Remembering Mary Kay Ash, 11-28-01


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       Starting to write this is one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I don’t want to leave out any thought, emotion, or happening, and I want what I write to bring both closure and opening; to fully realize what God has orchestrated, to say YES to the Leadership role God has called me to, and to challenge you, to quicken your own leadership commitment, urgency, and influence forward through the broadening door of this incredible legacy.

        As you know, it was about 7 PM in KY., when from the key drawer in the kitchen, I heard my cell phone ring. My family was all around---reading, looking at magazines,  washing dishes, grazing on leftovers as kids (and adults) on karaoke competed for conversation in the background and I jokingly commented, ‘there are no cosmetic emergencies; I’m not going to answer that’.  Then I realized that the only people who have my cell were either at my house, my Directors, my unit DIQ’s, only a few close girlfriends, Sean Key and Tom Whatley---all who show respect for private family gatherings.   So I decided to check the message center, and it was Greg Franklin from Mary Kay Inc.  He simply said he needed to reach me in person and that it was urgent.  In my heart I knew the message he was about to deliver from his phone in Dallas.  I called him back.  Machine.  He called me right back.  The news.  Mary Kay had passed away at 4:30 on Thanksgiving Day in her home, peacefully, from natural causes.  I cried.  I knew the moment would come.  I wondered how I would feel.  Then peace overcame me, and I knew that later, in private, I would begin to absorb the last fifteen years of my life, God’s plan when He knew me before time, the rest of my earthly life, and eternity.  I began to contemplate it all.

        On Friday, I made arrangements to go to Dallas.  On Saturday, I received by Fed Ex a beautiful package including an invitation to Mary Kay’s Memorial Service, and then I realized that the service would be for her family, her closest friends, and the National Sales Directors and spouses.  I received phone calls from customers and friends outside the Mary Kay organization, truly saddened by her loss and sending warm thoughts our way.  I received emails from former directors and consultant buddies from the past…all who expressed Mary Kay’s positive influence on them, their families, any jobs that had taken since…that their children called them upon the news and they began to recount happy Mary Kay days and the impact that experience had on their young lives.  I pondered this as so many times, I have incorrectly mourned the loss a consultant’s active status, returned product, resigned directorship. 

        On Monday, I casually emailed NSD Karen Ford about the tape series of Dr. Maxwell’s, and she asked for my flight schedule hoping we could fly together out of Nashville since neither Jerry nor David were going.  I had rearranged my flight from Wednesday morning to Tuesday since forecast for sleet and snow in Dallas on Wed. threatened flights, so on Tuesday, I left the house at 2:00 pm for a 5:00 flight.  Karen and I flew aisle seats apart and talked the 2-hours.  Arriving in Dallas near 7pm, it was dark, cold, and pretty desolate.  We were overdressed for that time of night in Dallas at the airport, but we had traveled in suits, as Mary Kay would expect.  We walked outside after getting our luggage, and a town car with a friendly driver was standing right outside of the door.  He was picking someone up at 8:00, but asked us out of the blue if we were here for Mary Kay’s service.  I pondered…he quickly called the owner of his co., and in 10 min., we had a luxury ride from a Christian transportation service.  When we arrived at the Double Tree where the Nationals were staying, the lobby and restaurant were buzzing as if we were on a Top Trip.  Embrace from husbands, nsd’s.   Together we celebrated her life, I continued to privately contemplate my own.  We shared stories of being with her, the famous things she has said 1000 times that stick in our minds.  The sisterhood, the gratitude for the choice we had made to be in this time and place on this occasion of true celebration.  Recognizing the small % of us representing the masses.  Karen and I joined others for dinner, closest to Sue and Kirk Kirkpatrick and Jackie and Swank.  Before we knew it, 11:00 PM. 

        I went to my room.  Gloria was staying with me, but true to Gloria, I knew I wouldn’t see her until the morning as her flight was coming in near 1:00 a.m.   My message light was blinking.  Jan Thetford.  I called her and she had already taken make up off and wanted me to come down.  I was tired and wanted to unpack.  She said,  “That’s ok, I’ll come up!”  So in two minutes, she knocks on my door, no make up, in her bathrobe…one just like mine from the Princeville Hawaii Spa!   I laughed.  She had gifts for Gloria and I…darling Christmas bracelets in a precious bag.  We started to talk and laugh.  She had left Lubbock with no cash.  None.  Got in a taxi from her flight and as she approached the hotel, told the cab driver her bad news, but told him if he would wait, she’d go cash a check at check in or she’d find a friend with money.  A little disgruntled, he waited and in 10 seconds he watched her at the door say 3 words, a man (Jerry Isenhart, Karlee’s husband) pull out a wad of cash and she paid the stunned driver in cash.  Only in the Mary Kay family.  At 1:00 a.m., Jan left.  At 3:00 a.m. Gloria slips into her bed, and at 8:50 Alia calls and we wake up, eat breakfast and begin to dress for this day.  Gloria and I began to play a game we have all played at some time or another, but never more than this weekend.  ‘If Mary Kay had not come into your life, what would you be doing right now’?  Is there any way we could have become friends?  We laughed, we talked while we dressed.  We humbly and gratefully acknowledged the timing of our NSD appointments…how we were thankful for the strength and courage God has sustained us with…we conversed about those who get stuck on cancelled appointments or fickle recruits and howled as we imagined ourselves calling our Seniors or NSD’s to whine about those things on the journey (never even a consideration)…and we again thanked God for what and how He has given us.

        I wanted to look good, no perfect, really.  I was honoring the most influential woman in my life today.   I decided to wear one bee, 2 rings and my NSD bracelet.  I had my queen mink and gloves that the Go Give directors had given us in Atlanta.  A small purse, a cloth handkerchief.  Everything I wore, she either had given me or I had bought with Mary Kay money.  And today, it was all about her.

        At 12:30, we headed downstairs.  The air a cold 30 with a mix of sleet, ice and snow, but the lobby was filled with warmth and joy of hearts beating as one, suited up as one, beauty of all ages, anticipating the hours ahead.  How could we appropriately say good-bye to this legend, this leader, this friend, this woman.  Chartered buses transported us to

Park Cities Baptist Church.  As we got off the buses, right away the news media reminded us this was no ordinary service.  We entered the church where we were welcomed by our friends---familiar faces from Corporate…first Judy McRight, (in charge of NSD services,) and her staff, some sales development, and then a formal greeting by David Holl, Darrell Overcash, Dick Bartlett, Ray Patrick, Gary Jinks, Dr. Myra Barker, Tom and Sandra Whatley and one of Mary Kay’s grandchildren (I think) and her husband.  The sanctuary was pink.  Key Scripture engraved the arches over our heads.  A large portrait of Mary Kay in that beautiful cream suit replaced the morbidity of a casket, and flowers and ferns elegantly decorated the front of the church…a complete covering of ferns and roses flooding the altar and at least 6 significant arrangements.  My favorite had what seemed like a garden of tulips out the top, with glads angled out of both sides, what seemed like hundreds of pink roses, and a cascade of ferns out the bottom.  And then on each of the reserved rows of pews, small bouquets mimicking the front flowers.  The Nationals reserved seats were on the left beginning in the front as you faced the pulpit, and around the church were other of Mary Kay’s friends, Dallas dignitaries, tenured staff (over 10 years).  It was family.  We stood as Mary Kay’s blood family---Richard, Ben, her sons, 16 grandchildren, 31 great- grandchildren, and 1 great great grandchild.  The Holy Spirit’s presence of joy and peace and unity in this place was overwhelming.


Dr. James Denison, Sr. Pastor of this church greeted us and his words set the tone for this dignified tribute to woman, Christian, Mother, leader, legend, Mary Kay Ash.  His words were choice, concise, and powerful as was his prayer.  I wanted him to say more when he welcomed Dr. Robert Hasley from St. Andrew United Methodist Church to the pulpit, but as Dr. Hasley began speaking, our hearts were touched to the core.  You see, Dr. Hasley had only met Mary Kay after her stroke.  He never heard her utter a word.  It was Charlotte McKinney from his church, also a long time employee of Richard Rogers who first suggested taking the church to Mary Kay since she could no longer attend church.  Members of this church would go and sing to Mary Kay, read her scripture; the youth choir went to sing to her, and she insisted they not leave until she held the hands of every teen and looked them in the eyes…and their question out her door was ‘when can we come back’?  This mission to minister to Mary Kay became a favorite investment of this congregation and her presence had touched them all deeply.  He had received a letter from missionaries they support in China who wrote to him that all these women from Mary Kay China kept coming to their church wanting to know more about this God that was so important to Mary Kay personally.  He reminded us that Mary Kay had changed the scripts of society.  Her beliefs, her courage, her actions, her perseverance, her faith.  Her willingness to step out of the beaten path to pave a way she knew was right, scriptural, integrative, and God inspired, changed the scripts that people voiced, the thoughts that people think. He cried through most of his prepared message pointing out that you really get to know someone’s true character during their most trying personal hour.  Mary Kay Ash had touched his heart.


Richard Rogers spoke, ‘not as a leader’ in his own words, but remembered Mary Kay as a son, as someone she had mentored and led. He remembered and acknowledged her heart for Jesus, for her family, for her life’s work, as only he could have known it.  I ponder the conversations, the challenges, the meetings, and the decisions Richard and Mary Kay together have shared over these 30 some years. 


National Sales Director Emeritus Dalene White shared personal stories of her private friendship with Mary Kay and of their first Corporate Christmas party at Mary Kay’s home.  Dalene rang the doorbell to help with preparations and Mary Kay answered in house slippers, an apron, flour on her nose and her wig hanging on the kitchen door, but right before the party and only hours later, everything perfect, Mary Kay in an evening gown walking Gigi in the yard, greeting the guests as if she had been a lady of leisure all day.  I was inspired to hear Dalene pay tribute to Mary Kay’s children and family for ‘sharing’ her with so many others who loved her so much…what a selfless thing to do.  When faced with crisis upon the death of her husband, it was the children who encouraged her to go forward with the company’s opening.  As a parent, I pondered all the years of family leadership and parental investment that preceded that day.  We laughed and we cried and we recognized the heart of the woman as true and consistent.


Rena Tarbet reminded us of the sensitive Mary Kay…Mary Kay always supported Rena personally during her battle and victory over cancer.  The line I remember most was, “I sat with her and cried when she lost her daughter Marilyn, and she sat with me and cried when I lost my breast.”  As Rena taught/preached, compared Mary Kay to other great women of the Bible, along with us all, the ministers were moved.


Ryan Rogers, Richard’s son, confirmed what everyone (who didn’t already know) might want to know…”What was Mary Kay like with her family?”  He confidently always replied.  You know the same Mary Kay I know.  She is the same with us as she is with you because she considers you to be a part of her family.”  He reminded each of us that we probably had a picture of ourselves with Mary Kay next to photos of our own family, and I thought of my office.  Pictures of my family, pictures with Mary Kay all over the world, and pictures of my Mary Kay family, all sharing the same special space.  He told of his most vivid memory of Christmas.  Among the other things on his list when he was 4 or 5, he had asked for a million pennies, because a friend of his had a gumball machine that took a penny to get a piece of gum.  Having no real concept of a million, this was his #1 request.  It was under Mary Kay’s tree that some ? 200? rolls of pennies, feeling like a million, showed up.  “Do you know how much 200 rolls of pennies weighs?”  he laughed.  Why did she do it?  Maybe because she knew no one else would go to the trouble.  Maybe she thought it would be funny.  The bottom line is that she did what she does best…made him feel special. 


The music, like at most services, moved me deeply.  A full choir that filled the entire front of the church joined by the Mary Kay Choir (individuals from Corporate who volunteer and sing often) wearing pink choir robes, a strings orchestra, a baby grande piano, and the most incredible pipe organ accompanied the vocalists.  The first songs, “It is well with my soul” and “Well done my child” laid the foundation for what we were celebrating on this day.  Her soul is at rest, at peace; she is in heaven with her Lord.  Her gifts and talents were not left unopened in the earthly realm, and with confidence when she met the Lord face to face, I believe He said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.   The choir resounded, “How great thou art” and together, we sang ‘Amazing Grace’, and it felt as if the heavenlies came down to join us.  Right before the benediction, Sarah Larr (owner and choreographer of The Friends of Time—the Dance Co. who performs for us at Seminar) and the Mary Kay Choir sang the ‘ON Silver Wings’ Tribute…which blends Mary Kay’s voice reciting a portion of the poem…in the recorded music.  Following the benediction, a beautiful and trained male soloist sang, “I did it my way”.  We smiled.  She had.  She had done it her way.  With God first, her family second, and her Career Third.  She did have it all.  God’s favor, the love of her family, admiration from her friends, success in every measure of the word, influence that penetrates every possible border, and peace in her passing.  What more could anyone want? 


“Onward Christian Soldiers” played as the family exited the sanctuary, and as the door had closed, “I’ve got that joy joy joy” (Mary Kay Enthusiasm—enthus meaning God within) blared, inviting us all to sing!  We did, with the motions…just like she would want us to, even though the service had been so formal and dignified before it… and in the words of NSD Nancy Moser, ‘I felt as if I had attended Mary Kay’s personal and ultimate Success Meeting’.  Throughout the service, I shared sweet glances and hand squeezes, tears and smiles and hugs with my dear friends, Gloria M. Banks, Alia Head, Jan Thetford, and Linda Toupin as we sat together honoring God and paying tribute to Mary Kay for her legendary life and one-of-a-kind company and Corporate philosophy that surpasses the paper it is written on; mutually grateful we had the good sense to say yes, to persevere, to stand firm as she had led us by her example, and recognizing the blessing of being in a position to carry it on.

        It was not Mary Kay’s Business Success that we honored and celebrated.  It was Mary Kay, the woman, the Christian, the faithful servant we paid tribute to.  When Mary Kay started this co. in 1963, she was then, on Sept. 13, Mary Kay.  It was not Mary Kay Cosmetics of 2001.  It was one woman, with a passion, a dream, an idea, personal conviction that her faith would sustain.  It was one woman, who made sacrifices, stood alone, did not have a Sr. director, an NSD herself.  It was one woman who communicated life lessons from her own upbringing and experiences to others and walked her talk, obeyed, put herself in a bless able position, did not give up.  In the end, Mary Kay owned everything, but it did not own her.  Who she was preceded her success.  Consider the teaching. 

  • “God, Family, Career.  In this order everything works.  Out of this order, nothing works.”
  • “Everybody has an invisible sign around her neck that says ‘MAKE ME FEEL IMPORTANT’”.    She did that whether it was with people waiting in line for her autograph or in a tense corporate meeting.  She did that with the cook staff in the back of hotels or with the waitress at her table.
  • “God didn’t take time to create a nobody, only a somebody. YOU are a somebody”
  • “You CAN do it.” 
  • “Anything the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve” (This is not a name it claim it New Age thought.  It ASSUMES a God-given vision preceded the vision).
  • “I’ve never seen a dirty pink Cadillac, And I’d better never” (My interpretation of this is that she doesn’t have a ‘famous saying’ about Directors in Grand Ams…aaahhhhummmm….)
  • “Every night I go to sleep looking like Elizabeth Taylor and wake up looking like Charles Degaul.  There is no such thing as an ugly woman, just a lazy one”

        MISSION.  God gave to Mary Kay the idea, the vehicle, and the open door.  She walked through it.  She crawled through it, she persevered.  Her passion for enriching the lives of every woman was deep and is what continued to drive her.  She did that with integrity and with her priorities in order.  A ‘balanced’, protective, scattered, fickle, frail, excuse-driven, emotional person could not have accomplished what God entrusted to Mary Kay.

        GRATITUDE.  Mary Kay was grateful for life, for opportunity, for health, and for people.  She showed gratitude in each season and in every situation. She was equally grateful for the blessings, for the failures, the disappointments, the life lessons.  She used her personal pain as stepping-stones into the future success she would enjoy.  She never exercised a right to pity party or break from ‘too much’ disappointment. 

        ATTITUDE.  Only ‘GREAT’ was an acceptable answer to ‘How are you?’.  No hidden code for ‘unbelievable’ was ever taught by Mary Kay.  You may not be able to determine your circumstances, but you can choose your response and action to each life season.

        SENSE OF HUMOR and QUICK WIT.  After her skirt fell off at Seminar one year (you should have seen Gary Jinks face …blushing from embarrassment…knowing he was the one right behind her so he should DO something…which he did.  He pulled it up!) and when she came to the podium, she said, ‘Well, now you have seen it all’!  When people publicly in interviews asked Mary Kay how old she was, her reply was “How much do you weigh?”  On 60 minutes, Maurey Shaver asked her with this God first philosophy if she wasn’t ‘using’ God.  Her reply,  ‘I sincerely hope that God is using me’.

        I am blessed to have known Mary Kay, to have had her teach my New Director Class in Dallas—standing on her heels for 4 hours, to have been in her home, to have had her crown the queens at our seminars, to have learned from her speeches at Seminars and Leadership Conferences, to have traveled Europe with her, to have had Million $ lunches and dinners with her, to have sat with her privately, to have her call me by name…my season in Mary Kay is a special one to me.  But I want to share four specific meaningful times of her with you.

        My first Seminar, I attended as a New Sales Director.  I was excited of course, but I thought that people were making a little too much out of the woman Mary Kay.  I mean, after all, ‘she is just a woman’.  I had never been a ‘groupie’ of sorts…never a rock group or movie star that moved me to a squeal.  So, the anticipation of seminar and ‘seeing Mary Kay’ seemed a little much.  That is, until she came out on stage, and then, to my own surprise, I wept.  I couldn’t stop weeping.  I felt the love, the presence, the Holy Spirit endorsement on her life, and I was touched.  I knew there was something to this, to her, and to my involvement with her company.

        When a few months later, I attended my New Director Week in Dallas, she had us all to her home for cookies.  There were around 90 of us, I guess.  We each waited in line to visit with Mary Kay one-on-one if we wanted.  I waited and in my mind rehearsed what I would say…  ‘Mary Kay, thank you for this career; thank you for my Cadillac, my commission check, the life I love…’  So when it was my turn, I stepped in front of Mary Kay, looked down (I am barely 5’4”…and I looked down), I burst into tears and all I could heave out was ‘thank you’.  She took my hand, and said, ‘Honey, you are going to be a great director’.  She then took the business card and my pen that I had in hand for her to sign, and wrote.  “To Pam’s wonderful unit!  See you at the TOP!  Love, Mary Kay’.  I laminated it and  to this day, I carry it in my DESIGN BOOK  as a reminder of how she made me feel and of who I was then, where I came from, and how her choices I impacted my life.

        The first year we were in the top 3 at our Seminar, in my speech on day 3, I told a story about Walt Disney and how he consciously surrounded himself with “When” people.  People who didn’t ask “Why?” or “What”, but simply “WHEN”.  And how at his death, they stopped in Disney Land to make the announcement, and everyone gathered around the flagpole and sang, “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are; anything your heart desires will come to you.”.  As I walked off stage, Mary Kay was waiting in the pit at the base of the stairs.  She took my hands, looked into my eyes and said, “Pamela, thank you for being one of my WHEN people.  That was a wonderful speech”.

        In Bermuda, I was privileged to represent a Million $ unit, #5 (or 6—I can’t remember) in the nation, and one of only 10 million $ units that year, so at a private dinner, Mary Kay sat between Pam Tull and myself for the entrée service.  I was so nervous.  Jerry was to my right.  I looked at the menu, and it was all so expensive.  I knew they brought us here on purpose and that they surely knew what everything cost, but I also knew how frugal Mary Kay was…so I wasn’t sure how to order.  I heard her order lobster, so I ordered lobster, as did Jerry.  Well our plates arrived, and hers was a small piece of stuffed lobster, and Jerry and I had gotten the island lobster…whole thing…and the claws and all were falling off our plates and crowding the people on both sides of us.  Mary Kay looked at me and said,  “Are you hungry honey?”  I was so embarrassed and didn’t know whether to eat a little of it or all of it…but she continued to make us all feel comfortable with her ease of conversation.  We looked in her purse just like children would of their Mother, to see what she carried…she showed us her lip palettes and fussed about the lipsticks that had just come out (she thought all lipstick should always be applied with a brush); she let us know her feelings about watermelon, a shade favorite of hers that was leaving, Richard---he had left the co. at that time, and oh boy was she giving him down the road!  It was a precious night.

        There are hundreds more stories and memories that I hope to take the time to journal.  Following the service, we went by bus back to the hotel where the Company hosted a reception with food and beverage for all of us.  A time of gathering…passing too quickly.  Connecting with some face to face, but connected to all.  Those three hours slipped into history. An element of finality, but a sense of comfort and peace and optimism loomed.  I joined up with Sherrill and Lee Steinman, Mona and Ken Butters, Fran Ciklo, Karen Ford and Sean Key for dinner at P.F.Changs…a delicious oriental restaurant (after we did some quick damage in Neimans).  We celebrated Mary Kay, our lives, our Careers, our friendship, our responsibility, our blessings, our future, the Company’s future.  After 11p.m. we left; the ice had begun to really stick; I returned to the hotel to make a voice tel message to the Shaw Area…wishing I could recapture every thing I had seen, felt, imagined, thought…wanting so much for you to step into this incredible place of abundance without worry, without hesitation, with full blown commitment, with increased vision.  I contemplated…what if I had not?  Where would I be?  Who would my friends be?  What of the world would I have seen?  Who would I be?  What would I be doing?  I sat on the bed, I began to pray…it was all gratitude.  My life, I get to live a life I love.  I am surrounded by people that I love and admire—people whose lives of excellence take me to higher places, make me think higher thoughts.  I get to use and develop and unwrap gifts and talents daily in a spirit of encouragement and support from those who have paved the way and those who come behind.  My home,  Mary Kay.  My car, Mary Kay.   Travel, Mary Kay.  My son’s private Christian school, Mary Kay.  My friends…excluding a precious few…Mary Kay.  I thanked God for His hand on my direction into an unlikely career for me…cosmetics.  I thanked Him for the faithfulness and vision and persistence of this ONE woman.  One person.  One woman, who for 33 years (the past 5 she has had no voice) created an International Impact of Powerful, Positive, Truthful influence, success unmeasured, and mine is but one of those lives.  I asked God to give me the courage to live the destiny He has planned for my own life.  I packed my bag and slept for a few hours and then at 5:30 got up to shower and dress and finish packing to be at the airport timely.  Ice delayed everything, but gave me a sense of calm.  Slow down Pam.  It’s ok.  I have an ultimate Design.  Just abide in me. 

        Karen (Ford) and I checked our luggage curbside.  The attendant asked us if we were with Mary Kay.  How did he know?  He praised her and lauded her success, who she was as a person, what she had done for the city of Dallas; This was deja vous.  It had happened on the phone with a stranger who became friend from Delta airlines when she realized the reason for my travel.  It happened in Neimans.  It happened in the hotel.  It is still happening in my home town and wherever I go.  Her influence touched people who have never even seen our product.  Karen and I had two airport hours, and one de-ice hour, and a two-hour flight, and we did not stop talking, and nothing about our conversation went into trivial.  We are all so blessed.  Jerry picked me up.  We got a latte and a cookie for the drive home.  I tried to verbalize the 2 days…It was pouring rain in Nashville…and on into Kentucky.  I had a commitment to teach the Directors of our Church’s Youth Ministry.  So, I dried off, freshened up, and went there…bed time.  Wake time.  Get Thomas ready for school.  Work out.  My 6 most list.  DIQ’s to finish.  Director’s to encourage.  The month to close.  My 10th wedding anniversary.  And life goes on.

        Will you join me today in saying YES to living it out, tapping it out…LIFE…your mission, your talent, your calling, your leadership, your best…no excuses, nothing held back.  Life at its most abundant, you at your best.  We have the opportunity and a responsibility to continue a legacy that is full of truth and right living, to carry it to the corners of the U.S. and the world.  There will be future times that you will either say, “I wish I had or I’m glad I did”.  I am so glad I did…to everything.  Will you join me in “passing it on”?  The best is yet to be. 

I have a premonition

That soars on Silver Wings

It’s a dream of your accomplishment

Of many Wondrous things.

I do not know beneath which sky

Or where you’ll challenge fate.

I only know it will be high!

I only know it will be great!

(Author unknown)


With a grateful and full heart,

Pamela Shaw