Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Timeline Story 5. Writing Abilities Carry Me from Medicine to the Law and Beyond — May 5, 2016

Timeline Story 5. Writing Abilities Carry Me from Medicine to the Law and Beyond

This is the fifth post in a series sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing abilities to the present. The first post is found at this link, second herethird, and fourth.



When I left you in the fourth installment of my timeline story, I was leaving my first job in the medical field as an assistant to the Chair of the Anatomy Department of Vanderbilt Medical School. Until I felt more confident in my writing abilities, I chose to stay in the same field and searched the Nashville papers for openings in private medicine. After all, I did not want to be written out of a grant again.

I was fortunate to land a job managing the practice of an outstanding cardiologist in Nashville, who was also head of the Cardiology Department at St. Thomas Hospital, ironically the hospital in which I was born. Half of my salary came from the hospital plus their benefits, while the good doctor paid the other half. It was a perfect place to land.

The doctor was looking for what many decades before had been called a Girl Friday, and the hospital wanted someone with administrative experience to manage the Medicare and other insurance billings for cardiovascular procedures. Medicine was just entering the open heart surgical practice arena around the country, and St. Thomas had hopes of establishing itself as well. And Sherrey knew a leading edge when she saw one.

During my tenure in this position, I conceived my son and because of the risk of radiation exposure in areas where I had to walk each day to carry out my job, I went on maternity leave at the end of the second trimester. However, I had gained leadership as well as administrative and writing skills I did not have when I came to the job, something that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Unfortunately, I went through my divorce not long after leaving this job and when my son was 14 months old, I needed to return to work. One phone call was all it took to return to the place I had enjoyed much success. However, a few things had changed within the hospital administration and it soon became clear to me that other professional firms and/or organizations often paid more money for the skill set I could offer. Back I went to the two Nashville newspapers to cover my fingers in printer’s ink as I strolled through the classifieds.


I was drawn to work in the legal community by a variety of things, including better pay and benefits. Yet, the organizational detail required in preparing documents, maintaining files, exploring the first days of electronic equipment, and moving from not only a combination of administrative assistant/legal secretary to office manager provided me with a sense of self-confidence a single mother in the 1970s needed.

The biggest step in the best of my legal positions was the opportunity to begin working as a documents drafter. Often this meant using boilerplate language to put a document together; other times it meant writing from scratch. This also called for researching the law, something I loved doing. Although I wasn’t writing the next great novel, I was writing! And someone was approving most of it!

In the early 1980s, I met my second husband, Bob, and within the first two years of our marriage we made the long and arduous move to Oregon. Initially, I took a job in a hospital near our home because getting around in the city called Portland was a bit daunting at first. Finally, with my webbed feet under me, I began seeking work back in the legal community. As it happened, I worked for three major firms in Portland and the greater Pacific NW area.

Brewery Blocks in Portland, home of Perkins Coie LLC
Brewery Blocks in Portland, home of Perkins Coie LLC

When I retired I had worked for Perkins Coie LLC for a period of 14 years and with the same attorney during those years. Although almost young enough to be my son, we established a great working relationship and built a rapport with one another creating the best employment situation I had ever had. My “partner” wanted someone to take care of his every need, and I did. Fortunately, this included what I’ve described above–drafting, managing case files, research, and more.

While working for him, I would be assigned at least one or two other attorneys to support, but not to the level that I enjoyed. Yet, it was manageable.

My primary relationship brought me to a new practice area, insolvency and reorganization. Yes, it’s usually called bankruptcy but times they were a-changing and trendy new names were popping up everywhere. We did work on both sides of the bankruptcy case, debtor and creditor, and we represented clients, such as The Boeing Company, WARN Industries, banks, investment bankers, real estate firms, and once in a while individuals.

The greatest challenge was the largest case I had ever worked on. This case came about for the saddest of reasons, accusations against the Catholic church and its priests for sexual abuse charges by former students and parishioners. In the end, we represented a committee formed to protect the property rights of individual parishes so that the church was not able to claim those properties as titled to the archdiocese. Under the protection of this committee were 120 something parishes across Oregon.

It was gratifying knowing we were working hard to protect properties in place and serving the parishes for sometimes over 100 years. Parishioners attending in the 1980s were, in some cases, descendants of those who founded the parish and donated land and money to build the facilities and support them.


One of the best benefits this firm offered was a three-month sabbatical consisting of your accumulated vacation for that year with two months added on as a “bonus.” I dreamed about this on my commute. The pleasure of having three months to do with as you pleased!

My time came and I began my sabbatical in early July of 2005. When time came to return to work in October, Bob mentioned rather casually he certainly appreciated my mood and temperament when I wasn’t going in and spending my days with “those lawyers.” I laughed and said I could understand that. Then he said, “I think you should go back and give your notice of retirement.”

Steve Hedberg, Managing Partner at Perkins Coie LLC-Portland, and me on the big day
Steve Hedberg, Managing Partner at Perkins Coie LLC-Portland, and me on the big day

It took a few months as the firm policy read that if I gave notice before December 15th, I would not receive my annual bonus or retirement contribution. I told Bob I wasn’t walking away from those two healthy chunks, and so it was in February 2006, I walked away and never looked back.

Finally, I could begin my dream. I could write what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it. Although it took several months to settle into the business of writing my memoir, maintaining a blog, and all that falls under the umbrella labeled “building a platform,” ten years later I still love what I do with my days and sometimes my nights. Nothing could be better.


Timeline Story: 4. Putting a Love of Words and Writing to Work — November 4, 2015

Timeline Story: 4. Putting a Love of Words and Writing to Work

This is the fourth post in a series sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing life to the present. The first post is found at this link, second here, and the third here.

As I shared last time, I became ill my sophomore year of college, was sent home early second semester, and did not return that year. The longer I spent at home with Mama the stronger her claim on me became, and before I knew it, she had convinced me not to return at all. I use the word “convince” lightly here as I wanted to finish college, but I didn’t want to fight any more battles. My sites were set on becoming independent and moving on and out.

Once my doctor had released me to work, I fell back on my days as a Kelly Girl. For those of you in a later generation, Kelly Girl was founded in 1946 by Russell Kelly as a typing service. Kelly’s service picked up typing and completed it in his own office facilities. One day a client called and requested a secretary to cover for his absent secretary. Russ Kelly offered his own secretary for the day, and thus Kelly Girl had its beginning. Today the company operates under the name “Kelly Services.” You can read more of the Kelly story here.

While filling a number of assignments for Kelly Girl, I kept my eye on the classifieds in the Nashville Banner and Nashville Tennessean. One Sunday afternoon, my eyes fell on an ad placed by Vanderbilt University Medical School for secretarial assistance in its Department of Anatomy. Offering some upward mobility and a decent salary for the day, plus benefits, I applied.

It wasn’t too long before a call came for an interview. I met with the department chair’s administrative assistant, Margaret, for my interview and shorthand and typing tests. There is no way to know how many others applied or what my scores were, but by the time I arrived back home, Margaret was on the phone with a job offer. I began work as a secretary to the Chair and Assistant Chair of the department as well as a cover for Margaret when she was away on vacation or for other reasons. I was excited because the position included grant writing, editing and proofing of non-medical graduate students’ theses, as well as writing assistance for the faculty submissions to various journals.

I will never forget my first day of work. Walking into the entrance shown here, I felt as though my feet were not making contact with the ground.

I have many fond memories of my time with these amazing people. Chairman Jack Davies from Wales made life in the office a delightful part of the day. His sense of humor in the classroom, the labs, the research areas, and in the office area was known all over campus, not just the medical school.

Harry Ward, the Assistant Chair of the department, was the direct opposite–studious to a fault, staid in his demeanor. Dr. Ward likely had 50% of the first-year medical students frightened of him, and many others under his supervision. At heart, he was a gentle giant.

Surprisingly, I was given a good measure of freedom in my writing once I got down the intricacies of grant writing, and I enjoyed assisting the non-medical grad students with their theses. My work for them wasn’t covered under my salary, but they made up for it with some lovely gifts and invitations to their family homes for celebrations.

All in all, for a first job, this was the place for a word nerd who loved learning new words, medical terminology, and research labels to settle in for a few years. However, while typing up a grant application one day, I noted that my position had been written out due to a lack of research funding from the NIH. A lack of research funding meant that over 90% of my salary was gone and nowhere else was available for making up that loss.

I knew then I needed to rub the press ink from the classifieds off onto my fingers once again and hunt for something else to do to earn a living. Back to square one perhaps.

UP NEXT: The next installment shuffles me through other medical positions and on into the legal community, where I believe my writing took off.

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