“If you light a lamp for someone it will also brighten your own path.”
When Keith and I got engaged, I was working in the Alumni Relations Office at my Alma Mater, Dillard University. While planning the wedding, Keith searched for our first home, and I searched for a new job for my new life in Baton Rouge. Not sure of what I wanted to do, I took the State Civil Service test for possible employment with the State.
The area of Communications and Marketing seemed to be a good fit because of my English degree and experience at both the Mayor’s Office and Dillard. I landed an interview with the Louisiana Department of Revenue for the Press Secretary position. Even though I knew I didn’t have enough experience to be a Press Secretary, I hoped my interview would be impressive enough for an opportunity for a job in another capacity, if possible. I wasn’t chosen for the Press Secretary position, but a few weeks after the interview, I received a call.
I received a call from a gentleman, who introduced himself as Byron Arthur, the Press Secretary for the Louisiana Department of Revenue. He said he was calling because he was looking to fill a Public Information Officer position, and was given my resume because I had an impressive interview with the Secretary a few months prior. I can’t lie…the conversation was so easy, it almost felt like someone was pulling my leg. Byron’s warm, friendly and disarming disposition with wit to boot gave me instant comfort, and by the end of the conversation, we arranged to meet over coffee.
I’m sure I was nervous because I wanted to live up to any expectation he may have had based on the Secretary’s recommendation. From the moment we sat down, everything felt right. We spent the morning exchanging background information about each other, and I explained I was looking for a new job because I would soon be getting married to a “Baton Rouge” boy, and needed to relocate. Ironically, Byron was also from New Orleans–commuting, actually, so our conversation shifted the way all conversations shift between “New Orleanians”. Next question out of both of our mouths was, “Who are Your People?”
Our breakfast meeting turned into brunch after we discovered not only were Byron’s parents and my grandparents very good friends, but they also attended the same church in Pontchartrain Park. I would say “small world”, but it is New Orleans, after all. Nobody from that place has never met a stranger. From that moment, it became apparent our relationship would be a solid one, but I didn’t realize at the time, what kind of influence Byron would be in my life.
From the time I started working at the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR), Byron was more than my boss; he became my mentor and friend. There wasn’t a moment he didn’t take the opportunity to teach me the ins and outs of Public Relations. He taught me how to write press releases, deal with media, and buy and earn media…all valuable tools to ensure I developed to the best of my ability. He even did things he didn’t have to, like include me in the Governor’s’ Communications Committee so I could be exposed and interact with other experts in the Communications field from the other state agencies. At times, when he would be scheduled for a morning show interviews at the local television station, he would tell me to come to “observe”, but once I got there, he’d tell me I was doing the interview so I could get accustomed to doing live television interviews. I could never repay him for all of the things he did for me professionally and personally. What makes him most special is the same kindness and care he’s shown me through the years, is the same kindness and care he shows to the young men he coaches Debate at Holy Cross High School (his Alma Mater); it’s the same kindness he showed to his mother; it’s the same kindness he shows to anyone he calls a friend.
Years have passed since we’ve worked together, but our friendship remains strong. Lifes obligations makes it difficult for us to visit as often as we’d like, but we call each other to catch up whenever we can. I always look forward to his call on my birthday because he never tells me, “Happy Birthday.” After a few minutes of catching up, he says, “I was just calling you today because I always think of you on the anniversary of the May 3rd flood.” “Has anyone ever told you about that flood?” On May 3rd, 1978 as my parents prepared to celebrate my first birthday, the cake was ordered at Gambino’s and ice cream bought, but one of the biggest floods in our area (at the time) happened that very day. My mom laughs at the fact that Gambino’s called her a week after the flood, asking if she still wanted the cake. Along with being a “Renaissance Man” in his own right, Byron has a sense of humor that feels like home to me because in many ways he has the same type of sense of humor as my dad, husband and Big Daddy. He never understood why I was never shocked by his shenanigans, but once he met Michael, Keith and Bernard, he quickly understood why I was so “adjusted”. I jokingly tell him he’s “nutty” just like my people, but at least he’s in good company–the BEST company I know!
When I reflect on the impact my friendships have had and continue to have on my life, I feel blessed beyond measure. God didn’t have to put such good people in my life, but favor ain’t fair. Byron has been a constant friend and mentor to me, and I could never thank him enough for the person he is. He believed in my potential when I didn’t know what my potential was and he never had any expectation of me, except for me to believe in myself.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Byron’s dad because he passed before we met, but I did have the privilege of spending time with his mom, Ms. Dee, who he affectionately called “Mother Dear” Delores Taylor Arthur (Ms. Dee) was an amazing teacher, singer, mother and friend and she had the absolute best sense of humor. She even gave my folks a run for their money, and that’s saying a lot! I know he misses her dearly, but I hope he knows she’s in heaving smiling down on him every day. I’m grateful for her life because without her, there would be no Byron, and if half of the world raised wonderful men like him, the world would be a much better place.
I look forward to the times we share, and I look forward to him calling to remind me of the anniversary of the “May 3rd Flood”. It’s definitely something worth celebrating, I think.