CON honors, remembers those lost

You just wanted to hug those kids.

Tommy, 10. A good boy, glowing, talking about his dad’s job, and jets. “Tommy can tell you about any plane around,” said his grandfather, Tom Blake.

Lily, 8. An angel (literally; she’d just danced in the Nutcracker) in a purple snow hat with hearts on it, and sparkly boots. When her brother blabbed about how she sometimes forgets names, she leaned in, stepped on his foot and gave him a look. That little-sister-to-big-brother look.

“She was born 19 days after our boy was killed,” her grandfather said.

The Blake kids, Tommy and Lily, pictured earlier in front of a display honoring their father, Navy Pilot Lt. Com. Thomas Blake, bottom left. In a coincidence, the other serviceman honored by the College of Nursing, Staff Sgt. Tricia Jameson, is in another of the photos, top left.

The Blake kids, Tommy and Lily, pictured at an earlier memorial display honoring their father, Navy Pilot Lt. Com. Thomas Blake, bottom left. In a coincidence, the other serviceman recently honored by the College of Nursing, Staff Sgt. Tricia Jameson, is also among these photos, top left.

“Your daddy helped make you before you were born,” her grandmother, Carole Blake, told her as she gave Lily a squeeze. “He and your mama picked out your name.”

Navy Pilot Lt. Com. Thomas Blake

Navy Pilot Lt. Com. Thomas Blake

Their mama is Jessica Blake, today a UNMC nursing student. On this morning, her Policy and Leadership class was different. The class – her class – was presenting her with an Honor and Remember flag.

Navy Pilot Lt. Com. Thomas Blake died in an S-3B Viking jet crash in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005. He was 33. He left behind a wife, a son and a daughter he never got to meet.

The flags are a relatively new movement, started by a father who lost a son. The flags go to the families of U.S. servicemen who died “in the line of duty.” The flags have been officially adopted by 16 states, the charity’s website says, and have been “endorsed” by eight more (Nebraska is among those still being lobbied). They don’t come cheap. The UNMC College of Nursing Policy and Leadership class raised $700 for two.

The other went to Pat Jameson, a nurse, and the mother of Tricia Jameson, who had always wanted to be one.

While she applied to nursing school, Tricia, a staff sergeant, was serving as a full-time health care specialist for the Nebraska National Guard. She carried a medical bag in her car, in case she came across any accidents. She taught combat lifesaver training to Nebraska Guard troops. When an opportunity came up to deploy to Iraq herself, she jumped to the front of the line.

Today, Nick Hornig is a UNMC nursing student. In 2005, he was in the 313th Medical Company (Grounded Ambulance) in the Nebraska Guard, in Iraq, when Tricia showed up, a replacement. He helped her unload her bags.

Nebraska Guard medic Staff Sgt. Tricia Jameson

Nebraska Guard medic Staff Sgt. Tricia Jameson

She was the new kid; he barely knew her. She’d been with them for about three weeks when, out on the Humvee ambulance, she and her driver came across a convoy of Marines that had been hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. There were casualties.

She was racing to the rescue when she was killed by another IED.

“It could have been any of us,” Nick said.

At that time it seemed like something like that was happening every day.

She was engaged to be married. She was 34.

When called to come up to accept her flag, Tricia’s mother took a breath and closed her eyes: steeling herself.

As she stood up there, Nick held his face, rubbed his hands and fought off the tears that welled in his eyes.

He’d barely known Tricia, but he knew this: he’d made it home to nursing school and she had not.

Tricia's mom, Pat, displays the flag presented her by UNMC nursing students with volunteer Cliff Leach.

Tricia’s mom, Pat, displays the flag presented her by UNMC nursing students with volunteer Cliff Leach.

When he heard about the flags, he’d asked his classmates if they could make this happen, for Tricia, and together, they had. Keyon Royster said that Jessica should get one, too. Kate Weidemann organized a bake sale.

With Tricia’s mom, Nick was tender. It could have been him.

It could have been any of them.

Those kids. Tommy, 10, and Lily, 8. Their faces said this was a good day. They got to hear about how great their dad had been. They beamed as they held up that flag.

But those other faces – those of Jessica, and Carole, and Tom, of Tricia’s mom, Pat – those were the ones that all but knocked you to your knees.

The audible sniffles in the auditorium said they were not alone in their tears.

These people had been wounded beyond endurance, and yet, somehow, they endured. There they were. Standing.

UNMC nursing student Jessica Blake, third from left, holds a flag that honors her husband, Thomas, a Navy pilot who died in the line of duty. With her are her husband's parents, Carole and Tom, and her children, Tommy and Lily.

UNMC nursing student Jessica Blake, third from left, holds a flag that honors her husband, Thomas, a Navy pilot who died in the line of duty. With her are her husband’s parents, Carole and Tom, and her children, Tommy and Lily.

And when it came time to click a picture, Jessica brushed the tears, lifted her head, looked right into the camera. And smiled.

Later, in the hallway, Jessica ran into Nick, her nursing school classmate, the guy who had the idea to do this to honor the fallen teammate he’d barely known.

She grabbed his arm. “Thank you,” she said. “That was really cool.”

She laughed at having made something for the bake sale, not yet knowing, at that point, one of the flags was to be for her.

And then, they were late. She was heading back into the classroom and Nick not far behind. They had a test to take. The flag ceremony was over. Quick as that, class was starting again.

Nursing school, much like life, keeps moving forward. And you remember, and smile bravely, and carry on the best you can.

There IS such a thing as a free lunch

We’ve all heard the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” At UNMC, though, that’s debatable. There’s always something going on over the lunch hour, and most of the time, it’s free. Sometimes lunch is even included, SO THERE, whoever came up with the above phrase.

Recently, I was able to attend not one, not two, but THREE lunch sessions in the same week in which I learned something I could take back to my desk. And I could have attended two more events, had they not been scheduled on the same day at the same time as others.

The first was the “Superwoman is a Myth” brown bag lecture hosted by the Olson Center on Tuesday. There I learned that woman tend to feel guilty if they can’t do it all (can I get an amen?), while men tend to blame others (I’m quoting the speaker here, guys).

Sondra Dubas, owner and founder of Miracle Heart Books, was forced to stop running the rat race when her 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, suffered a stroke during surgery for a congenital heart defect. Ashley was born without a pulmonary valve in her heart. Prior to surgery, Dubas looked at it as another event on the calendar, something to get done and cross off her list. When things didn’t go as planned, her life became only about her daughter and getting her better (Ashley’s doing great now).

Dubas learned to say “no” to things that weren’t important to her, focus on “being” rather than “doing” and live “on purpose.” She stopped trying to be “superwoman” and instead became the best version of herself. She urged attendees not to wait for trauma to happen before doing the same.

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Wednesday, I went to a Learn at Lunch put on by HR. Though it was titled “Uniting the Diverse,” the speaker from White Rabbit Group focused on branding. While some still think of the UNMC brand as just our logo or the tagline “Breakthroughs for Life,” Mike Wagner had a more open-ended definition.

Branding is “what people remember when they remember you,” he said. He talked about the different kinds of brands: adversarial (think cell phone/cable companies), indifference (fast food restaurants), friendly, but tend to overpromise and under-deliver (car care, anyone?) and focused (where the company anticipates your wants and needs, like Zappos’ surprise upgrade shipping feature).

While we in PR can do everything in our power to build our brand image, Wagner pointed out that the real brand of UNMC lies in the people – all the people. This, my friend, means you, too.

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On Thursday, I’d signed up for a session titled “Running the Catch-Up-I-Don’t-Have Enough-Time Race,” also hosted by the Olson Center. How did I know this was something I needed to attend? Well, I showed up 15 minutes late, not realizing it started at 11:30 and not noon.

Jennifer Bartlett, a certified professional organizer, had our group draw how we spend our days on a pie chart. She then asked us to write down our priorities and see if the two matched up. Newsflash: They didn’t, and I’m guessing yours don’t always line up either.

I had on paper that my marriage and health are two of my top priorities, but in reality, I make little effort to schedule dates with my husband without our two rugrats in tow, and I don’t think I have time for exercise even though I always find time for Facebook.

Bartlett then offered tips on how to marry the pie chart with the priority list by:

-using the “no” word;
-delegating;
-setting timers for activities;
-not compromising on sleep; and
-scheduling “me-time”.

My Day in 24 Hours

Since the session ended before I expected it to, I stopped down to the first floor of the DOC and briefly listened to “I, the Siren,” an Omaha Chamber Music Society trio performing as part of the Music and Medicine series. It was a great way to cap off lunch hour, free of charge.

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Check the UNMC calendar  to find out what’s going on around campus over lunch hours and throughout the day.

How the PR department “pulled one over” on Tom O’Connor

toeditUNMC’s Tom O’Connor and his wife, Karen
I found out a month ago that Tom O’Connor, senior associate director in public relations here at UNMC, was chosen to receive the “Special Achievement in Public Relations” award at the PRSA Nebraska gala on Dec. 4

But there was one caveat. Organizers wanted it to be a surprise. Our department had to keep it a secret from Tom (gasp!). Keeping a secret from Tom is like playing Santa. You have to work behind the scenes and be sneaky, though no long, white beard is required.

When I asked a colleague for ideas on how to get Tom to the awards ceremony without him realizing why, she had two words for me: “He’ll know.”

 But we were a determined bunch. After some conspiring with our PR director, Bill O’Neill, we decided to tell Tom the department won an award and we needed him to accept it.

 Yes, that would do, or so we thought. Tom agreed to go, but wasn’t satisfied with our story. Being the investigative journalist type, he continued to ask for details. Details that didn’t exist. After all, this was a made-up award.

 Enter an e-mail from Bill.

 “The next e-mail that I send out will be a complete fabrication so that Tom O. will quit asking me about the award. Remember, it is Tom who is actually receiving the award for his service to the PR profession.”

 And that next e-mail from Bill:

 “Found out yesterday that the award we will receive tonight is for “Outstanding Public Relations on behalf of a non-profit” … Thanks to Tom, Lisa, Vicky and Nicole for representing our department at the PRSA gala tonight. Great job, all!”

 As for the relentless questioning from Tom about who nominated us and why, we all played dumb and it seemed to work (not sure if this is necessarily a good thing).

 The biggest coup was getting his wife, Karen, to attend without giving anything away. Her having attended 3,472 of these types of events over the years, we knew that she would normally prefer to pass. But this wasn’t just another dinner. This was one in which her husband would be receiving a Grammy for PR.

 Bill called to clue her in at the last minute, giving her the scoop that it was actually Tom, not our department, who would be honored. While he was on the phone with Karen, Tom walked in the room. Bill quickly hung up. He covered by telling Tom there was now an extra seat at our table and asked if Karen could fill it. Figuring she wouldn’t want to go, he called her anyway.

 And this is when Karen put on an Academy Award-winning performance. She moaned and groaned and even threw in some colorful language for good measure. Karen knew that if she said yes right away it would be obvious something was up, so reluctantly she agreed to go. It was exactly what sold Tom on the idea that this was a general awards dinner.

 Fast forward to that night. During the cocktail hour, Tom still wasn’t satisfied with our vague description of what we were winning and questioned me again. My response: “I think it’s an award of merit…or maybe excellence…Bartender, more wine please!”

 Later, Tom, Karen, Vicky, Lisa Spellman and I took our places at the table. They began to announce award winners and UNMC’s name was never called. I wondered when Tom would start to get suspicious, but he didn’t until the moment they read his bio from the podium.

 “…36 years of media relations experience….. credible, friendly and reliable….helps place more than 2,000 UNMC media hits per year.”

 Tom turned to his wife and said: “I think they’re talking about me.” With a huge grin on her face, Karen replied, “They ARE!”

 Tom stood, and sheepishly walked to the podium. First one person stood, and then another, then a few more and finally the whole room rose to their feet and applauded everyone’s favorite media relations guy. T.O. received a standing ovation. On his way back to the table, it got quiet for a second. Someone then started a second round of applause. It was a special moment to be a part of.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, it was clear Tom never suspected a thing. I believe he uttered something like, “Ya got me.”

 Ever the PR man, Tom sent a gracious email around the next morning.

 “It was a great honor for me. But, I say this in total sincerity, I owe it all to UNMC and the great people I have been lucky to work with in PR. You make me look way better than I really am. Way better.”

 And that, my friends, is the story of how the PR Department “pulled one over” on our very own Tom O’Connor.