Sometimes you’re born into family. Sometimes you choose family. And sometimes, families are born out of years of dedication, hard work, commitment and co-creation. I have been fortunate to be blessed with families of human beings whose lives were interwoven with mine in a way that allowed us to touch an incredible number of lives. I don’t think leadership is something one aspires to, and “a leader does not have to know it all. Great leaders surround themselves with exceptionally talented thinkers.”(1)
I would never have been able to come to New Directions for Women and accomplish what I’ve done without the abundance of hands-on learning, observing and mentoring I had at Seabrook House. Jerry Diehl and his wife Peggy were the founders. Very much a father figure, Jerry was the next significant man in my life who would die. He reminded me of both my father and my grandfather. Extremely hard-working, mission-driven, and political, he was a man who deeply cared about and committed himself to the well-being of his employees. The coffee pot was in his office and always on, a constant reminder of the safe haven he created for us, and his way of being able to see all of his employees throughout the day. I watched him, even later when he had cancer, still show up at work and remain true to his mission. When he eventually needed a wheelchair, he still came, just like my grandfather who was still showing up at family functions in his wheelchair. From Jerry I learned how to create a safe haven, not only for our women in treatment, but also for our staff.
Ed Diehl, Jerry’s son and vice president of Seabrook House, was 22 when he started. I was 18. We were both in recovery and went to lots of AA meetings together. At a very young age (35), Ed became president of Seabrook House after the passing of his father. For 26 years, Ed and I worked side by side. I functioned under and with him at almost every level of the company, learning every area of the addiction treatment world, until eventually becoming vice president of treatment services and leaving for New Directions at age 42. Ed had a heart of giving back, had positioned himself on various boards, and was influential in our field. So I watched. Also active politically, he was a model to me of how to listen to lots of people, absorb large quantities of information, and put it all together to present in a way that could be understood. He showed how important it was not only to take care of our organization, but also to maintain a presence in our industry.
Telling Ed I had decided to leave to go to New Directions was one of the most difficult things I ever did, but somehow we figured out how to stay together through all of that, and beyond. My third child still works with Ed, as director of IT. Mentor, teacher, confidant, colleague and friend, he was also like a brother. He always showed up for me, and I for him. In every aspect of our lives, whether personal or professional, we were like family. With never a question about whose side we’re on when difficulties come, our common ground is our commitment to and passion for the work we do.