Last month, I received a brief message from Ancestry.com mentioning that genealogist and family historian Lou Szucs would retire on 31 March 2015. Was I surprised? No. Was I devastated? No. Was I happy? In a certain odd way – and in the best way possible – yes!
I’m happy for Lou since she gets a well-deserved break. I’m happy for the genealogy community because it has benefited from her many contributions. And I’m happy (and a bit envious) because her departure is actually the best kind of goodbye.
The Best Goodbye
Earlier today as I was reading tributes from various bloggers and genealogy vendors, I was not only remembering the first time I ever met Lou, but also about many other genealogy folk who left us suddenly or on different terms. In most cases, they went while they were far too young or had only started making their contributions. Or some were so impaired that we felt our gratitude could not possibly be heard, read or sensed.
For me, retirement and the decision to move on to new things is always the best goodbye, but also the most difficult. I know leaving is not an easy decision, especially when something is more than just a job – it is a passion. Everyone who has ever met or worked with Lou Szcus in the genealogy biz will tell you that they are much better as a person for such an encounter.
Lou Szucs – Genealogy Superhero
The first time I met Lou and had a good long talk was as I was starting to attend and speak at major genealogy conferences. Within the first five minutes, I was saying to myself: “I found my genealogy superhero. This is who I want to be like.”
Lou doesn’t know what an impact she has had on me and she is a probably a bit embarrassed even reading this. After several subsequent encounters, besides soaking up all the knowledge she offered, especially about the genealogy business, I knew I had a role model and started listing the “super powers” I most wanted to emulate:
- Professional. Lou epitomized genealogy professionalism in that she was a great ambassador for the community, but was always approachable. She always had a smile and a laugh. If you stumbled on terminology or a record set in a conversation, she didn’t correct you. She knew what you meant . . . and you knew it too.
- Friendly. And the friendliness was genuine. Lou always introduced you to someone no matter if they were a beginning genealogist or the CEO of Ancestry. Fickle she was not. A true friend and a “keeper” as Mom would say.
- Empathetic. Lou understood, even as someone who practically wrote the 20th century text book on how to do genealogy, that life never followed the lesson plan in the text book. Whether it was a professional or personal issue, the look of concern on her face and willingness to help was ever present. “What can I do?” will always be something I hear Lou say in my mind when I walk by the Ancestry booth at a conference from now on.
- Strong. If you thought Lou was a push-over either because of her gender or her friendliness, you learned quickly she was not. Lou knew the biz, she knew everyone in the biz and they knew her. If you were “full of it,” she could smell it a mile away. Quickly, yet politely, you were dispatched and on your way.
- Resourceful. I could always e-mail or call Lou with a question and I usually got a quick response. Lou knew that I always did my “homework,” meaning I had exhausted all available resources before I bugged her. She was always happy to help and if she didn’t have an answer, she knew someone who did.
- Generous. This is the greatest quality of Lou’s that I try to emulate each and every day. After years of working in law firms and the corporate world where competition and back stabbing rules, I had forgotten my mother’s life lessons on generosity and abundance. It took watching Lou in action to remember them and re-cultivate them in my own professional life.
I’m not always successful with being the best I can be, both personally and professionally. I simply pick up and start again each day. I know what qualities I want to help build in both my own life and as a mentor, in the lives of others. And I have Lou Szcus to thank for those qualities and that inspiration.
How Do You Say Goodbye to a Role Model?
The fact is you never say goodbye to that person who has had a strong influence on you personally and professionally. You keep their memory in your heart and mind until it is your own time to say goodbye.
©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.