Margo Hoffman died yesterday. She’d been my friend and occasional boss for pretty much my entire life.
I first met her when I was five or so. I hadn’t started grade school yet, so it must’ve been around then. She was sixteen or seventeen, still in high school, and working for Don Bennett. I have a preschooler’s memories of her, and meeting her from that period: she was a grown up and she was nice to me. Don called her a kid, but as an even littler kid, I didn’t see it, you know? She was doing unfathomable grown up things that I couldn’t understand, and was somewhat amazed by. In that regard, she was always ahead of me.
My dad had recently lost his job with NASA, and he ended up going to work for Don Bennett, who was a State Farm Agent. Changing your career at age 43 is tough, and Margo was invaluable at helping him through it, even though she was still too young to vote.
Eventually Don got promoted and my dad bought out his franchise. Margo became his personal secretary. We call that an “Office Manager” today. Whenever my dad hired additional staff, she was always in charge. My dad joked that he hired Margo because she “Came with the furniture” when he bought the place, but he was actually pretty open on how much he relied on her to keep the business running.
Somewhere in that period, she married Bob Hoffman, and they had a daughter, Jo Ann. (“Jo Ann” is one of those names I’ve always manage to misspell. I don’t know if it’s “Jo Ann” or “Jo Anne” or “JoAnn” or “Joanne” or “Joann” or something with four Ms and a silent Q in there. Even with my own aunt Jo Ann, I always managed to misspell it, so I’ll just admit up front that I have no idea how not to botch it. I’m sorry. No disrespect intended)
Time passed. Margo was always a good mother, always a good sister, always a good daughter, always very close to her family. Always good to me when I was hanging around the office after work, or sentenced to the purgatory of cleaning the place with my mom.
Changes happened. My dad moved the office, then again, then again. He hired more permanent staff, and Margo was always his trusted lieutenant in keeping the place running. Eventually, when I was about as old as she’d been when she started working for Don, I started doing odd jobs for the office. Mostly inspections and other crap that my dad didn’t want to be bothered with. I’d come in, get my assignment from her, get the camera, the maps, the other info, head out, take pictures, come back, turn ’em in. My dad would slip me five or ten bucks – remember, this was back in the ’80s when gas was less than a buck a gallon – it wasn’t a bad gig for a high school student, even if it was pretty irregular work.
Afterwards I’d hang out and Margo and I would chat. She’d tell me about Jo Ann, and other stuff in her life, and ask me if I had a girlfriend yet (No, but not for lack of trying). She was always very nice and supportive of me.
More supportive than she realized, I think. My dad was a successful businessman by this time, but it was Margo that put him in a position where he could do that. I had an upbringing that wasn’t what you’d call patrician, but it was much, much, much better than it would have been if she hadn’t been there to help my dad. A lot of the ease of my youth was due to her hard work.
My mom was prone to illness, and was frequently bedridden, or nearly so. She was very depressed. My dad had to work, but there weren’t a lot of people he trusted to be around his ailing wife. He’d have Margo go over and hang out with my mom for a few hours every day, just keeping her company, talking about stuff, and so on. Most people have forgotten this – honestly, I’d forgotten about it until my mom reminded me the other day – but this went on for years. You can make a good argument that my mom wouldn’t still be here if Margo hadn’t nursemaided her for so long. Again: My life is better because she was in it.
Time passed, and I ended up working for my dad, which meant I was really working for Margo. I was a TERRIBLE employee. Lazy, unprofessional, questionably kempt, unable to keep the rules of the business straight, continually screwing up my work. Margo proved to be a saint in this period by resisting what must have been the hourly urge to murder me. That’s an entirely justified urge, by the way. I was a basket case, and everybody knew it.
After 22 years or so of working for my dad, and however long she’d worked for Don before, she’d grown tired of Insurance, and decided to go work for the City of Tarpon. She held a few other side jobs. She became a grandmother, which I know filled her with glee. She fell in love and spent the last of her life with the love of her life. Then she retired and the rest you know.
Yesterday she passed away.
There aren’t really words in English for people you have a family-level connection with, but that aren’t family. I call her a ‘friend,’ but that seems insultingly inappropriate. She was more like an aunt. Someone who was always there. Someone who cares about you even when you piss them off, and whom you care about even when they piss you off. Someone who’s always in your life, though maybe in a greater or lesser capacity at different points in time. There were times – lots of them – where I know for a fact I infuriated her, and there were times when she got on my nerves too, but she was always there, forgive and forget, caring, overlooking peoples faults. Even people with SUBSTANTIAL faults like mine. She got me out of a lot of trouble when I was younger, and never told my dad about it. After she quit, I could go for years without seeing her, but then – bang – we’d bump into each other and immediately pick up where we left off. When my dad died, she kept my mom company, visiting her and keeping her company, and helping keep her from sliding into suicidal depression.
As I said, there’s not really an English word for that kind of relationship, but I’m going to call her my aunt. My unofficially-adopted aunt. Assuming, of course, her family doesn’t find that disrespectful. I hadn’t seen her in a couple years prior to her death, but I loved her. How could you not?
There’s no need to talk about how things played out. Suffice to say she put up a very strong fight, and she died way way way too young. She leaves behind an unbelievably awesome daughter, a granddaughter that I really don’t know, but who seems pretty amazing by reputation, a fantastic sister, and of course, her one true love, whom I don’t know at all, but who must be an exceptional man to have won the heart of my unofficial aunt. She had a huge family besides, and God knows how many friends who feel about her the way I do, or moreso.
My prayers are with them, that God might ease their suffering in this terrible time. My prayers are also for Margo, that her soul finds peace (Which I have no doubts about), that she’s reunited with the people she’s loved and lost over the course of her way-too-short life, and that we’ll all meet her again in that place some day.
In the meantime, she made my life materially better in ways she probably never realized. That’s a debt I can’t repay. And though I didn’t see much of her in the last decade, I was always happy knowing she was still roaming around there, doing stuff, and realizing that at any random, unforseen moment I might turn a corner and there she’d be.
And now, well, knowing she’s not, knowing that I’m not, knowing that that’ll never happen again in this life is hard. Much, much, much harder on people who were closer to her than me, of course.
For me it comes down to this: She made my life vastly richer by having known her, and now I’m much poorer for her absence.