The 2005 ATHENA® Award recipient’s lifetime of helping others, despite struggles of her own
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
In ANEW Magazine, August 2005
Kids, don’t try this at home.
Jody Glynn Patrick had made up her mind to wallpaper an ivy-patterned trim along the top of the upstairs hallway in her far southeast Madison home. The problem: one of the walls was also part of the two-story stairwell leading to the kitchen level and on down to the den. There was no way to get to the top of that wall. Not even with a ladder. It was just too high, the steps too narrow, the den floor off at too sharp an angle.
So Patrick created a way.
“I stood on the outside of the banister of the top of the stairs, with one foot on the edge outside the railing and one foot propped against the opposite wall.” Having trouble visualizing the feat? That’s because it’s impossible – for anyone but Jody Glynn Patrick, that is. “That’s where I wanted that trim,” she says. “I wasn’t giving up.”
And that last statement pretty well sums up her approach to the many challenges she’s faced in life. Especially when home and family is involved, Patrick makes happen whatever needs to happen. And she does it with individual flair.
It fits her as the intrepid interior decorator of her home, which she has painted in confident shades of sage, navy and cobalt, where two-toned rooms abound, and which is filled with unusual, highly personalized elements like photo mosaics from family albums on antique trunks and posters – and even directly on walls.
It describes her approach to her full-time job as the publisher and vice president of In Business, the Madison-based magazine owned by Magna Publications that she’s helmed since 1997. “I have a passion for two things at In Business magazine,” says Patrick. “Quality product and ethical treatment of employees and clients alike.” She’s succeeded with both. Not only is In Business a profitable and highly regarded publication, but it’s also the 2005 recipient of the Wisconsin Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in the small business category.
It explains how, after growing up in a household estranged from grandparents and kept from knowing the identity of her father until well into adulthood, she could become a self-taught genealogist, establishing a rock-solid family tree of 2,000 names, including notables like Noah Webster (“The first cousin to my great-great-great-great grandfather,” she says, matter-of-factly rattling off a precise sequence of “greats”) and Orville and Wilbur Wright. She’s parlaying the knowledge she’s acquired through the search into a series of middle-schooler’s history textbooks to be titled I Am an American, in which her ancestors’ stories will be told in first-person vignettes. “Everything will have a moral dilemma,” she says. “Being an American is a very complex thing. I have relatives who owned slaves. I have Quaker relatives who were active in the anti-slavery movement. Ancestors who were sucked in by the gold rush, who died on the pioneer trail.” Why cast the stories as children’s books? “I’ve learned about a whole different nation than I read about in school,” Patrick says. “I want to preserve that nation for my grandchildren. And if I would do it for them, why would I not write this for all children?”
And it explains how, faced with a diagnosis of late-stage breast cancer in 2000, Patrick not only survived, but also co-wrote a book about the experience with her husband, Kevin. During: A couple’s intimate experience with breast cancer (Veda Communications Co., 2004) was Bookreview.com’s Book of the Month for June 2004. A board member of the International Breast Cancer Research Foundation has called the book “required reading for the entire medical community, and a must-read for someone...with breast cancer.” In addition to their full-time jobs, Jody and Kevin now keep up an extensive speaking schedule, appearing two to three times a month before audiences of hospital administrators, nurses and other health professionals. Their goal, she says, through the company they’ve founded, Glynn Patricks and Associates, LLC, is “to change how hospitals deal with cancer.” Reading the wrenching details of During shows the urgent need for such change.
This spring Patrick, 52, an Illinois native, received the 2005 ATHENA® Award, presented by The Business Forum, the Madison-area host organization for the ATHENA International Foundation. Each year the award goes to a woman in the Madison area who has achieved success in her profession or life’s work, who gives back to the community and who opens doors of opportunity for women. And the honor is well-deserved.
"She's wonderfully talented. She's an innovative thinker. She's got a pulse on the business community, too. She thinks of ways to help people in the community," says Chris Ashe, who coordinated the 2005 ATHENA Award process, facilitating the judging panel's selection of Patrick from a pool of 14 deserving nominees. "She's also been through a great deal. I admire that anybody that's got that much going on can go on performing and helping others, not even focusing on herself."
Dan Bullock, chief finance officer for Wood Communications Group, has worked with Patrick on several projects for the Far Eastside Business Association, where both sit on the board of directors. "She's just a joy-to-work-with-and-joy-to-know person. She's amazing, simply put," he says. "She's very smart, and super reliable. Almost everything she touches becomes fun. She's really got a great sense of humor. But the most fun thing was – even though I was just in the audience – I was lucky enough to attend the ATHENA awards this year. I think she was truly surprised."
Over the course of a 30-year career in writing and publishing, Patrick’s stories and columns have won several awards, including the 1992 National Newspaper Award for Best Columnist in the U.S. Her article about her encounter with her biological father – she used a false identity to lure him into conversation after he refused contact from his long-abandoned daughter – was published in the inspirational magazine Guideposts. She’s written prize-winning short stories, and two yet-to-be published police drama novels.
Her professional background is diverse: in the early 1980s, Patrick owned and operated Bub’s Pub Restaurant and Night Club Lounge in Denver, Ill. for three years. Before that, she was the marketing manager for DeeZee chemical company in Philadelphia, where she volunteered for the Eagles Fly for Leukemia Program as a consultant for the football team.
But social service has always been at the fore for Patrick, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in counseling psychology from Western Illinois University. That might be because a service organization played such an important role in her early life. Patrick remembers that when she was five, her waitress mother, destitute and behind on the mortgage on their $2,000 house, gave her and her younger brother paper bags and told them to start packing. A man was knocking at the door, and her mother was sure it was the sheriff, come to take the children away, kick them all out of the house, or both.
But the man was the pastor from the local Salvation Army, come to help.
“He put us kids, in the late 1950s, in the home of a black family. Bessie Lou Lambert, who lived in a tarpaper shack with her six boys, said, ‘We have room for more.’ We stayed there for six months, until my mother could earn enough to pay the mortgage. If we’d been entered into the foster care system, she wouldn’t have been able to get us back,” Patrick says. “I really believe in the work of the Salvation Army as a main artery for getting help out in this country. It holds a very special place in my heart.” Today, Patrick is on the Salvation Army board.
In 2002, Patrick worked with the Salvation Army to send over 3,000 pounds of donated goods to troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of her daughter, Brook Glynn, who was serving overseas in the US Air Force. “For five months on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we packed boxes at the Salvation Army,” she remembers. “We supplied a base that had 40,000 people moving through it. We sent lip balm, sunglasses, soaps. One thousand containers of emu meat – it was packaged like Slim Jims. Every box had a letter that said, ‘These goods were donated by the people of Dane County who care about you and pray for you and by Airman Brook R. Glynn.’”
Patrick’s social service career began in the 1970s, when she was the director of Western Illinois University’s Crisis Hotline. The training manual she wrote for phone counselors was used at WIU and at other universities with crisis hotline programs.
Later, she managed the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago, working with children with cancer. Her article about her experiences being on duty 24/7 while living there with her children and then-husband won a Women’s Day magazine competition.
In 1991 Patrick was dealt a horrifyingly ironic blow. Since 1989, she had worked as a crisis counselor with the Cudahy Police Department, south of Milwaukee. Her duties included notifying people of the deaths of loved ones. As part of her work she wrote the manual Coping: A death in the family, which she describes as “a step-by-step guide for when somebody dies, here’s what’s going to happen.” But one day, the shattering phone call was for her: 16-year-old Daniel, her eldest child, was dead. “It was just a fluke accident on a sunny afternoon,” she recalls. “The tire caught on loose gravel and entered into an embankment.”
Patrick left the workforce, writing novels at home, to spend time with her three surviving children. In 1994 she found her way to Colorado – near her mother, Joyce – and back into social service, working as a supervisor of county caseworkers investigating child abuse. There she helped shape Colorado state law regarding child victims of abuse.
Soon, though, Patrick returned to Wisconsin and the publishing field. After nearly two years as a writer, administrator and interim publisher for a group of community newspapers in the greater Milwaukee area, she landed her present position as publisher of In Business magazine.
"She's been a terrific manager and a terrific asset to our company," says Bill Haight, the president of Magna Publications, the Madison-based firm that owns In Business. "She's very bright and very fast-moving. Her background in social psychology serves her well. She relates to people well, and always has other people's reactions in mind when she makes a decision. She's just a positive person. She doesn't have time for negatives."
In the late 1990s, everything finally seemed to be going right. A blind date led to a whirlwind romance and marriage to Kevin Patrick, a sales coach for the Fitchburg-based Apex Performance Systems. So electric was their attraction that they became engaged the night they met. “We had an amazing dinner,” remembers Kevin. “Then she said to me, hey, would you like to see my office? I could tell from everything on her desk and walls, this is the person that I've been looking for all my life. I could see what was important to her, her family, her job. She's an open book. I dropped down on my knee and proposed. I had to seal the deal. We kissed, and I felt incredibly relieved that the hard part of the courtship was over. I found my soul mate.”
“We had one perfect year where everything was going well,” remembers Jody. “Then came the diagnosis of cancer, and everything fell apart.” Incredibly, her mother was diagnosed with cancer on the same day. Joyce would not survive.
“I kept my job. Kevin took care of all the cooking, laundry, PTA meetings, taught my teenaged son, Philip, to drive.” Patrick kept her friends informed of her condition and state of mind through weekly e-mails, which make up a good part of During. In retrospect, Kevin says, he's glad they married so fast, because the self-sufficient Jody “might not have wanted me to marry her and take care of her.”
Magna's Bill Haight was close to the Patricks while they were living through the cancer experiences they chronicle in During. "The book is very revealing," he says. "I didn't know all of those things, all the difficulty she was going through. I have such a high confidence in her that I just took it for granted that she would be able to continue working, though not full-time. Because she could pretty much do everything she decided to. It was tough to relive it when the book came out."
In another twist, just as Jody and her mother were diagnosed with cancer, Jody’s daughter, Summer, became pregnant. “Nine months later, I finished chemo and radiation and was put on a shield drug,” says Patrick. “My grandson, Patrick, was born. My mother, in a coma, was told about the birth. A tear went down her cheek, and she closed her eyes and died.”
Reflecting on the road she’s traveled so far, Patrick says, “I’m truly grateful every day. I know it sounds trite. As a little girl I never thought I could have any of this – a wonderful job, home, family. I was supposed to be married to a pig farmer and pulling potatoes out of the ground. We don’t live a rich lifestyle, but we live a comfortable lifestyle. We can go driving and not worry about the price of gas. I don’t wear designer clothes and expensive jewelry, but deep in my soul to my toes, I don’t care.”
She muses about the dramatic events of recent years: “If you believe in predestined journeys, did my mother go through that journey with me, or was I picked to go through the journey with her?” The question can never be answered. But one thing is for certain: whatever is in store next for Jody Glynn Patrick, she will continue to pursue life with integrity, passion and commitment.