Reconnecting with Lydia

lydia ramos-mendoza

Lydia Ramos, flashing her familiar smile.

This past weekend brought one of those moments that provide perspective on professional relationships that evolve into enduring friendships. The best of these cross generational lines, aren’t affected by time and distance, and leave us grateful for the connections made years earlier.

If that sounds rather vague, let me pivot to the specifics.

Last week, my friend Lydia Ramos, a former journalist, let me know she’d be coming up from L.A. to visit a cousin who lives in the Portland suburbs. Could we meet for coffee?

Of course we could. On Saturday morning, we grabbed a table at a favorite neighborhood spot and caught up over two hours of great conversation.

We hadn’t seen each other in about five years — not since we both left the board of trustees of Quill and Scroll, a nonprofit organization that supports high school journalists. For several years, we connected every October at the board’s annual meeting at the University of Iowa.

We touched on Lydia’s recent marriage and latest career moves and I offered a quick update of my own, covering work, travel, family and plans for the future. It was only toward the end of our talk, when the table was cleared, that it dawned on us we’ve known each other for 30 years.

Lydia was a freshman at the University of Southern California when she showed up at an internship and job fair that I was attending as a representative of The Oregonian. Freshmen weren’t supposed to attend, but that didn’t stop Lydia. We saw each other at subsequent job fairs; and though she never came to work at The Oregonian, that didn’t stop us from forming a mutual respect and staying in touch as both our careers progressed.

george-lydia

George and Lydia at Costello’s Travel Caffe. Go, Ducks (and Trojans)!

Lydia became a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, then a producer for NBC News. She returned to the classroom as a high school English teacher and journalism adviser at her alma mater in Los Angeles, and that’s where she was working when I recruited her to join the Quill & Scroll board.

She caught the eye of the higher-ups who run the L.A. public schools and rose through the ranks, starting as a district spokesperson and rising to director of communications and media relations. In between, she was a special assistant to the superintendent, then took on a similar role as a senior adviser to the head of Boston Public Schools when that district hired as its leader someone she’d worked with in L.A.

I’m skipping over some of details here, but Lydia also completed a leadership development program at Harvard Business School, which explains why she was in striking distance for the Boston schools. Back home in California, she’s launched a communications consulting business focused on executive coaching, communications and leadership development.

At each and every step, Lydia has been a fierce advocate for equity and inclusion. I share those values and admire how she’s been able to embed them so fully into her work and that of the organizations she’s worked for.

For all these achievements, I’ve never seen Lydia as happy as she is now as a newlywed. She and her spouse, Lauren, also a former journalist and L.A.U.S.D. communications specialist, are making their house a home in Long Beach, thanks in large part to Lauren’s amazing carpentry skills. (Believe me, I’ve seen the photos.)

As we toggled back and forth between the past and present, it was fun recalling our mutual acquaintances, our shared interests (Lydia’s a big-time Dodgers fan) and how we teamed up throughout the years.

  • When I was doing some post-riot reporting after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers of using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, it was Lydia I turned to for help with community contacts and Spanish translation skills. (She’s fluent; I’m not.)
  • Years later, she joined me on a career development panel at a National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention.
  • I recruited her to participate as a guest blogger in my annual Voices of August project. She wrote a lovely piece that you can read here: “Confessions of a dog mom”
  • We even ran into each other, quite randomly, at a minor league baseball game in Portland one summer. I was hanging out with a group of summer interns at The Oregonian when we spotted each other. She was in the area because she was visiting that same cousin I referenced earlier.
Princeton.Lydia

Princeton and Lydia

Three decades after we met, young Lydia Ramos has become Lydia Ramos-Mendoza, a mature, accomplished professional and a new bride. We’ve both left journalism and have entered new phases, she as a communications consultant and me as a college instructor and new grandparent.

In the 10 years-plus that I worked as a recruiter for The Oregonian, there was nothing I loved more than meeting bright young people with skills, ambition and, most important, good character. Lydia embodies all of these. How fortunate I am to count her among my friends.

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