Saturday, February 22, 2014

Remembering Donna

When I hired into the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works on May 1, 2000, Donna Guyovich was the senior staff member of the Public Affairs and Special Services Section of the Personnel and Public Affairs Division. Jean Granucci was the Section Head, Ida Ramos was Division Chief, Chuck Adams was the Deputy Director above Ida, and Harry Stone was Director, only the second person to hold that title. I had been brought on to fill the spot created by the retirement of Cindy Adams. Also on the team were Melinda and Natalie, and making everything run smoothly through secretarial excellence were Araceli, Ana, and Jan. Araceli and Ana were working directly for Ida, but since we were all sitting in the same part of the 12th Floor, they were always quick to help us out, just as Jan was quick to back them up. The Classification Section of PPA was there, too.

I was surrounded by women in a Department that was traditionally male-dominated. The Director, Chief Deputy, Assistant Directors, and Deputy Directors were all men, the woman who'd broken the glass ceiling having retired. Considering Public Works consisted of civil engineers and laborers (think road work, flood control, building inspectors, waterworks), two kinds of work that were traditionally male-dominated, it wasn't surprising. Of course, at Disneyland, I had worked under several women.

Jean was already heading for retirement, less than 10 months from my first day. For her party we ended up putting together a video in which we acted out parts, recounting Jean's career. Donna was great, but then what would you expect from someone who was a member of the Screen Actors Guild by age 5?

Donna had been the Public Information Officer for DPW, and since she knew just about everything and everyone, that was appropriate. She had been there her entire adult life, having started work with the Flood Control District, which merged with other County operations to become Public Works in 1985.

Before Jean retired, Donna transferred many PIO responsibilities to me. The day Jean cleaned out her office, Donna moved in, and Donna was promoted into Jean's position. With Jean's retirement and Donna's promotion, we had a vacancy. There were other staffing changes, too. For example, Melinda moved to another Division. I can think of a couple of ladies who came and went. All this time later, I am still friends with True and Marina, who had been my peers in that section.

Jean and Donna had very different personalities but had been friends since the day Jean hired in, a year after Donna. Donna's leadership continued most of the tone and practices I had experienced under Jean. Of course, Ida was still Division Chief. Any Division Chief, anyone in Administration, whether Deputy Director or Director, could and would stroll in at any time. We had nothing to hide and we welcomed the informal contact. Donna would keep the Director's favorite light handful-snack stocked at her door to encourage visits. And, at any time, we were also welcome to walk over to Administration to talk with the secretaries, and if available, the Director or anyone else.

It was a great time, at least for me. Donna adored me. Everyone knew it. That came in handy on one day in particular. We had a staff meeting in Donna's office. Donna was sitting behind her desk, and the four of us were sitting in chairs facing her desk or to the side. I was struggling to stay awake. There was a period I would  routinely be working late at the office, and I think that was already going on. Since we were on a 4-day schedule, the days were already long. Thankfully, I lived a short drive away. In addition, I was working at Disneyland on my weekends, usually all three days. There were also writing projects, and I was a single man in those days, so there was associated socializing. Bottom line: I was tired. So there we were in Donna's office, and I'm struggling to stay awake as Donna was talking, because I was used to being at a computer screen and/or on the phone, multitasking, which never let me have a moment to feel tired.

Then, I noticed silence.

Next, I realized my eyes were closed.

I open my eyes, lifted my head, and I saw four women, including Donna, staring at me. Natalie's expression was especially memorable.

"Am I that boring?" asked Donna, feigning hurt.

I assured her it had nothing to do with the importance of her words.

Then there were the times I'd go out for lunch with my peers. DPW HQ was surrounded by places to grab lunch, some within walking distance, some requiring a drive. We officially had 45 minutes for lunch. One day, we had been delayed in getting back, and my peers remarked that they'd avoid any negative fallout from Donna for taking a long lunch because they were returning with me.

Donna was known to take a long lunch or two herself, especially in conjunction with Ida. After all of the years they had put in, and being hard workers in general, I figured they had earned a little wiggle room on the length of their lunches, so there was no resentment on my part. There was one time in particular my peers had to drive something time-sensitive to them to be signed. The Barkley at the northeast corner of Fremont and Huntington in my hometown of South Pasadena was the favorite lunchtime hangout for the team of Donna and Ida. There were times we'd be out and about, such as for an event, and on the way back to the office Donna would pull into a restaurant and buy us lunch.

Donna was the kind of person who'd pay to treat her dog's cancer rather than give up and put her down. She was the kind of boss who, if she was happy with your performance, would be a Momma Bear advocate. She was also the kind of long-timer who knew where the bodies were buried.

It was in Donna's office that I watched the attacks of 9/11/2001 continue to unfold, along with my coworkers, before our Director made the decision to evacuate our building and send everyone home.

Donna was passionate about some of the annual events we put together, such as Employee Recognition and the headquarters Holiday Party, complete with the very popular raffle. To me, her enthusiasm helped offset some of the stress of pulling off the events.

Working under Donna was a special moment of time in my life. Things changed a lot more after Donna retired. The structure at the office changed, with our section becoming part of the Public Relations Group, independent of what was, by then, the Human Resources Division.

Donna became a widow last year. Her husband, Ray, was significantly older than her and she cared for him as his health declined. However, she had her own health issues to deal with, and on January 23, 2014, Donna passed away in her sleep at the too-young age of 68.

On February 7, many of us gathered to remember Donna in a service. Jean and Ida both spoke and did very well. After the service, we met back at Donna's desert home to share some fond memories, and, true to the spirit of Donna, some good food.

This picture is of Ida and Donna at my wedding.

Donna was the second of many direct bosses I've had at the County. That alone would mean she was likely to have a lasting influence on me, but throw in her strong personality, her attention to detail, and her respect for legacy, and I couldn't forget her if I tried.

So thank you, Donna, for what you passed on to me and for the good times we shared. I stayed awake during your memorial service. I can't say I stay dry-eyed.