by Laura Foti Cohen
In honor of the New Year, this month we focus on New Beginnings, those major life changes that can take us in unexpected directions. We may ponder the paths not taken, but it is the paths we do take – where we live, the mate(s) we choose, our career decisions – that ultimately define us.
When Anne Luke’s husband left his job with Governor Pat Brown to work for President Johnson shortly after the Kennedy assassination, Anne’s life changed forever. The couple later relocated to Hartford, CT and Anne decided to follow her art. “My family didn’t think you could make a living at art, which was probably true.” Regardless of her career prospects, she entered a three-year program at Paier College of Art in New Haven.
“Eventually we returned to California,” Anne relates, “and I developed a huge love for minerals, something I’d known next to nothing about. I ended up on the board of the Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum. Through the council I’ve gone all over the world.” Among other places, Anne has visited gemstone areas Minas Gerais, Brazil, Idar-Oberstein, Germany, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. She is now the president of the Gem & Mineral Council.
Combining her artistic training and abilities with the knowledge gleaned in decades of studying gems, Anne began making jewelry. Recently she sold some of her pieces at the Ebell Christmas Boutique.
In the course of following her dream of show business, Nan Williams started over twice. As a child she sang in USO shows; as an adult, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue performing. But she “needed real money,” so transitioned into retail and started putting on fashion shows at Bullocks Wilshire, Saks and Bonwit Teller. Bringing her entertainment skills to bear, she narrated the shows, wrote some of them and did parodies for the employees. Expanding her retail skills, she moved into buying, merchandising and operations.
When she left retail, Nan decided to work part time for some friends who were doctors. “Their specialty was geriatrics and the patients would become overwhelmed by paperwork. I started going to their houses and helping them out.” She turned her helping into a business, Nan Inc., which has been in existence for more than 20 years. She does everything from balancing checkbooks to hiring caregivers.
“One of the hardest things was giving up my dream. From the age of seven all I wanted to do was be on the stage. When I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight, that I had to get a job and pay the rent, I made the transition.”
Was the transition out of show business difficult? Nan says, “You don’t give up show business, it gives you up. That’s true of any dream: when it ends it’s the hardest transition there is. You have to talk to your soul and say ‘make the best of it.’ The most important thing is to have a positive outlook. If you go into it thinking ‘I can do this and it will be good for all concerned,’ then you’ve already got a lot of the bricks knocked down already that are in that wall you‘ll probably run into.”
Portia Lee’s New Beginning started out almost whimsically. About 30 years ago she left California and a teaching job to travel in Europe. When the money ran out, “somehow I didn’t want to come back to California. I’d always liked the idea of Baltimore, so I just went.”
Portia worked as a nanny and attended Johns Hopkins for a year studying urban planning in a Masters program. “That taught me I didn’t want to be a planner,” she says. Instead, she moved to Washington, where she studied for her Ph.D. at George Washington University. “Baltimore turned me on to architecture and history.” Today she works as an architectural historian.
After serving as an assistant professor at UCLA Graduate School of Social Welfare (now part of the School of Social Policy) for 18 years, Laura Wiltz was ready for a career change. She made her New Beginning happen by following her heart – but planning, networking and hard work also played important roles.
Laura had volunteered for the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles while teaching at UCLA. Her experience and the YWCA’s focus on women’s empowerment made her think she’d like to run the organization someday. She also knew the CEO would be retiring. So she used the years leading up to that retirement to hone some new skills and position herself. She left teaching to work for the South Central Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled. While she held this job, she used connections and her new experience and was able to move into the role of CEO of YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, a position she held from 1990 to 1999. After retiring, she continued to consult for the national YWCA.
“Not all changes are unexpected,” Laura says. “They can be planned. Even when you plan it doesn’t always work out. I’d say I was fortunate in my transition. It wasn’t abrupt. I didn’t all of a sudden find myself in the water without an oar.”
After 20 years in the investment world, Jane Martin made an abrupt change – into rap music video production. How did it happen? A combination of chance, risk-taking and choosing the right partners.
“I was a marketing consultant in the managed futures industry. Some of my clients asked me to make a video of them talking about their products.” She enjoyed the experience so much that she enrolled in TV Production 101 at a local community college in the Bay area. “I discovered that on the basis of taking one class that the local cable channel would let me produce a public access TV show. So I asked a young man who was with me in the class if he wanted to do this with me.” Her son Michael, then a sound engineer, joined them and together they produced a show called “Music Scene.”
Jane continued in her day job and felt she was making a TV show “as a lark,” but when it got positive attention she decided to start a company. “I refinanced my house and we started Shooting Star Pictures out of my living room. Palo Alto was not the center of the music world. The boys told me the local music was rap coming out of Oakland. They asked for money to make a rap video of a local artist for the demo reel. On the basis of that, with my son as director, within five months we were making videos for L.L. Cool J, Ice Cube, Master P and all the big rappers.”
Through word of mouth, the company grew to be a major force in video production. Jane finally quit her day job and moved to Los Angeles, where she served as executive producer and oversaw a large staff, including 15 directors under exclusive contract. The company was twice nominated for MTV’s Best Music Video of the Year Award and also made eight movies.
And then there was another New Beginning: “The industry died, the company imploded and I retired. After that it took me a while to figure out what I was going to do with myself. It didn’t come easily. When you actually are retirement age, the things you thought you’d want to do don’t necessarily interest you. I had to do a big search to figure out what I wanted to do. [Hint: it includes singing in the Ebell Chorale.] I’m happier now than at any point in my life.”
Annetta Turner has been through a lot of major changes, both in career and lifestyle. “I’ve been married 36 years and it’s my third marriage. Three strikes and you’re out, so I’m fortunate to have a wonderful husband and family.”
Early in her career, Annetta was an EEO-1 (Equal Employment Opportunity) officer. She did fact-finding in cases as diverse as nepotism at a major entertainment company, discrimination at JPL and investigating reports related to the building of dams near San Bernadino.
Her career changed at the behest of her then-new husband, Lee. “He didn’t want me to work for the government anymore and felt I needed to be in real estate.” So she made the leap.
Her husband, Annetta says, “has always looked at our relationship as a team. In the beginning I was more interested in community service and helping other people. He was more interested in business, developing real estate with the federal government. We had a problem meshing two people with two careers. I had to back off a little on the community service and commit to getting into real estate. I started feeding my family and not everybody else.
“We learned that to work as a team we had to set up jurisdictions. That’s when things started to work very well. Since then we have been able to work 35 years together successfully and happily while raising our children.”
Annetta says it’s important to “greet each day with love in your heart because love is the key to success and happiness. I release the negativity of the previous day and treat each day as a New Beginning.”