, her problems, and her absolutely unfiltered take on life. This was a woman who had one of the biggest hearts I'd ever encountered, and without her encouragement and friendship, I don't know if I'd still be sitting at this desk today.

That big heart gave out last week, and Christy left us all WAY too early. I only worked with her a handful of years, but I hope she knew what an lasting impact she had on those of us lucky enough to know her.

She wasn't always easy to work with. She could be crass, she swore like a sailor, and she often let her emotions get the best of her. In other words, she was human. In fact, she was one of the most human humans I've ever met. I don't know anyone who wore their heart on their sleeve quite like Christy. There wasn't an ounce of fakery to that woman. And if you ever got on her bad side -- and we all did from time to time -- she'd let you know, and in no uncertain terms.

But if you were her friend, she was fiercely loyal. If my car was in the shop, she was always there to lend a ride. If I was having a bad day, she'd call me at home that night to let me vent my frustrations. Some nights when I'd leave work after a snowfall, I'd find my car locks de-iced and my windows brushed clean. One autumn, when one of our co-workers purchased her first home, Christy drove her kids all the way from Rock Island to Colona just to make sure there'd be trick-or-treaters ringing her bell. She was THAT kind of a friend.

She could even be loyal to a fault. One afternoon, I got back from lunch to find Christy passionately defending a co-worker to our manager at the time. Before any of us could react, the discussion escalated into a monologue of highly colorful vocabulary and helpful suggestions as to where certain opinions could be shoved. Then she stood up and marched off, never to return. Our office was never the same.

She never knew it, but Christy taught me more about sales than any seminar or book ever could. She taught me that you don't have to pander or be fake or schmoozy to close a deal. Just be yourself, be a friend, and be honest. I used to listen to her on sales calls, and when she was talking with one of her regular clients, she knew everything about that person and their families, kids, and pets. She wasn't doing it just to close a sale. She was genuinely interested in these people and their lives and just wanted to be their friend.

For Christy, though, nothing was as important as family. Whenever she'd bring them into the office, she was never not smiling. Back then, her kids were grade schoolers. A decade later, I was getting lunch when I saw a familiar face wave to me from a passing car and realized Christy's daughter was now old enough to drive. This summer, I'll be DJing her daughter's wedding reception -- and if I know Christy, she's already negotiated a deal with St. Peter for a front row seat.

Seasons change. People come and go from your life. That's just the way things work. But if you're lucky enough to meet one or two whose memories stay with you forever, you've beat the system. I'll never forget the walking force of nature that was Christy Cravens. She taught me that it's okay to be myself. She showed me that it's okay to stand up for what you believe (except maybe with a few less f-bombs.) She showed me what true friendship is. Christy's heart may have given out too early, but her lessons and legacy will be in ours forever.

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