I recently had the honour of being invited to speak to masters students at Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship & Technology Centre, in Waterloo, Ontario. As I was preparing for my presentation, I started to think about why I am an entrepreneur today and ended up taking a trip down memory lane. I ended up thinking a lot about my mother.
I was raised at the knee of an entrepreneurial mother who, although only five feet tall (if you stretched her when she was wet), thought she was eight feet tall. he was an amazing woman and when I was younger, I believed she had nerves of steel. Later in my life only served to confirm that I was right. I hadn't thought about this in awhile, and it brought back lots if special memories.
My mother lost her mother at twelve-and-a-half. Shorty afterwards, she was pulled out of school to work in the family store. One year after her mother died, she was introduced to her new step-mother from hell. She eventually fell in love with my dad and got married. They built a house, sold it and emigrated from England to Canada with only the clothes on their backs and four stuffed suitcases. Her first job was at The Bay in the accounting department (which she hated) to bring in extra money. She later ended up graduating top of her class from a Montreal-based dress making school and so began the true entrepreneurial journey.
I can remember going to school with sequins stuck on my you-know-what from all of the tutus she made for the local dance school recitals in her basement workroom. And I remember her little red car roaring up the road six days a week for the hour-long drive (each way) to get to her sewing business in town. She sewed at home in the evenings and on Sunday to help us keep up with expenses and make extra some money. As talent would have it, she won one of Canada's top rainwear design competitions and four of her evening gown designs were featured in an international Wonder Bra advertising campaign. Through all that success, she also had five failed business ventures.
She went back to work after my father's new job took us to a new city, leaving behind her sewing business. When my sister and I grew up, she made our wedding and bridal party gowns.
Years later I vividly remember when my father called to tell me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer (what her mother had died from). We went to another doctor for a second opinion only to have him confirm the first and opted for a radical mastectomy. I fondly remember her opening her sixth and most successful venture three weeks after the surgery because that is what she had to do. And I remember laughing on the inside when she told my father, who had recently retired, that he'd better find something to do because she was still working! She finally retired at age 68.
When she was subsequently diagnosed with liver cancer she continued believe that she would beat this one as well. My father had a massive stroke and died two months before their 57th wedding anniversary. My mother lost her battle with liver cancer one year and ten days after he died.
My mother was my hero, and I do not use that word lightly. I know she would be uncomfortable with me saying it but here it goes: :oving, tough, caring, fearless, wonderful, scared, human, compassionate, quick-witted, and smart, a great listener and a role model for my sister, my daughter and me!
She was a true entrepreneur and no matter what life tried to throw at her to deter her from that path, her spirit, belief, passion, faith and her family kept her coming back time and time again.