Editors' Notebook

In Memoriam: Make Mentoring a Priority

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Friend and co-worker Marcia Zarley Taylor continues to inspire us to inspire others. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

Nearly every agriculture meeting I attend has a common thread. Someone asks me about Marcia Zarley Taylor.

Almost on cue, our heads bow a bit and there's a moment of reverence before a Marcia story surfaces. Marcia was a DTN Executive Editor and career agricultural journalist who passed away Feb. 19, 2017. It is staggering to think it has been five years because her influence is still fresh. From the farmers she counseled in peer groups to those who depended on her to know every nook and cranny of crop insurance, she made a difference.

I've thought a lot about making a difference lately. How does one leave a mark? Is it still important?

I was at a Best Buy store recently and encountered Josh Stevens, who had been a teammate of one of my children in high school. We had an emotional hug between the computer components. "I will never forget all the chocolate chip cookies you made for us," he mumbled through his COVID-compliant mask. It touched me so, that I went home and made a batch and gave them all away.

Driving through Champaign, Illinois, a few days later, I side tripped into a familiar neighborhood that served up similar remembrances. University of Illinois animal scientist Dr. Upson Garrigus and his wife, Olive, were known for opening their hearts and home to students interested in agriculture. I was among the lucky or chosen -- my father had also had Dr. Garrigus as a professor. Food and lively conversations were a balm for this student's longing for home in a time when phone calls were expensive, and we still communicated mostly by mail. Although this lovely couple are now departed, the memory of their kindness continues to resonate in me decades later.

Most of us have people who have touched our lives in meaningful ways. Often, and sadly, we don't take the time to tell them before it is too late.

Marcia would likely be chagrined and perhaps a little amused that I am frequently called upon to share in her remembrances.

She and I were months apart in age. We came up in the ag journalism industry together at a time when women were just gaining a foothold in the business. We were of similar stature and sometimes confused for one another -- even by people who knew better.

Considering what a consummate journalist she was, I've always considered the connection and temporary confusion to be a compliment. We did not always see eye to eye -- something she likened to sibling rivalry as, she sometimes referred to us as "sisters."

Marcia was stubborn and demanding when it came to article details and wordsmithing. These days when a co-worker objects to being edited, I call upon my inner Marcia to guide my reaction. She didn't abide bullying, but she would listen to reason. She was slow to take offense, but quick to appreciate logic. I learned from her that the ultimate in mentoring is advancing this attitude of open-mindedness bound by strength of conviction.

It is easier to look back and recognize how others have shaped us after the fact. Sometimes they were not always the individuals we liked best, but those who taught us something, whether we wanted to learn or not.

Given the chance, I'd thank my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Wiggins, for making me love reading and art projects. And Mrs. Eyer for my typing skills -- I now realize my high school, teenage hissy fit over her requirement that I learn to type with the keys capped wasn't "stupid." Thank you, Gary Reynolds, one of my first editors, whose pencil was tough and who picked a particular story to encourage me to dig deeper and do better and then, slapped me on the back with atta-girls after reading the second draft.

There are countless others -- Extension personnel who have taught, proofed and guided the words I send out hoping to help farmer readers. There are parents and grandparents, 4-H leaders, neighbors and all the others who have gifted pieces of themselves in a thought, a treasured skill, or a slice of good will.

And, there's Marcia, who continues to give to others through a scholarship set up in her name for agricultural communicators at Iowa State University. And, who continues to give to me through the memories of the personal and professional friendship we shared and a few emails I still have squirreled away to remind me of her wisdom.

I know her response to all of this fuss would be: "Don't thank me, give back. Mentor someone else." And, she'd be right, once again. Because everyone has something of value to contribute to others.

It might even be a chocolate chip cookie.


Editor's note: The Marcia Zarley Taylor Fund in Agricultural Communications has been established at Iowa State University. Three students were awarded scholarships in 2021. Those interested in applying for the scholarship or contributing to that fund can find more information through the Iowa State University Foundation, www.foundation.iastate.edu, 866-419-6768.

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