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.

A post-election post

I don’t normally talk politics on my blog, but it’s darn-near impossible to not address the major paradigm shift we’ve just begun as a country. So I’m going to try to be as objective as I can – drawing on my liberal arts undergrad studies (thanks, Ursinus College) and my journalistic training (thanks, Temple University). (Apologies, Dear Reader, sometimes I’m such an academic snob/dork.)

Barack Obama won in a landslide because he ran a campaign about hope that inspired millions. John McCain lost for a variety of reasons, but the major one being that his campaign wasn’t very McCain-like.

I really wanted to see a civil campaign in which the candidates discussed their positions intelligently. I wanted to see political advertising that was more about “what I’m going to do for you” and less about “the other guy’s flaws.”

While Obama seemed to live up to my expectations, John McCain didn’t. The man who built his reputation as an aisle-crossing, let’s-work-together Congressman ended up approving attack ad after attack ad. His campaign trotted out the anti-American, anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright, even though Sarah Palin’s wacky clergyman was praying for protection against witchcraft and hosting anti-Semitic guest speakers.

McCain approved messages talking about Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, a “domestic terrorist.” Obama, to his credit, never discussed McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five corruption scandal of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Americans had a simple choice: positivity vs. negativity. And after the past eight years, it was time for some good old-fashioned American hope.

P.S.: Although I am personally very happy to see Barack Obama win this election, I am also glad he made sure to note in his victory speech that our nation’s problems won’t just go away because he won. But I think he’s the right man to lead our country out of these troubled times. And I wish him all the luck in the world.