"You Make A Difference": Remembering Sheila Bugdanowitz

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sometimes you wish you could bottle up an experience and spread it everywhere. Rewind it and watch it again. Really absorb all the goodness and pass it on to others. 

This is how I felt driving away from an extraordinary funeral at Temple Emanuel on Tuesday afternoon. And this is how I feel now — sifting through old emails, jogging memories of my many brief encounters and long conversations with Sheila Rae Bugdanowitz. As her former communications guru Phil Nash said in a Facebook post this week: “It seemed like everyone who knew Sheila felt that their friendship was special . . . Her rich and complex life was guided by a simple one-word principle: Relationships.”

I had seen Sheila at events but really first met her in person when she greeted me for my interview for the Executive Director opening at Colorado Association of Funders. She was chairing the search committee and immediately hugged me and put me at ease in the lobby of the Gill Foundation before she took me back to meet with a dozen other CEOs who would be peppering me with questions, instead of the other way around.

Sheila was a go-to source years earlier when I was covering business and philanthropy at the Rocky Mountain News. I once called her to dish some personal details about her long-time friend Barry Hirschfeld for a profile I was writing about him. I remember her telling me about his collection of hundreds of “Swatch” watches and noting that he was always late to meetings anyway — even to everyone’s funerals. (For the record, he wasn’t late to your funeral Sheila. He arrived well ahead of schedule and sat in the front row.)

When I learned about Sheila’s sudden passing on Sunday from her good friend Linda Childears, my instant reaction was to weep. All I could think to write in reply in the moment was, “Sheila lived an amazing life. We’ll work to do our part to honor it. For now we cry.”

Entering the sanctuary for the Jewish service was more than cathartic for many of us. Retired Rabbi Steven Foster, who delivered the final remarks, talked about how Sheila made a difference in so many ways. The way to honor her — the way to move beyond grief — was to do the same. “You make a difference,” he urged all of us.

Sheila’s door was literally always open. And the answer to a request was almost always, “yes.” Except when it came to snow days. Rose Community Foundation hosted CAF’s offices for many years and we were privy to “all office” email blasts, weekly staff lunches and even Sheila’s famously personal holiday gifts. Whenever it snowed, however, you could almost always count on a 5:30 a.m. voicemail letting you know the office was open but to drive safely and take your time coming in. She worked hard.

Sheila put a high premium on family and friendship. When she learned of my husband’s Jewish heritage, we were invited to Passover at her home. My then eight-year-old scrawled a drawing for her on a huge piece of flip chart paper and it remained on her office door for weeks. Kids loved spending time at Rose. They were always welcome and they were always guaranteed unlimited access to the bowls of chocolates that Sheila wanted on all the conference and board room tables. Expecting moms could always count on exquisitely planned office showers. There were birthdays and wedding celebrations, going away parties and summer picnics.

There were obviously community issues to champion and tackle along the way in her work at Rose. Education, Early Childhood, Health, Aging and Jewish Life, among many others. And she was devoted to our work at CAF, whether it was as Board Chair, supporting and cheering on our advocacy work every step of the way, or taking on the challenge of chairing our Disaster Philanthropy Task Force and overseeing the long-term flood recovery fund. She assured me that, “If you (CAF) didn’t exist, we’d have to create you.”

Working down the hall from Sheila was a privilege and a blessing. Miraculously, it seemed you barely ever needed an appointment — if you could just catch her in her office. A quick hello often turned into an hour-long talk about life. It’s as Larry Mizel said when he related the story of Sheila informing him that women have 20,000 words they need to use every day. I used many of mine with Sheila over the years.

During one of those talks after both our moms had recently died, she gave me her copy of “Being Mortal.” Yes, we’re all mortal, but we also know that Sheila’s legacy lives on in so many ways. We’ll carry on in our work, but also in nurturing our personal relationships and making everyone feel special, while also wishing we could just have one more hug.

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