Recently, we lost a member of our GIE Media family who worked at the company for nearly 30 years.

Helen Duerr and her husband were driving home from their son’s soccer tournament in November when they were hit by a driver going the wrong way on the highway. Her husband, Mick, survived the crash; our beloved Helen did not.

As we begin 2017 and reflect on the past year and what has changed, we are dedicating the first issue of the year to Helen. She was a vital part of this magazine and of the company.

Helen was our production manager, which meant, as many colleagues put it, “she touched everything.” She was the nucleus of our company and the one person who worked with every department. She worked with the staff of about two dozen magazines, covering topics as varied as pest control, recycling and garden retail. Everything was reviewed by Helen. She oversaw publications from the scheduling and planning stages to the final page before it was sent to be printed. She caught errors and knew things no one else did because she cared, she was great at her job, she was smart and she was dedicated. She was tough, a requirement when you’re coordinating production, and many people feared her when they first met her. Eventually, that fear turned to respect, especially when her attention to detail saved you from an embarrassing mistake.

A one-page column is not nearly enough space to fully describe Helen or how much we’ll all miss her, but I think my colleague said it best: Helen was frank but fair, caring and compassionate. She was strict but understanding. Helen preferred personal connections and rarely emailed or called. Each month, she’d walk over with the magazine’s page number order instead of emailing editors and designers the document. Editors submitted “final” versions of their issues to her. About an hour later, she’d walk over with a page, place it on your desk, and without speaking, point to whatever you had failed to notice.

Helen volunteered at a local Boys & Girls Club and at other organizations, and even went to school to study nursing while working full-time at GIE, facts that many learned after she was gone. We all learned a lot more about who she was when our company gathered after she died to share our favorite memories of Helen and mourn.

Helen Duerr

One story that perhaps best illustrates Helen comes from Megan Workman, an associate editor at GIE. Helen made a round almond cake with orange glaze frosting for a fundraiser we organized at work in the spring of 2015. Megan loved the cake, and as a joke, she tore off a scrap piece of paper and wrote a note, praising the cake and asking for one for her birthday in November. She left it on Helen’s desk, and they never spoke of it.

About six months later, Megan came into work on her birthday, and the cake she requested was on her desk. Beside it was the scrap piece of paper she had left for Helen, but with no new message. Megan, near tears, ran up to her office to thank her.

“Now don’t tell anyone I made you this cake,” Helen replied with her classic smirk, “because it will ruin my reputation.”

If you’re lucky, your company has someone like Helen. Tragic events remind us that although time is limited and the demands seem to grow with each passing year, slowing down and enjoying our colleagues – the people we spend most of our days with – is so important. The people you work with are your family. We can’t take that, and our precious time with them, for granted.

Michelle Simakis
msimakis@gie.net