Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The gift of Joan Zimmerman

The most popular story I've written this year was a piece about Glam-mas (glamorous grandmothers) that featured three Glam-mas including Joan Zimmerman, president of Southern Shows and grandmother of four - all of them in their 20s.

If I had to do the story over again, I would add in Joan's age because it confused readers that someone who looks so young and is so vibrant had grown grandchildren. When I got that comment I would ask how old they thought she was and the most common response I got was 60.

Yesterday, Joan's female friends gave a surprise 80th birthday luncheon for her at the Duke Mansion. Yes, you read that right, 80.

It was hosted by Angie Allred, Mary Lou Babb, Marilynn Bowler, Pat Boyd, Sue Breckenridge, Betty Chafin Rash, Diane Davis, Crystal Dempsey, Kristin Jackson, Sis Kaplan, Linda Lockman-Brooks, Cyndee Patterson, Moira Quinn, Becky Rizzo, Lisa Sheffield, Marcia Simon and Velva Woollen.

Impressive, huh? And that doesn't even begin to touch on the room of around 100 amazing women who joyfully celebrated Joan - among them Sarah Belk Gambrell who is also a beloved legend in Charlotte's philanthropic circles.

Everyone enjoyed mingling and sipping on lemonade inside the gorgeous mansion before we got the word to gather outside to greet the birthday girl. Joan truly looked surprised when she got out of the car and everyone started singing Happy Birthday.

After we were seated for lunch Mary Lou Babb, Marilynn Bowler, Linda Lockman-Brooks, Marcia Simon,  and Stephanie Counts said some really wonderful things about Joan and her contributions to Charlotte.

The British babe's presence here has been among the greatest gifts Charlotte has ever received. As president of a successful company, that would win her honors enough in this business savvy town. But Joan has also been a tireless champion of too many good causes to mention here, especially those devoted to helping women and the underprivileged. She has also been a loyal friend to many.

What really resonates with everyone fortunate to know Joan is her sparkling, fun personality that's as bright as her wit. She's one of those people you love being around because you always learn something new and somehow she always throws in a thought or observation that challenges you to be a better person.

I often tease her that she and her husband, Robert, go to more events than I do. You may think you're at a great party but it really isn't officially a party until they show up.

The speaker that cracked up everyone at the birthday party was Joan's baby sister, Nora Kuester. My favorite story Nora told was about how during her school days, Joan was fed up with watching the school bully harass those who weren't strong enough to stand up to him. One day she tackled him and began pummeling him with her fists until the headmaster had to pull her off. Then the headmaster began beating the boy for "getting" into a fight with a girl.

"I still hate bullies," said Joan with a glint in her eye that made me glad one wasn't standing nearby or she would have pounced.

Nora ended her talk by saying that as much as we all think of Joan and her accomplishments and dedication to her friends, her generous devotion to her family is even greater. The fact that she has achieved so many accolades, but was able to hold her family together and be there for them every moment is in my opinion her greatest achievement. Nothing is worth sacrificing your family for. Joan is so on the ball she truly figured out how to do it all and look fabulous in the process. All we can do is look and learn.

The next time you see Joan at an event - and you will - thank her for what she's done for our community and for what she continues to do. After all, she's a gift. And when you receive a gift you should always be thankful.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Coco Killian and the art of beautiful handwriting

You wouldn't think a plain manila envelope would create a sensation, but after Coco Killian adds her artistic flair that's exactly what happens. 

Coco dropped off some information to me about this year's Charlotte Assembly Debutante Ball in an envelope that had such beautiful handwriting on it, I've kept it displayed on my desk. Almost everyone who has walked by has noticed and appreciated her skill. Here's a photo so you can see what I'm talking about:

You just don't see lovely handwriting often, so I had to call Coco and find out more.

"When I was in 2nd Grade, I was visiting my father's old home place and found a little box with nibs that used to be used for dipping in an inkwell and the wooden handles you attached them to," she told me. "Someone else gave me an old inkwell and I started messing around with it."

By the time she was in college at Virginia Commonwealth she was doing a lot of pen and ink work and took some script lettering classes. Coco went on to get a master's degree at Pratt Institute in New York City and started a career in graphic design that eventually led her to a successful tenure at the Observer as a leader in Creative Services.

She decided to leave the corporate world years ago. During that time she began creating invitations and addressing envelopes for friends and became in such demand that she now does it as a business. She still gets requests from close friends who call and ask her to just sign Happy Birthday on a card they plan to give someone because it makes the greeting extra special. 

"I always tell them sure, just bring it by. For me it's relaxing and what I like to do," she said.

It saddens her that young people aren't being taught the art and skill of penmanship anymore. "I notice now that some people don't even know how to hold a pen - no one has taught them. I call it the monkey grip. You can't write with a pen if you have it in a death grip."

Beautiful handwriting is becoming a lost art, but thankfully there are people such as Coco who are keeping it alive. 

If you're interested in contacting Coco about having her apply her talent to your invitations or other project, email her

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sometimes you have to be a diva

I'm just back from a week of vacation in the North Carolina mountains. The last thing I did before I left was send out a Tweet saying that the segment I taped for The Debra Kennedy Show was airing May 12. It turns out there was a technical problem, so the segment didn't air until a week later, May 19, so my apologizes to anyone who tuned in on the wrong night.

Debra was nice enough to send me a link to the podcast, so I watched it on my new iPhone while on vacation.

My segment is about 10 minutes long with a short break in the middle. Here's the link:

It was thrilling for me to share my passion for my job, my thoughts on the future of the newspaper industry and how I make my life work.

My husband John, an opera singer, was a huge help to me in preparing to be on TV and I think his advice to "do my homework and then visualize greatness" that I wrote about in a previous blog helped me tremendously.

After John watched the show, he had some more advice that I wanted to share: Be a diva.

That's because right before the cameras starting rolling, I took a sip of water. It smudged my lipstick, which I didn't realize until the episode aired.

"Why didn't you look at yourself in the mirror?" he wanted to know.

I told him that seemed a little high maintenance. He gave me this ultra dramatic look honed by years as an opera singer. With his eyes wide and his nostrils flared he said, "Sometimes you have to be a diva!"

He's got a point. If I'm every lucky enough to be invited to be a guest on a TV show again, I will make sure my "costume and makeup" look perfect before I "go on stage."

One thing that did look perfect is my hair. I owe that to my hair stylist and dear friend Nikki Wilson at Salon Red 11 on Woodlawn Road. Debra Kennedy told me she received comments from viewers wanting to know how to get in touch with Nikki. To book an appointment, call Nikki at 704-236-0834; e-mail her at; she Tweets at @Queencityhairdo.

Here's a photo of Nikki and and her own fabulous hair:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tips from the Prince of Hype on how to be your own cheerleader

While growing up in Charlotte, Devan Smith took advantage of every opportunity to pursue his dream of being a star in the entertainment industry.

As a teen he landed roles as extras in movies shot here, and later became known nationally when he was a featured performer in the music video for Mary J. Blige's hit "Family Affair."

When he moved to L.A. to take his career to the next level, he found that he had a talent as a hype man - the person responsible for getting the crowd pumped up before the tapings of TV shows, or on the red carpet where he appeared on awards shows for Nickelodeon and BET.

 "I had no idea I could develop a skill that would be in demand," he said. This summer, he'll be hyping the national Dub Magazine's Auto and Concert Tour, which makes a stop in Charlotte on June 23.

Known professionally as "The Prince of Hype," he's now calling Charlotte his home base again because it's so easy to fly out of here for his entertainment and hype gigs.

When he was living full-time in L.A., one of his secrets for standing out in the crowd was using an article of clothing to help him get noticed, especially if it showed he was from the South. One of his favorites was a Charlotte Bobcats hat.

That's ironic since Devan turned his hype skills to the Charlotte Bobcats this year. Not an easy task, but he loved every minute of it. "You can knock a champion down, but you can't knock a champion out," he told me. "There's always next season."

I asked him for his tips on how people can use the wisdom and craft he's learned as a hype man to be their own best cheerleader professionally and personally. Here's what he had to say:

Professional Hype Tips:

  • Your first job is to have fun - that sets the tone and pace. Leave your issues and situations at the door when you come to work. 
  • You have to believe in what you're doing or you won't succeed. 
  • You're only as good as your last game,project or deal. Even if things aren't going well, you still have to give 110 percent.
  • You have to be loyal. No matter what is happening, always give your best. Whatever you're doing, you're a part of history at that moment. 
  • To get people excited about your business, you have to understand your audience and what motivates them. You also have to be selfless. It's not about you, it's about connecting with others and getting them energized.

Personal Hype Tips:

  • Don't be afraid of change. You have to reinvent yourself to stay current. 
  • Always remember that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. 
  • We all have a talent we're supposed to execute while we're here on Earth. If you don't know what yours is yet, stay open-minded and don't be shy. Get out there and try things.
  • Never stop learning. (Even though Devan has been in the entertainment business for 13 years now, he is always developing his skills and working on his craft every day.) 
  • No matter what your dream is, always have an education to fall back on. It will help keep you grounded. (Devan uses his degree from UNC Charlotte as a project manager on construction jobs when he doesn't have a gig lined up.)
  • You can do anything you want to do. There are no limitations except the ones we put on ourselves. 
  • Learn to love a challenge, and always find a way to contribute positively to your community.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Scientific Fact: Guild of Discovery Place is a Charlotte treasure

Guild of Discovery Place board member Sheryl Gerrard invited me to the group's recent spring meeting at Charlotte Country Club. I'm so glad I accepted her kind invitation because it was such an interesting event on so many different levels. I learned new things, met new people and most of all discovered why the guild, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is such a Charlotte treasure.

If you're interested in being a part of the group that supports the science museums Discovery Place and the Charlotte Nature Museum, the guild is looking for new members.

I asked  member Joann Fischer her thoughts on who the target audience is and she said, "Anyone who has a great love for science, nature and children."

She joined years ago when her son, who loved science, spent so much time at both Discovery Place and the Charlotte Nature Museum that she figured she should volunteer. Her son is now a Physics and Math major at The College of William & Mary, but she continues to volunteer because she says the guild has become like a family for her.

I see why she feels that way. What an interesting group of women! (It's open to men, also, but the volunteers right now just happen to all be women.)

In honor of it's 50th anniversary, the guild released an updated version of its cookbook called "Recipes & Reminiscences: Celebrating 50 Years." It costs $12 and you can purchase it at the gift shops at Discovery Place and the Charlotte Nature Museum.

Proceeds go to the guild's scholarship fund, which helps children participate in museum programming. It's shocking when you hear the stories from guild members of some children who come into the museum not even knowing what a chicken is, so the need to expose children to science and nature who might normally not get the chance is of tremendous importance, and that's what motivates these volunteers.

The cookbook is also filled with history about the guild and really wonderful photos, including the photo at the top of this blog taken in 1976 of guild members including Peetie Davant (center, in the white dress) who hosted the luncheon.

For more information about volunteering, go to

Read more here:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

'Mad Men' martini luncheon

As fans of the TV show "Mad Men," and the 1960s era Madison Avenue workplace excesses it chronicles, my friend Susan Triantafyllides and I hatched our plot at a recent charity event: We would have a martini lunch on a weekday just like our favorite characters from the show indulge in and see what happens.

We picked Capital Grille uptown because it had that sophisticated, classic vibe we were looking for. And, as modern party girls, we know not to drink and drive, so it was within walking distance of my work and convenient for the designated driver who chauffeured her to and from our rendezvous.

We both looked through our closets for the perfect modern "Man Men" lunch attire. She wore a twin set and pearl jewelry. I wore a black pencil skirt with a demure silk top. We felt we looked the part as we walked through the bustling restaurant filled with business people. We knew we picked the right spot when our waiter immediately asked if we would like a cocktail or martini. We both ordered vodka martinis straight up (she's a Kettle One girl, I'm Stoli through and through). I'm not going to tell you how many we had - only our waiter knows for sure.

We analyzed the most recent "Mad Men" episode. Susan loved the part where Don Draper looked down the elevator shaft into oblivion. I told her my obsession with The Beatles song "Tomorrow Never Knows" that was played at the episode's end and how to me it signifies the beginning of a new era and how Don Draper is completely uninterested in being a part of it.

Our waiter looked a little nervous when we still hadn't ordered anything to eat, so he brought us some calamari that he says was "his treat." That's waiter-speak for please, please eat some food to soak up that alcohol.

Susan and I didn't work out any major business deals. But we laughed, we talked about serious things, and we laughed some more. And we did eventually eat lunch.

Then we looked around and realized that we were the only two people left in the restaurant. She called her chauffeur and I hitched a ride because suddenly the walk back to work seemed like a long way.

Was it fun? Absolutely! Would I do it again? Maybe. Could I make it part of my work week like the characters on "Mad Men"? No way.

When I got back to my desk, I realized I needed a secretary like one from the TV show who would clear my schedule for the afternoon and not let anyone in my office so I could take a nap on my couch.

I needed a Roger Sterling to come by my office and engage me in witty banter.

Instead, an editor told me to get my copy in because it was getting late in the day.

I wasn't ready for reality, so I went on You Tube and searched for "Tomorrow Never Knows" and lost myself in the video and music for a few minutes before getting back to work. I know Don Draper wouldn't approve, but Roger Sterling would be singing along with me.

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing

And ignorance and hate mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing

But listen to the colour of your dreams
It is not leaving, it is not leaving

So play the game "Existence" to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ode to Tommy Tomlinson: Hair today, gone tomorrow

You may have heard by now that one of the Observer's most talented and beloved columnists, Tommy Tomlinson, is leaving to write for a national online sports startup. Today is his last day in the newsroom, so if you hear a collective sob coming out of the Observer's corner of uptown around 5 p.m., that's why.

We've all met people in our lives who were really nice, authentic and fun to be around - but not that talented. And we've all met people who were really talented - but were toxic to be around.

What makes Tommy so special as a person and a professional is that he is both interesting and enjoyable to be around AND he's talented - his writing skills and the connection he has to his readers are off the charts. People like that can rule the world, or make you wish they did.

What you may not know about Tommy is that he also has a great head of hair.  From my desk, I have a direct view of his cubicle and whenever I get overwhelmed I always seek out his fabulous follicles peeking out from the top. It always instantly soothed me. Tommy's here, everything is going to be OK.

But after today, he won't be at the Observer anymore.

Gratitude means nothing if you don't share it, and I never told Tommy the things I just wrote until I found out he was leaving. That was my mistake.

Every day while I had the chance, I should have told him how much his joyful presence meant to me and what an inspiration he is as a writer. Well, maybe not every day. That would have creeped him out. But I certainly shouldn't have waited until the end of the 20 years we've worked together.

If you have a Tommy in your life - someone you admire and who has made you a better person just by being around them - thank them now because you never know what tomorrow brings.

Earlier this week, Tommy gave a special talk at work where he told us the Top 10 mistakes he made in his journalism career so we could learn from them. He also shared some of this information when he was on WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins radio show the next day.

Here's his list. Tommy will be based out of Charlotte with his new job, so if you see him out and about you can thank him for his words of wisdom. And don't forget to compliment him on his hair.

1. Don't be late. Show up early and stay late for events because that's when the good stuff happens. Interesting things rarely happen in the middle. It's early when people are anticipating an event, or late when they're analyzing what happened, that you find out the best information.

2. Don't stay at your desk all the time. One of the favorite quotes he's read is "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world."

3. Don't leave the good stuff out. When writing about an event you've covered, think about what you would have told your best friend about it and make sure that gets in the story.

4. Don't fight over every edit. There's a perfectionist streak in all of us, but you have to know when to let small things go.

5. Don't forget that you're the professional. If a few people don't like what you're doing, don't change for them.

6. Don't stay in the box. Every upward move he's had in his career is because he figured out what wasn't being done well and then figured out how to do it well.

7. Don't worry about awards. We all laughed at that one because Tommy has won multiple prestigious awards. But his point is that winning awards shouldn't be your goal. If you do good work, people will recognize your efforts.

8. Don't forget to have fun.

9. Don't lose yourself in your job. Don't be that person who doesn't do anything other than work. That makes you boring. Experiencing life is what makes people interesting.

10. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

11. Always give people a bonus. And in this case, his bonus was an extra tip: Don't quit. If you're in a field that you love, don't give up. For Tommy that field is journalism and he knows he wouldn't be happy doing any other kind of job.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Debra Kennedy's reminder: Longer view matters, too

Beauty queen and TV host Debra Kennedy is a triple crown winner. She's been a Mrs. North Carolina in the America, International and United States pageant systems. She's also host of The Debra Kennedy Show that airs at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays on Time Warner Cable channel 21. 

I first met Debra years ago when she was a volunteer at the Heart Ball and I liked her instantly because of her warmth, beauty and giving personality. She's become one of my favorite people that I run into on the social scene. 

I have tuned into her show many times because I like the way she uses her passion for positive living to help others be the best version of themselves possible. 

When she e-mailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would be one of her guests, I was flattered and flustered at the same time. I'm very introverted, which surprises people because of my job as the social editor.  
I absolutely love  interviewing people and shining the spotlight on them, but when the roles are reversed I get uncomfortable.  

So I said yes, because as long as it's in the context of something positive, you should never let your doubts or fears hold you back. Afraid to walk down a dark alley at night? Don't do it. Afraid to speak in front of a group or go to that function or ask for something you want? Do it. 

My husband, who's an opera singer and thrives on performing in front of thousands, gave me the best advice: "Do your homework, then visualize greatness." 

So I did my homework. I went on and looked at past episodes. I learned that solid, bright colors work best on TV and that blue is the most universally flattering.  Debra told me she was going to ask about my job and how I balance life and work, so I thought of how I would answer those questions. 

Then any time I thought about being on the show, rather than worry about it I would visualize that I was going to do a great job. Did I succeed? I really won't know until the episode airs (they tape a month's worth of shows on one day so I'm not sure yet when it will be on TV).  But I do know that even though I was still nervous, my husband's advice helped me do a better job.

No matter what the end result is, I'm so glad I pushed myself to do something different because it was a fantastic experience and I learned so many new things. I got to see where the public access studios are, meet Debra's talented staff and hang out in "the green room" (it really was green). Kind staff members ran around with clipboards in their hands.  I got to know several super nice young beauty queens and their mothers (and one dear ol' dad) as the young women were waiting for their segment where they were going to model sundresses. It was all very exciting and fun. 

Once the cameras started rolling, Debra did ask me one question that I wasn't expecting: "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" 

I can't stop thinking about it, maybe because I used to be someone who knew the answer. But like many of us, my main goal over the past few years has been to stay out of the unemployment line, so I haven't allowed myself to think beyond that in a long time.

I encourage everyone who's reading this to ask themselves that question  because it helps you dream and use your imagination. And that helps you realize where your heart is. Then do your homework and visualize how great you're going to be.