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.