Post-Gazette photograph, 2020
I first met Linda when one of my advisors invited me to a private meeting of business owners in 1992. Mike told me that he joined the group because he rarely found organizations where owners could meet privately to air their challenges to peers. The meeting was at the Duquesne Club, and I was a young entrepreneur in my 30’s. I considered this an honor to be invited. He also raved about the facilitator of the meeting who convened us. He said she was one of the sharpest strategists he had ever met (he had been in business for over 20 years and I considered that high praise coming from a guy who had built a multi-million dollar business by himself). I went.
When I walked into the private dining room there were twelve other owners. All had built large businesses, were wearing suits, and were sitting at a table laughing and talking. They were all early. I would learn that successful people do that, including Linda. The woman who was the facilitator sat in the center of the table as the chair. She sat all of 4 feet high in a wheelchair with an aid sitting in a chair in the corner and a personal assistant sitting at the table. She wore a simple, beautiful dress, great shoes and great jewelry, a high kind of squeaky voice, a disarmingly charming smile and a direct gaze that was riveting. “I’m so glad you could join us,” she said. The other members turned to assess me. But I was there as her invited guest. That was my ticket.
That was my first meeting of the Chief Executive Officers Club. The facilitator was the owner and Editor-in-Chief of “Executive Report Magazine,” Linda Dickerson. The members of that group read like a Who’s Who of successful startup entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh. Linda was a Carnegie Mellon graduate and became a trustee eventually. I met with Linda and that group for many years. She changed the way I thought about doing business in Pittsburgh. I was from Philadelphia but married a Pittsburgher and settled here. She changed me as a human being. I went home that night and told my husband about this amazingly smart, insightful, well-connected woman who understood business better than anyone I had ever met. And yes, she had a debilitating illness that somehow, by the grace of God and sheer will and intellect, did not appear to stop her for a millisecond. We did become friends. She did change the way I viewed most challenges in life. If Linda could overcome it, then I damn well better.
For the next 28 years, we remained friends. Mostly, we would meet for lunch (always at a hotel or restaurant with a dining room willing and highly cooperative to handling clients with a disability). We met over email. During COVID we relied on it. She remembered every detail of every conversation we ever had. She had a formidable intellect and no issue was unsolvable. We would talk for hours about business, music, art, current events, people, politics, and family. When I started helping my favorite nonprofit five years ago, she also became a consultant, wisely guiding me on how to restart this small but struggling organization. When I talked to her about a meeting I wanted to have with a local foundation, she said, “invite me to attend.” She came in her van, with her staff. The foundation accommodated us all and directed most of the conversation to her. If we could pass the Linda Dickerson evaluation, we were going to be taken seriously. Over the years she had transferred her passion for business into helping nonprofits build more sustainable organizations. She did not just fund raise. She helped organizations succeed from the inside out. When we were designing our sustainable model and meeting with her regularly at her office downtown, she suggested we use the same model that she built the Chief Executive Officers Club on. Our organization, PowerLink, did that and now has, for the first time in its history, a sustainable program that can help local entrepreneurs doing less than $1M per year at a very low cost for years to come.
But mostly, what I will miss most about Linda, is that she was the most amazing caregiver of people I have ever met. I felt deeply cared for by this woman who remembered more about the details of my life than I remembered about my own. She remembered all about my husband, my children, my pets, my hobbies. When my husband died last year, she didn’t come to the funeral. She just checked in with me in the middle of the night every few weeks for a year.
Linda would have been celebrating her 60th birthday in January 2021. She was 5 years younger than me. When we first became friends, I used to pray that her illness would not take her early. She was such a special human being and I knew I would not know many people like her. We had 28 years as friends. She died suddenly in her sleep. Like any sudden loss of someone we love, it is so terrible, so painful, that it is impossible to comprehend. I do believe she is in Heaven and has already start re-organizing up there. She has left enormously large shoes to fill. I am glad for that in a way. The measure of our time on this Earth is the lessons we have learned and the impact we have made. Whether anyone writes about it or not, her impact will be felt by thousands of people and organizations for many years to come.
The day after she died, I was traveling out of town. My youngest daughter, Annie, sent me a text: “Not sure if you heard about Linda.” Annie and her friends helped Linda move to a temporary apartment while her condominium was being renovated. Annie organized five friends to help Linda move. Annie was 14 at the time and Linda treated her like a grown up and paid her like a grownup. Annie never forgot it. I know many people who have “Linda Stories.” She made the most important life events seem effortless. You were only damned by her if you talked about it but didn’t try.
Linda taught us all something: how to learn for the rest of your life, how to share, how to architect a plan and execute a plan, how to deal with people, how to be a friend, how to solve a problem.
PowerLink honored 25 people who changed our trajectory in 2017. It was our 25th anniversary. Linda was one of the honorees. She came to support us. With her special chair that accommodated her and her speaking equipment because she could no longer speak. With her entourage of an aid and a personal assistant. We built a ramp to ensure her safe entry to our event. She was there to support me. She didn’t have to accept the award in person, but she did. Because that was who she was as a person.
I am writing this as a personal tribute for a friend I loved deeply who also loved me and my family. But in this very short life that we live on Earth, we can accomplish only so much. So, thank you, Linda, for showing us that with the same 24 hours in a day that we all have, what one person can do.
Much love, A.
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