Rest in peace, Tina Wuelfing Cargile

by on Sep.10, 2010 , under facilitative leadership, localization, program management

My collaborator in “Point/Counterpoint” columns for Multilingual magazine, Tina Wuelfing Cargile, passed away last month after a long illness. Her time on this planet was too short, and my time with her was way too short, so even writing a decent bio is beyond me.

Her LinkedIn profile provides the basics. I’m going to attempt to fill in some of the color that’s missing from the business outlines. Those of you who knew her, just pour yourselves a glass of her favorite, pinot grigio, light a cigarette if you’re a smoker, and use a little imagination as you follow along.

Anyone who knew her would start their description of Tina with her sense of humor. Tina was always cracking a joke, often at her own expense. I can almost hear her explanation right now as my Mini Tina sits on my left shoulder (that’s where the evil angel goes, right?). “Well, of course, Erin—joking at my own expense, I’ve got lots of material!”

Somehow Tina’s adventures always became just a wee bit more absurd than anybody else’s, so her stories could keep us rolling for quite a while. This description of her introduction to country life, from McElroy Translation’s website during Tina’s years as their Business Development Manager, gives a taste of that:

Tina lives with her husband in a small town miles from Austin, where they are quickly filling their 12 acres with dozens of chickens, dogs, cats, geese, turkeys and ducks. She loves gardening, canning, quilting, playing with her “babies,” and listening to the frogs in their pond at night. They enjoy visits from their children and “adopt” their children’s friends, because their idea of family is whoever shows up. She also habitually and gleefully pokes fun at herself, and the description of her current hobbies and lifestyle brought to mind her introduction to country life.

Having spent 35 years in the city and on concrete, she proved totally oblivious to the “real world” on her first date, nearly 20 years ago, with her husband-to-be, a country boy from Honey Grove, Texas. While aware that the excursion involved scouting for arrowheads over fairly rough terrain, Tina:

  1. Wore stiletto heels and dressed in black from head to toe on a 100 degree day
  2. Identified a patch of prickly pear behind a ranch fence as a “cactus farm”
  3. Drank water from the river (who knew?)

He married her anyway.

Her humor wasn’t limited to self-deprecation, though. Recently while struggling with the illness that eventually took her from us, she posted to her friends on Facebook:

Day 7 in hospital: Stockholm Syndrome begins to set in. I’m no better or worse, really, just increasingly dependent upon my captors. Bizarre.

She frequently cracked me up with her quips about meetings that didn’t quite work out:

Reality is sure a lonely place when you can’t get anyone to join you there. What is it I saw on despair.com? At some point, hanging in there just makes you look like an even bigger loser. Worst cumulative score for a business trip EVER! I’ll spare you, which is more than I did for myself.

She grew up outside Washington, D.C., daughter of a test pilot who died in a jet crash in WV in 1957. Knowing that history makes me particularly enjoy this snapshot of Tina taken earlier this year.

We became collaborators in kind of a goofy way, and the better you know Tina, the more fitting that seems. We had both proposed talks at Translation World in Montréal about project management, so the conference organizers asked us to share a session.

That seems reasonable enough on the face of it, but as I read her proposal, I was shaking my head. I was a client-side program manager saying it was time to burn PMBOK (the bible from Project Management Institute, Project Management Book of Knowledge) and start over, and she was in vendor-side sales and saying people should read PMBOK. I thought, “Yeah, right—sharing a session is going to work really well!”

So I wrote to Tina and suggested that since we seemed to be in nearly complete disagreement, did she want to try a point/counterpoint format? I wasn’t sure what to make of her quick agreement, but within a few days we were on the phone trying to write an outline.

What a disaster!

We needed to give a 20 minute talk together, but after two hours on the phone we’d gotten spectacularly nowhere. Instead, we had accomplished the following:

  • We compared menageries—mine maxed out at three Siamese cats and two labrador retrievers, which you’d think would be competitive, but she topped that number in species, to say nothing of headcount.
  • We compared crazy career planning. I have degrees in music performance and have spent twenty-plus years in statistical software, but that was nothing on Tina’s degrees in English leading to a career in the recording industry, typesetting, running a higher ed journal, court reporting, and selling translation.
  • We compared notes on why we both think PowerPoint needs to be blasted off the face of the earth. And then she persuaded me to prepare slides anyway by promising to feature demotivational posters and that video with the cowboys herding cats.
  • We cracked each other up. Over and over again.

Later that week, we made another attempt. We didn’t get much further, but we did promise to send each other drafts, and after a few more email exchanges and seriously unproductive phone calls, we had our presentation. We’d also agreed to recruit Beatriz Bonnet of Syntes Language Group to be our moderator. Since neither of us were doing business with her and we both liked her outspoken style, we figured we could count on her to be neutral and keep us in check.

We finally met in Montréal—the night before we were to give our talk. Tina had arrived two days late thanks to airport closures in Texas. Beatriz had arrived on time, but as far as I know she has yet to be reunited with her luggage—so a few hours before Tina finally landed, Beatriz and I were tromping through the snowdrifts in downtown Montréal in our completely useless dress shoes looking for something for her to wear to our talk. When we got back to the hotel, we met Tina in the bar, where she was seated with a glass of—sing it with me, folks!—pinot grigio. We intended to go over logistics for our talk, but instead we spent several hours cracking each other up and deciding the talk would take care of itself.

It did, despite classic Tina circumstances: although we promised to show up early so we could (finally!) practice our talk together, she was actually late for her own presentation and we had to wing it.

She was late because she’d gotten stuck on the phone, rescuing a client from himself! I came to learn that she did a lot of that: talking clients down from the ledge, talking clients out of absurdly bad ideas, talking clients through technology that was too difficult for them to be buying, talking clients into sticking to plans instead of scrambling things up every few weeks because they didn’t understand the translation process, and so on.

Our talk was well received, and the audience’s questions and comments in the hallway afterward confirmed that they had gotten our point. It turned out that, although we thought we disagreed about the value of classical project management, we actually agreed about it but were looking at it from opposite perspectives. I was viewing it from the perspective of someone who had overdosed on methodology and discovered that facilitating a team’s teamwork was far more effective. She was viewing it from the perspective of someone who’d seen a lot of “project managers” whose training consisted of an endless supply of coffee and too much work. We were coming from opposite extremes—too much vs. not enough—but we met in the middle, recommending some basic tools used in moderation but in combination with compassion and listening skills.

High on the success of our high-wire act, we approached the editors of Multilingual with a proposal that we reprise the chaos in a series of point/counterpoint columns for the magazine. This gave us an excuse to continue getting together when our travels allowed—not that we needed one!

Generating column ideas was no problem. I still have our list, mostly unfinished. The problem was meeting deadlines! We were both overcommitted, so we repeatedly found ourselves trading drafts during the night before our deadlines and finally sending something a few hours after it was due. Editor Katie Botkin was patient with us, though. The results are available to subscribers on the Multilingual website, and they’re reprinted with Multilingual‘s permission on this blog:

I regret that Tina won’t be around to help me write the rest of our columns, because they won’t be nearly as sharp without her point of view. If you review the ones we did write, you’ll see that she was the funny one. She was also the wise one.

And the generous one. When Tina learned that I was leaving SAS after twelve years, she quickly persuaded Shelly Priebe of McElroy Translation to bring me in for interviews. None of us knew what I was interviewing for, exactly, but it was like Tina to work that way: thinking people should know each other and putting them together, and letting the details work themselves out.

Which they did. It was while talking for hours with Shelly in her lakeside guest cottage that I first began to envision Global Pragmatica and understand how my passion for facilitative leadership might fit into the localization industry. It was also Shelly who helped me see that localization was only part of the picture. It’s thanks to Tina that I now count Shelly and others from McElroy among my friends and valued colleagues—Shelly’s now an executive coach and she continues to be generous with her wisdom and encouragement.

I like how Shelly pictures Tina now:

Tina chose to slip away quietly, staying under the radar of our pity or our worry. With lucidity and acerbic wit to the end she passed to the kingdom that awaits her. Will she join the private Catholic school nuns of whom she spoke with such uproarious irreverence? That vision makes me smile. I will continue to smile whenever I think of my friend. Tina outwitted the demons who pursued her.

Tina went on to work with Beatriz at Syntes, and it was Beatriz who sent me the sad news when Tina died. Remembering Tina, Beatriz wrote,

Every time I think of Tina, her wisecracking and self-deprecating sense of humor are the first things that come to mind. She was sharp and witty, and just a lot of fun to be around. And she kept those traits to the end, using her humor to keep her spirits up as she fought the battle against her illness, in typical Tina style. In her last email to me, just a few days before she passed, she wrote, after a funny quote at her own expense and condition: ” ‘Scuse the dark humor. It’s too late to change now!”

Smart, generous, self-reliant, no-nonsense, witty, and just plain fun. That’s how I’ll always remember Tina.

Beatriz passed along a few more Tina gems, too; like the time Beatriz was planning a few days of hard ski-therapy, and Tina replied:

You will never get me on skis. My ankles are like toothpicks.

Or the time Tina emailed the entire office before a group event:

Please be sure to cut a wide parking swath for the confirmed pedestrian driving the really big company van.

Tina, you left us too soon. The world is a more boring place without you. Pinot grigio doesn’t taste right anymore.

Thank you for believing in all of us.

Please share your memories!

A note to Tina’s friends and family: I’d love it if you’d add your thoughts below in the comments. I know Tina would most appreciate your answers to this question: what’s the first time she made you laugh so hard it was embarrassing?

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