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 like this one from despair​.com:
  • 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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