Earlier tonight, I was cooking salmon for my two kids while simultaneously Facebook chatting with Catherine Mayhew, my first-ever professional boss.
Probably against her better judgement, in the summer of 1994 Catherine hired me to fill the food and fashion writer opening in the Living Dept. of the Nashville Tennessean. I was 22 at the time, cocky and unbearable and straight out of the University of Delaware. I knew nothing about food and even less about fashion but—for a reason I don’t fully understand—Catherine took a shot on me.
“You don’t have to be an expert,” she advised early on. “Just ask lots of questions and do good work.”
Well, I asked lots of questions. If there were, say, 200 food-and-fashion writers across America in 1994, I would have ranked, oh, 200th. Not only were my pieces poorly reported, but they were—without fail—filled with one error after another. Before long, the local weekly, The Nashville Scene, was regularly teeing off on my crap work. There was, I later learned, talk of firing me. The act would have been justified.
Catherine Mayhew, however, stood by me. And up for me. Again, I’m not sure why—but she did. She actually had me moved to the police beat, where I would be forced to focus on facts, facts and more facts. She gave me regular pep talks, bought me a menorah, advised me on women and interpersonal relations and life in general. When, in 1996, I told her I would be leaving the paper for Sports Illustrated, she was euphoric. Not because I was leaving (at least I don’t believe that’s why), and not because she had taken a shot on me. No, I’m pretty sure it was because we shared something unique. A bond.
I digress. Tonight, my salmon was burning. So I asked Catherine what to do, and after a while we connected via Skype. It had been years since we’d seen one another and, even though the audio wasn’t working (we IMed instead), it was priceless. I showed Catherine my kids, and her face lit up. I showed her my salmon, and she nodded her approval.
When I look back at my career and, really, my life, I think of the people who helped me land where I am. My folks, obviously, and my wife and kids. But not far behind is Catherine Mayhew.
And the salmon was excellent.