The Texas heat is melting everything in sight, including me. Who needs a microwave for hot coffee — all I need to do is set my cup on the porch for a moment. It’s already that hot. This morning I’m taking one last moment on the old wicker couch on the long tin roof-covered porch.

A little over 11 years ago, my assistant, Jenny, decided it was time to move on. The job was too stressful, so she gave notice and began interviewing for her replacement. So I asked her to pick the top three she would hire, and then I would interview them. 

Not Adding Up

I started with her top candidate, but in the in-person interview, I was concerned because there was something on the resume that did not add up.

No More Stress

Her answer was that she and her husband were both in big, high-stress jobs, and they had decided to move to America, had decided they liked Texas, and they wanted to live for quality of life, not money. Oh, and she picked Texas because it’s always sunny, the opposite of London, where it’s always gray and raining. Though I still wondered why anyone would do that, she persuaded me to hire her. And little did she know she was about to go from the frying pan into the fire.

Mind Like a Bouncy House

Those who have worked for me will tell you things about me that are not always evident to our readers or customers. I’m completely ADHD, and the only reason I’ve survived is because my brain shoots out ideas at the speed of a machine gun, and I tend to implement most of them. As a result we went from a single magazine 30-plus years ago to a media company with multiple magazines, newsletters, conferences, retreats, training courses, and more. And just about the time we get a moment of stability or rest, out comes another idea that tends to put everyone in a tizzy. When I first hired this person, I said, “I throw a lot of baseballs. Your job is to catch them all, put them in a basket, then ask what their priority is. And check in with me frequently, because a hot idea today might not be hot a week from now. So let’s not start working on something till we know it’s going to get launched.”

The Perfect Combination

What ended up happening was beyond remarkable. I did not end up with just an assistant, I ended up with a confidant with whom I could share ideas and thoughts and ask for opinions, knowing I’d get very well thought-out answers. I also ended up with a handler, who protected me from the arrows I did not need to see, and, when problems arose, instead of asking me how I wanted to handle them, just handled them with grace and class. On occasion she felt the need to get my opinion on a particular situation, and usually her suggested way was the best way.

When she phoned people, she spoke with authority, with her South African/British accent, and people who encountered her loved her because she always treated them with respect (which I never had to ask her to do) — everyone who ever dealt with her grew to love her.

Always Trustworthy

And she did something else I found to be truly remarkable. Though she was extremely loyal to me, she never ever violated a confidence if told something by someone else. She might say to me, “You might want to consider having a talk with this person,” but she would never tell me why. Co-workers could tell her anything I needed to know, and she would share it with me at their request, keeping their name out of it if that was important to them. There were times when I felt I should know, yet over 11 years, she never once violated anyone else’s confidence. I knew, as a result, she would never violate mine, especially since she knew as much about me as my family, and sometimes more. And if it was extremely delicate, she would nudge me in the right direction without ever revealing what she knew. Usually with some nudging or pressure, people will give in, because they really want to tell you. She never did.

In a line of work where she’s often in the public eye, where she receives thousands of e-mails some weeks, hundreds of calls at times, her role can be demanding, because part of her responsibility is to allow me to live a normal life — and yet I want to make sure everyone is treated with respect and given the proper amount of time. It’s not easy for either of us, but it’s the right thing to do. She walks this tightrope beautifully. 

I’ve had some amazing assistants over my career, but this one is the most special and will be missed the most.

Before today, I’ve never devoted a Sunday Coffee to anyone other than family, but this feels like family for both my wife and myself. And though I was disappointed when Ali Cruickshank let me know that after 11 years, it was time to go and reduce the stress in her life once again, I remember one thing my dad taught me: “When you own a company, everyone eventually leaves. You’re the only one who never does … until you do.”

Ali not only handled my life and my business matters, and often produced my podcasts or shows, she handled all the faculty for all of our events like the Plein Air Convention and our virtual events. And she organized my retreats and trips, plus all my travel. And it is going to take three amazing people to replace her. 

One of the things that happens when you work at Streamline is you become part of a family. We all become very close. You also get drawn into the art world. Ali got addicted early on with her first painting purchase, and now has a wall of paintings she has purchased at our events. I’ll be making sure she has something to take up a little more wall space. 

Sunday Coffee is often about lessons I’ve learned, and I cannot begin to articulate what I’ve learned from this wonderful woman. She is gracious, discreet, encouraging, open to change and any challenge, and great with people. Life will never be the same without her. Everything will be fine, of course, but it will change, and she will be missed.

Last week I announced to the crowd at PACE that Ali would be leaving. Tears welled up in both of our eyes, and there was sadness among the crowd. Of course Ali has lifetime access to the event she has helped build through her diligence and special magic. We hope she will return to see the family (and we promise we won’t put her to work).

Please join me in a fond farewell to one of the greatest friends and family members I’ve worked with.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’d like to welcome Skye Fallon to the Streamline team; she is our new event coordinator. And Amandine Tollitte and Christie Cole are taking on the roles of assisting and producing me. Please welcome them.

By the way….

Last week I was so exhausted from PACE (the Plein Air Convention & Expo) … it’s not every day I get to do acrobatics on stage, hanging from the ceiling 🙂 … I completely forgot to write Sunday Coffee. So sorry.

A special word to everyone who was at the Plein Air Convention…

I’ve never felt so grateful for the hundreds of you who approached me and told me what joy you are experiencing since you’ve discovered painting or attended the convention. I’m honored to serve you. I hope to see you again.

Next stop…

This week I’ll load the car, a couple of old dogs who can’t fly, part of my family, and a load of summer stuff and head off to the Adirondacks. My next event starts this Saturday ( Then summer begins. Woohoo! Lots of paintings to create!