A Tribute to Sally Widman: Mentor, Colleague & Friend

As much as anyone in my life, I owe my career (and therefore, much more) to Sally Widman.

Sally passed away this week, and I grieve the loss of her presence in our world.

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When we met in the fall of 1990, she was Director of College Communications at my undergrad school, Ursinus College. (If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a small liberal arts institution in Collegeville, PA.)

I was fortunate enough to end up in her office one day, seeking a work-study position as a student writer. And let me tell you, after a brief job as “morning-after campus trash-picker,” a desk job sounded pretty sweet.

Because I had no writing samples, Sally asked me to write up a press release. Of course, I did what I thought was the most brilliant thing ever — I wrote a news release announcing my hiring, complete with glowing (and fabricated) quotes from Sally herself.

She got a kick out of this what-I-now-know-to-be-hackery, and promptly hired me. And for the next four years, I happily spent five to ten hours a week crafting news releases on Berman Art Museum happenings, faculty and staff hirings, Handel’s “Messiah” performances and much more.  

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Under Sally’s tutelage, I learned the intricacies of PR writing. I learned the basics of journalism from her (despite also having taken Journalism 201) because I was applying them frequently. I had my first real “office work” experience, which was surprisingly warm and friendly — a reflection on Sally and her staff.

Eventually, she became advisor to “The Grizzly,” the student newspaper for which I was a columnist, then assistant sports editor and finally sports editor. It was her role to maintain the paper’s standards, and I made sure to do my best to support her in those efforts.

It was Sally who helped us upgrade (buckle up, Millennials) from MS Word-printed copy, hot- waxed to big mechanicals to PageMaker software. Learning that program gave me enough basic skills to be able to adapt years later to Quark XPress and other DTP software that I’ve worked with as a professional marketer.

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My first job was writing highly technical press releases and newsletter articles. Getting that job and keeping it would never have been possible without the learnings and experience I got by working with Sally. (What, you think I could have written the “Fiber & Fabric Finishings” newsletter for the textile/nonwovens industry without any training?)

I eventually moved over to the advertising agency world, and although I’ve had many positions and worked with clients in a wide variety of industries, I will always carry the skills and experiences I earned by working with Sally.

I was very fortunate to keep in touch with her after graduating, even in a “social media” kind of way. We shared a similar worldview and sense of humor. And she always took time to wish me a happy birthday or tell me that she thought the Facebook photo of my kids was cute.

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It’s been 18 years since I’ve graduated, and I’m 1,400 miles from Ursinus. But Sally Widman will be with me wherever I go in life, and I’m truly grateful to have known her.

I send my heartfelt condolences to her family and loved ones.

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[Re-posted from Sally’s Facebook page]

Sara Elizabeth “Sally” (Howard) Widman, 67, husband of George Parker Widman, Marian Ave., Trappe, died Tuesday morning, at Phoenixville Hospital.

Mrs. Widman was born on April 26, 1945, in Cincinnati, OH, and was a daughter of the late Benjamin and Betty (Slimp) Howard. She was a graduate of Withrow High School, Cincinnati, and the University Of Cincinnati.

A former newspaper reporter in Binghamton and Utica, N.Y., Mrs. Widman began work at Ursinus College as a part-time alumni magazine editor and writer in 1983, and was appointed fulltime editor in 1986. In May 1990 she was named Director of Communications, and in 2002, added to her title, which became Director of College Communications and Web Information. She retired in March, 2009.

Mrs. Widman wrote and edited major college publications and reports, and oversaw a Communications operation that resulted in high visibility for the college during the terms of two former presidents. She directed the web team/oversaw the website and led the effort to redesign the College’s online presence. As the college’s public relations officer, she was known throughout Collegeville, and wrote and edited most of the content in the Ursinus alumni magazines until the mid-1990s. She was a member of the College Choir and Arts & Lectures committee, and many planning and policy working groups.

Mrs. Widman was member of the state organization, formerly called College and University Public Relations Association of Pennsylvania (CUPRAP), now the Association of Communicators in Education, and was elected CUPRAP president in 2005. She was the recipient of the Don Hale Award for Service in 2009.

Mrs. Widman was a member of Trinity Reformed Church, United Church Of Christ where she sang in the choir and was a member of Heavenly Harmony. She also volunteered with local Democratic Party election efforts.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Widman is survived by her sons, Robert Duncan, husband of Irais (Olguin) Widman, Long Beach, CA, and James Parker Widman, Limerick Twp.; her grandson, Ethan Parker Widman; and her siblings, Frederick, husband of Michele Howard, Valley Falls, NY, and Lucy Hastings, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

The funeral service will be held at 11:00 AM, Friday, at Trinity Reformed Church, UCC, with the Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel, Pastor, officiating. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Friends may call from 9:30 to 10:45 AM, Friday, at church. Memorial contributions may be made to Trinity Reformed Church, UCC, 532 E. Main St., Collegeville, PA 19426; or the Trappe Ambulance & Fire Co., 20 W. 5th Ave., Trappe, PA 19426. Arrangements are by Holcombe Funeral Home, Inc., Trappe.

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4 Comments

  1. I was so sorry to learn of Sally’s death. I had known she had been ill for some time but not how seriously. I never her met her personally but enjoyed a cyber-friendship with her for several years, particularly on the Wordcraft forum and on Facebook. My condolences to her Friends and family. R.I.P.

    Reply

  2. Very nice tribute, Harley. I, too, owe Sally a great debt of gratitude for setting me on my career path. Sally hired me for my “dream” job, the opportunity to return to my alma mater (Ursinus) as Sports Information Director. It was a challenging and awkard position (for Sally and for me) since she was my direct supervisor but I didn’t work in the same buidling, or really even the same department as her. I was always so grateful that Sally let me do my own thing on a daily basis, but was always available as a sounding board and resource for me. I treasured the one-on-one meetings I had with her and always left her office wiser than when I walked in. I remember being so lost during the College Communications Meetings we had with President Strassburger where John and Sally would strategize, brainstorm, develop action plans, etc., for an hour while I sat there worried about writing a press release about the silly baseball game later that day. They are two of the smartest people (and strategic thinkers) I have ever been around. Later, with Sally’s blessing, encouragement, and guidance, I was promoted to Assistant Athletic Director. Sadly, I lost touch with Sally when I left Ursinus to become an Athletic Director, a position I have held now for nine years. I wish she would have known how thankful I am for the opportunity she gave me and for her mentorship, support, and guidance. My condolences to her husband, George, and the rest of her family, friends, and colleagues.

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  3. I never met Sally face-to-face. I knew her only from the many insightful, often funny posts she contributed to the Wordcraft forum. She was one of those people whose posts I joyfully anticipated reading when I saw her “handle,” Wordmatic, in a thread.

    I am not the least bit religious. When one’s gone, that’s it, as far as I know. Yet how is one gone if one leaves her wit, wisdom, and good works behind for others to enjoy? We never connected beyond electrons dancing off a screen, but she has left me smiling in remembrance, grateful to have known her in the way that I did.

    Geoff Sanders
    Selma, Indiana

    Reply

  4. Sally posted with us on Wordcraft, and I got to know her quite well there, through her posts and our Saturday chats. I have met her a few times, and we emailed frequently, even toward the end when she was so sick. I was struck by how positive she always was (well, about everything, except for my Cubs!), even when times were not going so well for her. I remember one last comment in her email was, “I am hanging on to dear life here.”

    I will miss her so much. It was such a shock to find that she had died. My heart goes out to her family because I imagine, like me, they didn’t expect this. I will remember her always and try to keep her positive attitude going. Good bye, Sally. The world is a better place because of you.

    Reply

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