Driving to Ohio in 2004, I was insanely nervous. At the time, I took two days to travel, stopping in Memphis at a hotel. Now, I’d understand the urgency of getting there and the desire for expediency. Now, I’d demand it of myself and others.
And, that experience had the chance to be a truly brutal and difficult experience. It wasn’t without its challenges, but the moment I walked into the Firehouse in Columbus in 2004, I was welcomed… and welcomed by a woman who would take care of so many things on my behalf.
Her name was Sally Outis.
Sally was many things: office manager, part-time Mom, referee, and the cautious person who demanded that they remove the original firehouse sliding pole, because she knew there would be a desire to experiment. (She was right - the tech boys and I often lamented that we wished we could have done just that…)
In my own life, I take care of many tasks throughout the day. In a hectic, fast-paced environment like a campaign, when you’re the main person at the office, when you see to so many needs, your day begins well before everyone else’s and ends mostly after everyone else’s, too.. For Sally that was completely the case, and often, she would leave, the data and tech boys still upstairs, chugging away both at the computer and at their beer of choice for the night, but everyone else gone for the day - the time well after 10 and be there, bright and early the next day.
So, my heart stopped last night, when I received an email from “Robert Outis”. The subject line “Sally Outis”. It began with a simple kind of question: “you may not remember her, but…”
The email went on to say that Sally endured a pain I would not wish on anyone: ovarian cancer, diagnosed in 2007. She fought hard and bravely, through three rounds of chemo…. and, ultimately succumbed to the disease in March of 2010.
It’s tough to explain a campaign to people who don’t understand the political world or never volunteer or see one up close. It’s an animal all on its own. You meet many, many people throughout your life, if you work on them, choose to make that a central focus in your life at one point or another. You fall away and lose touch until you meet on another campaign or, meet a friend of a friend, or you need to get into contact over one issue or another. Sally and I met at one of the most difficult periods of my entire life: and the time spent with her and in Ohio helped me to realize so many things. I went back home and helped out in the city elections in Houston in 2005, but nearly dropped away from all other campaigning with my grandmother’s death in 2006. I skipped 2008, for the most part, as nothing more than a casual observer and got back into the game in 2010. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for lost causes.)
I think, a part of me, always expected to find her waiting at the Firehouse, her gentle spirit ready to tackle whatever problem was thrown her way with the incredible grace she carried throughout a touch election in a battle ground state. We do that, to people: expect them to wait right where they are - not in reality and not when we stop to think about it, but we incase people in the place and time in which we last saw them. For me, my memory holds Sally Outis at one of the best places and times in my life… and the loss of her will stay with me throughout these next few months in this campaign and beyond.
It will also be a reminder to be the woman she knew I was… even before I knew myself.
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