Catalyst (noun) – an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.
“Behind every successful leader is an important, supportive person.”
For me, that person is my wife, Sally Conner Davis. May 29, 2019 was our 50th anniversary of marriage. While I believe God is a constant catalyst in my life, I also believe He’s given me a life partner who also has helped serve His purpose. Without her provoking change or action throughout our relationship, I would not have been able to achieve a fraction of what I have. (Just for the record, she’ll really dislike that I dedicated this post for her. Sorry, sweetie, but this story needs to be told.)
It all started innocently enough. I was sitting in homeroom at McCaskey High School in Lancaster, PA, thinking about asking someone out for a date, and then Sally turned around and I had one of those jaw-dropping moments you see in the movies. I had known her because we were both in the same homeroom at for three years and in the band together, but had never really “seen” her until that morning.
I saved my lunch money for a month to buy tickets to “The Temptations” concert that was going to be held at F&M College and asked her in the hallway if she’d like to go with me. She seemed enthusiastic – either with the prospect of seeing one of her favorite groups or going with me – and that was the beginning. Except that the concert was cancelled at the last minute and we ended up at a last-minute party a friend threw together. This would become a theme of the unexpected throughout our fifty years together.
The hallway at J.P. McCaskey High School where I first asked Sally on a date (October 1967)
Sally was from a home where her dad was an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II and an engineer who had started his own company. So he had standards for his three daughters and who they dated (and I definitely didn’t fit the approved criteria). A year-and-a-half later, we eloped and were married. Some predicted our marriage would never last more than six months (I’d love to talk to them today).
When we returned to our first apartment – a third floor, “furnished” walk-up in Lancaster – we had $205 to our name (because Sally had $200 in savings – she always said I married her for her money). I was going to Millersville University full-time and working at Lancaster County Farmers National Bank full-time as a computer operator in the afternoon and evenings. Sally was working full-time in a law office and going to school part-time. We didn’t know what we didn’t have, but we had opportunities to work for where we wanted to go. Once I graduated and began my career at Hempfield High School as English teacher and wrestling coach, she went back to Elizabethtown College, where she got her degree and began her teaching career.
Sally’s career went from teaching high school business to banking to raising our sons to running the office for a friend who started a business in the construction industry to getting her Master’s Degree in Reading and becoming a Reading Specialist.
I left teaching and worked for an international business, then worked for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry before becoming an executive coach, leadership development and strategic planning consultant. I started my own business, Conversations, Inc., in 2008 and set up my “global headquarters” in my home, where I’ve been able to serve people internationally, nationally, and regionally. I went to seminary in the early 2000s and became ordained, and serve as Associate Pastor in my church. I’m approaching sixty years of playing the tuba in many local groups.
We both discovered our purposes and were fortunate to be able to express them through meaningful work. (Sally retired in 2015; I have no plans to ever retire.)
Catalyst for My Education and Career
I couldn’t have achieved any of this without my wife’s encouragement, support, organizational skills, and love. During college, I can remember coming home after going to school from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm, then going to work from 2:00 until I was finished, and Sally insisting that I get my homework completed or study for a test – which she’d help me complete by drilling me on my notes. Before we were married, I “squeaked” by my first year. After marriage, I was on the Dean’s list every semester and graduated with a 3.4 grade average in four years. I couldn’t have accomplished this without Sally’s help.
As a young teacher, I was dedicated to my work and often worked long hours. The reason I was able to work those long hours was because of my wife, who took care of much of the household work. “Acts of Service” is Sally’s main love language.
As my career path went from teaching to business to non-profits to coaching, Sally was the single supportive constant in my life. Many friends wondered why I was on what seemed a random path. Even I often wondered why. Sally’s quiet strength and confidence in me served as the “agent that provoked significant change or action.”
Catalyst for Our Family
When we first got married, we often talked of having many kids – a dozen at one point! But as we considered the financial realities of having a family, we thought maybe two would be about right- especially on a teacher’s salary (teachers were woefully underpaid in the 1970s and 80s).
She suspended her career as Business Teacher at Elizabethtown School District and had our two sons, Marc and Kyle, and we decided that she would become a “stay at home” mom. Sally is a great mom (and an even better grandma) who put her sons’ needs first and did everything she could to support them – something she continues to this day.
Sally began working part-time for our friend who had started a business and she became his “back office,” taking care of the important details that allowed his business to build the momentum for long-term success.
Catalyst for Kids
When our sons were attending elementary school, Sally began volunteering as an aide. She fell in love with helping little kids learn to read and decided to earn a Masters Degree in Reading from Millersville University. After receiving her degree, she began teaching reading at Elizabethown Middle School, then became the Reading Specialist at Farmdale Elementary School in the Hempfield School District.
This began an incredible 25+ years where Sally touched the lives of so many children who struggle with learning to read. Many came from dysfunctional families and some had parents who were clueless about parenting (or worse). During her career, if Sally would have brought home the children who touched her heart and wanted to just give them the love that any child should have, we would have had about 2500 additional residents in our home.
One of the most touching stories that showed how Sally served as a catalyst in kids’ lives is the story of a young boy of about 5 or 6 years old who came to school every day with nothing – the same clothes, not too well washed or groomed, dirty teeth, and often, nothing to eat. In Kindergarten and First Grade, it’s a big deal to bring “treats” for your birthday. Sally knew that this boy would not be bringing treats, so she found out when his birthday was, lovingly baked a batch of cookies, and gave them to him the morning of his birthday to give to the class as “his” treat. There are many similar stories of Sally’s kindness in helping kids get some kind of trajectory for their lives.
The Next Fifty Years Fund
We’ve been married fifty wonderful years and have received God’s instruction and blessings in so many ways – a growing faith that has served as the bedrock of our lives together, two sons, daughters-in-law, and loving granddaughters who have added meaning and joy, careers around which we’ve been able to realize and align our purposes while serving others, and experiences that have enriched our lives. We have been truly blessed.
When we were thinking about our fiftieth anniversary, some friends began asking how were we going to celebrate? Buy a beach house? Take a “world tour?” Get that sports car you always dreamed about? We asked ourselves, how could we impact the next fifty years? How could we make a difference while providing an opportunity for our sons and granddaughters to share in the blessings we’ve received and support our vision?
Sally had always had a heart for under-served and disadvantaged children that she came in contact with during her teaching career. Her quiet, steady love and care of those kids has always been an inspiration to me. We have supported the work of Water Street Mission for many years and their work with providing the homeless with a dignified, faith-based path towards self-sufficiency. We talked to our advisors and, with the help of the incredible Jessica Mailhot at the Lancaster County Community Foundation, “The Next Fifty Years Fund” was born. Click the link to find out more about how this fund benefits homeless children and children in poverty.
My wife has been the single person in my life who has been supportive through every stage of my career and life. She’s been my best friend, my rock, my lover, and my partner in life. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without her. I am so grateful that she said “yes” that October morning in 1967, said “yes” that December day in 1968, said “yes” on May 29, 1969 and continued to say “yes” throughout the last fifty years.
If you’re reading this, thank you for helping me become me. I love you.
© Geoff Davis, 5/31/19