How to toast my late mother, mentor, and dog

by | Aug 29, 2016 | Blog | 5 comments

Vineyard 29Please join me in toasting the memories of my late mother, a mentor, and Gustav who’s featured in an important new book on animal transitions. All three taught me valuable lessons that you may benefit from as well.

As background, over a seven-day stretch in August, I lost my 85-year-old mother, Ruth Lieberman Guthridge, and my 88-year-old mentor, Thomas H. Paine. They never met each other, yet they both played significant roles in shaping who I am as a human being.

Considering that all three of us are/were dog people, it seems fitting that between their two deaths a copy of the just-published book, Peace in Passing: Comfort for Loving Humans During Animal Transitions, thoughtfully inscribed by the author Maribeth Coye Decker, arrived in the mail for me.  Several of the author’s stories revolve around our dog Gustav, including his rich inner life and how we handled grieving his sudden death last October.

As for the two humans, while they inhabited different worlds, they both valued education and were both clever problem solvers.  (For example, my younger sister Rachel, younger brother David, and I will always be grateful to my mother for bringing a dog into the family before she became pregnant with me and naming him “Jake” — one of my father’s favorite names.)

My mother and Tom also stressed good manners. They believed in and practiced spending more time listening than talking, and taking the initiative to introduce yourself to strangers to make them feel welcome. (I think my mother would have been proud of my father and me for following her advice at her memorial service.)

As for Tom, he was one of the early partners of the pioneering benefits consulting firm, Hewitt Associates (now part of Aon),  which was my first employer after I graduated from Northwestern University.

Tom was known inside and outside Hewitt Associates for his technical prowess, conscientious client service, and strong support of new consultants.

(Tom also was a trail blazer in how the firm’s consultants dressed. As the legend went, Ted Hewitt believed his consultants looked more professional in hats so he outfitted his client-facing staff members with hats and leather briefcases. But Tom kept leaving his hats in trains, planes and client offices, so the firm gave up and dropped the hat requirement. The company-issued briefcase tradition continued.)

Here are my three favorite lessons from Tom:

  • To serve multiple clients well, you have to juggle. Occasionally, you’ll drop a ball. Just try to pick it up on the first bounce and go from there.
  • You can be influential wherever you are and regardless of your position. The Social Security Administration approached Tom to serve in a leadership role. He declined the offer because he believed he could make a greater impact on retirement policy on the outside than in the government. During his time at Hewitt Associates, the retirement field experienced many changes, including ERISA, 401(k) plans, ESOPs, etc.
  • Whether you have a calling or a career, you can and should have other interests outside of work to keep you healthy, well-rounded, and grounded. Tom was a master gardener, baker and mixologist. Plus, he and his wife Teresa Norton, also a Hewitt Associates partner and my awesome first boss out of college, started the highly-rated boutique winery Vineyard 29 after they retired. Tom and Teresa also actively supported several charities in Napa Valley and then in the San Diego area where they moved after selling the winery in 2000.

Over the years, I formed a strong friendship with Tom and Teresa outside of work, especially once they retired from Hewitt Associates, and enjoyed their company immensely. I appreciated how they welcomed my husband into the mix, once I met him.

While on the plane to my mother’s memorial last week, I read Peace in Passing. While this ground-breaking book is definitely intended to comfort humans during animal transitions, which can be more challenging at times than human losses, many of the messages apply to all creatures and humans, great and small.

Namely, love never dies.


  1. Teresa Norton

    Liz, you made life refreshing and fast-paced for Tom and me right from the beginning. Work and play were equally rewarding with you. The fact that you believed our dogs and cats were at least as important as we were made it clear your head was screwed on right. And, you KNEW a dog’s place was in the office. I loved that your handwriting and mine are so similar that Tom once picked up a note you had taped to my desk chair, thinking it was from me for him, and then called me to find out why he had to go see a client he’d never met to discuss a budget problem! Yes, Tom taught us all perspective and how to roll with the punches…and then how to go home to our animal families and have a good romp. Thank you, Liz, for being part of the Good Days of Our Lives. With respect and admiration–Teresa

  2. Terri Whalen

    So sorry for all of your losses.
    Beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing
    I will have to read Peace in Passing

  3. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Teresa. Working with you and Tom was the best of both worlds: I learned so much and I had so much fun, and I like to think we did good work too!

    By the way, we were definitely ahead of our time by welcoming the neighbor’s dog into our offices. Once Zoe discovered that Hewitt Associates Rowayton was a livelier, more stimulating place to be than her empty house during the work week, she gladly changed how she lived. Then when you and Tom adopted her with the blessing of her original family, she really improved the quality of her life.

    I know my quality of life has been better because of knowing you and Tom. Thank you!

  4. Liz Guthridge

    Thank you, Terri. I definitely recommend reading Peace in Passing. And it’s probably best to read when you’re not facing a transition, or in the middle of one, as you can absorb the book’s messages with a clearer head and fewer tears. Since you and Mike were the ones who introduced Gustav to us and you’re such an animal person, you may tear up reading certain passages. I’m so glad Maribeth wrote the book.

  5. Teresa Norton

    Liz, this is a great tribute and I know Tom is highly honored by it. You honor him to this day by exhibiting your client devotion and always, always demanding more of yourself than anyone else did.–Teresa

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