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I’ll never forget the wonderful manager who helped me manage my life

I’ll never forget the wonderful manager who helped me manage my life

She was there for me when I needed it most.

Linda gave me the inside scoop about the characters in the department and boosted my self-esteem with her gentle feedback.

During the days of faxes and printouts, I went home to Cape Town after a dreadful employment experience. After being unemployed for seven months, I saw a newspaper advert for a senior administrative officer.

To my relief, I was invited for an interview and interviewed by a panel of bureaucrats. One of them was a woman who would stay in my heart forever.

She was my supervisor — kind, firm, loving, always taking pride in her work. Linda’s customs and humanity kept our little team of five bonded like family.

I was overjoyed to start an adventure in another city, known for its summer thunderstorms and streets carpeted with jacaranda blossoms. I accepted the job and was offered state-sponsored accommodation until I could save for my own place.

After three months of living in the Manhattan Hotel in Pretoria, I found a bachelor flat in Sunnyside. Hotel life is alienating and impersonal, so I was thrilled to find my own little place. You can only eat so many delicious meals alone.

The flat only came with a stove. The rest was a daunting, lonely space with a half bedroom and blue carpets harking back to the 1970s.

On the day of my move into the flat, the entire work team and their families pitched in. Trudie and her husband, Schalk, loaned me an army camp cot, pots and pans, and a black and white television.

Linda brought crockery, a landline telephone and a picnic of pizza and soda. My housewarming on a blanket on the lounge floor couldn’t have been warmer.

When one of us had a birthday, we collected money and chose a special gift. My gift was a lovely yellow teapot. Linda baked a cake, brought sodas, and a birthday card that we all signed. The birthday parties were held in her office.

When I had a personal crisis, she bought me a plant and a tiny card, which I kept all these years. She taught me how to write minutes and walk submissions from office to office until they reached the director general.

She showed me how to finesse the old managers: speak to them in Afrikaans, never comment on their hour-long tea breaks, call them “meneer”, and play the little woman. I didn’t mind. It eased our work. I was privileged to learn the basics from such a humble person.

Linda gave me the inside scoop about the characters in the department and boosted my self-esteem with her gentle feedback. We attended ministerial briefings, advisory meetings, and field trips together. I never saw her without a smile, and she often spoke of her family.

One day she told me that she’d learnt to touch type to help her husband with his business, an active show of love. Linda took great joy in training dogs in her free time.

When I adopted a kitten from a work colleague, my wonderful manager allowed me to keep the tiny, skittish girl in my office for the day, litter box and all. She was allergic to cats but still played on her knees with my new girl, Miss Snoekie.

When I had my cat sterilised, I was distraught at her pain and attempts to tear out the stitches. Linda allowed me a day’s leave to take care of Miss Snoekie.

Linda offered me free driving lessons in her burgundy Opel, sacrificing her Saturdays and risking her car. She truly cared about us. There wasn’t any expectation of better performance. We respected and loved her.

After two years, I applied successfully for a promotional post a few blocks down the road. We stayed in touch, and she continued mentoring me when I was stuck.

When I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter, and that Sunnyside was no place to raise a child alone, Linda bought some baby crawler outfits and drove me and the renamed cat, Stinky Damon, to the airport.

Over the years, I tried finding Linda on social media. Last week, to my delight, I found her on LinkedIn.

She responded with a lovely message, painting the broad strokes of the past 20 years. She’s a grandmother who is leaving the rat race soon. We shared our joys and sorrows, and she expressed a desire to have her stories ghostwritten. What an honour that would be.

I’ve spoken to my daughter about Linda so many times, because she was the centre of the community that made me flourish in my career, in a strange town. That was the strongest, most genuine sense of community I experienced, at a time when I needed it most.

Cheryl Damon

Change expert, Cheryl Damon, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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