Some 35 years ago, shortly after I’d just taken a job as General Manager of public radio station KOSU-FM at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, I had the opportunity to meet one of the most gracious and inspiring ladies I’ve ever known.
Her name was Lillie Herndon, a South Carolinian who had been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by President Nixon. This photo shows Lillie during the period she served as president of the South Carolina Council of Parents and Teachers – long before I met her. She later would serve as president of the national Parents and Teachers Association (PTA).
Our paths first crossed at a “CPB Regional Roundtable” conducted at a small hotel near Kansas City International Airport. It was one of my first out-of-state meetings as a fledgling manager in the public broadcasting system, and I knew few of my new colleagues – and even fewer of the big guns from Washington, D.C.
How fortuitous and delightful it was for me to end up seated next to Lillie Herndon, whose southern charm was at once disarming – if a bit misleading. Not that she was ever anything but gracious. But her kindly manner and gentle ways belied her enormous experience in business and education.
We swapped pleasantries and had a chance to visit a bit before and during the meeting. By the end of the day, I was on my way back to Stillwater, while Lillie and other CPB folks were trekking toward another city on their jaunt across the country to yet another CPB roundtable.
It would be some months before Lillie and I would meet again at another meeting, and I don’t remember where it was, but I do remember her greeting me with, “Hello, Larry, how are you?”
Many folks have a knack for remembering names. Some work at it. For others, like Lillie Herndon, it comes from a genuine interest in other people and wanting to learn more about them and their ideas. It’s getting beyond the exterior shield that too many of us throw up in our personal and professional relationships.
Lillie and I crossed paths several more times in the following years, but as fate would have it, we never had occasion to work together or have more discussions about our passions for public broadcasting.
I learned only this week that Lillie Herndon died in December (12/3/09) at her home in South Carolina. She was 93 years old. Hers was a remarkable career of public service – one that touched so many lives, through her work in business, education, and public broadcasting. Her obituary provides a glimpse into the career of this wonderful southern lady.
I wish I had known her better, but I’m grateful for having known her at all. Lillie Herndon will be deeply missed.