The Woman Who Changed My Life

The Power of a Mentor — right time — right place.

Phyllis Digby Morton

When I was a very young 20 year old working as one of four beauty editors in a British national magazine, I thought I had the world by the tail. Four months previously I had been fired from my previous job as the secretary in the public relations department of an ad agency, because although I was doing my boss’s work (he was drunk most of the time) mostly writing articles and press releases for our clients, I was still paid as a secretary. I went to the department head, explained my position and asked for a raise. I was fired on the spot for going around my direct boss. Lesson learned!

I got the job at Woman’s Own through a friend that worked there. A beauty editor — admittedly one of four sharing the office — but I really thought I’d made it to the top. I joined the press club, hung out with the boys from the newspapers, dated a few, learned to drink single malt scotch and smoke through a long, elegant cigarette holder. I was living what I thought was the good life.

The head of the beauty department of Woman’s Own, Phyllis Digby-Morton, was an amazing woman — way before her time. She was at work first before everyone else and the last to leave at the end of the day. (Her husband was couturier designer to the Queen of England at the time). This woman instilled in me a work ethic that I still have today (For example: if we had to write about exercise we had to exercise to feel the experience. If we wrote about a beauty product we had to literally taste the product so we could experience the different ingredients and identify what they were so we could honestly write about it). She was a fascinating woman who moved at the highest level of society, but a working women — which at that time was an anomaly. One day she appeared at my office door and asked me to have lunch with her. Of course I said yes. I was petrified! I thought I was I going to be fired.

The following day, as agreed, I met her downstairs at the front door of the building, her car and driver were waiting for us, I had no idea where we were going but the driver obviously knew. We arrived at a restaurant called The Ivy, a very expensive and exclusive restaurant, hushed tones, sparkling starched white tablecloths and napkins, and a definite feeling of expensive old world elegance. At the door we were met by the Maitre D’ . “Your table is ready Mrs. Digby Morton” and led to a round table discreetly tucked into a corner of the dining room.

I had never been to a place like this before and was very nervous and still had no idea what this what about.

Once we were seated, Mrs. Digby-Morton signaled the waiter and asked for a bottle of champagne. I thought…what is going on? The waiter came with bottle and ice bucket, mesmerized I watched him deftly uncork the bottle and pour two glasses of champagne — they were the bowl type of champagne glasses that I had seen in movies, but never in real life. My host lifted a glass towards me, and said “A toast Georgina”. I reached for my glass, and in my state of anxiousness I accidentally tipped it over.

Cold bubbly champagne spilled out across the white linen tablecloth and dripped down onto the floor. I was mortified! She turned to me, clapped her hands and said, ‘Oh my dear, how lucky is that!” dabbed her fingers in the wet champagne bubble puddle on the tablecloth, reached across the table and placed a damp champagne fingerprint behind each of my ears and said, “That’s good luck darling, that’s very good luck.”

From that moment on I was in love with her; she knew how I felt. This was a moment I remember all my life. It was a powerful lesson in grace and kindness that I carry with me to this day.

But that’s not all.

Still nervous about the reason for this lunch, I tried to make small talk with her, but she certainly carried the conversation… through the salad, the meat course, the dessert and then she ordered coffee. I figured this was either my last supper or she was feeding me up because I would starve afterward as I would never get another job . I had no idea what this was about.

Coffee came, the waiter left the table and she said “Georgina, you’re probably wondering why I asked you to lunch, I wanted us out of the office because it’s half professional and half personal. I want to give you some advice. You have a very good brain and I don’t want you to addle it. Once you have addled your brain you don’t have it anymore.”

I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed (again!) or be angry that she was meddling in my personal life. She had been watching me and the people I had been chumming with ( the boys at the press club…heavy duty malt scotch drinkers… late nights… hangovers…. you get the picture). She continued… “I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just saying respect and honor what you’ve been given. You’ve been given a very good brain, don’t spoil it.”

My mind went through all sorts of emotions around what she had said to me. I thought who does she think she is telling me what to do, maybe I should not come to work with a hangover, and round and round in my head with thoughts that excused my behavior to myself.

But by the time I got back to my desk I realized what a gift I had been given. It instantly changed my life. Both her actions and kindness, and the gift of ‘don’t addle my brain’ set me on a path of knowing anything is possible. I eventually moved on and became the fashion and beauty editor for Everywoman Magazine.

That was many years and career iterations ago… but the kindness and wisdom guides my life every day. Thank you Mrs. Digby Morton. You changed
the trajectory of my life… and I now… in your name…. do what I can to pass it on.