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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

The Brightest Star

The darkest nights produce the brightest stars. — John Green


I first spoke to her in July 2018. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her a month prior at SHRM Conference 2018, but I had heard nothing but positive things about her. I needed help, so I emailed her. She replied, and I could read the enthusiasm in her email. We set up a phone call, and a few days later, we spoke for the first time.

“Hi, Paul, this is Callie. It’s so awesome to talk with you finally!” She helped me with my challenge, and a friendship was born.

A few months later, I got to meet Callie in person for the first time. The #StatelineCrew met at Hofbräuhaus Chicago for our second ever meeting. Mary Williams and I got their first. As we were catching up, Callie came in. She walked right up to me and gave me a hug. It was natural. No awkward first hugs for Callie. We sat together on the German bierhall style benches. We conversed. We broke pretzels. We clinked Biersteins. Most importantly, we laughed.

We did it again in February 2019, only this time in her hometown of Kenosha, WI. Her and I sat together and talked. She had a Bloody Mary, and followed it with a beer chaser – a common WI tradition!

As other members of the #StatelineCrew talked, Callie and I had an awesome one-on-one. She told me about some of her work challenges and how she was overcoming them. We discussed some of the happenings at SHRM National, and she told me she got wind of who was being booked as the Conference entertainment! A true professional, she wouldn’t budge on spilling the beans – even when I offered to buy her another Bloody Mary and chaser! I even offered to throw in beer battered cheese curds to sweeten the pot. She wouldn’t budge. I respected the hell outta that. (It ended up being Lionel Ritchie. I guessed Brittney Spears or Lady Gaga. Close, Paul. Oh, so close.)

A few weeks or so after that #StatelineCrew meet up, I got a Twitter DM from Mary Kaylor asking me if I’d like to join the SHRM Blogger Team for 2019. I was so excited and taken aback! ME?!?! Awesome sauce! But why me? I hadn’t even met Mary at this point, so how did she know who I was? Mary told me that Callie reached out to her and told her that I’d be a great addition to the team.

I messaged Callie: “I got an amazing DM from Mary today. You recommended me to be a #SHRM19 blogger! I am so humbled you thought about me. You totally made my day, Callie!!! Thank you.”

Callie replied, in her trademark fashion: “Don’t mess this up!” 😊

Since then, we met at other #StatelineCrew meet ups. We emailed. We interacted on social media. We met at Illinois SHRM Leadership Conference. Callie presented to the Kishwaukee Association of Human Resources in Sycamore, IL. (She blew the roof off the house).

Our last in person meeting was at SHRM Conference in Las Vegas. We were at the Midwest Chapters Social Meetup. Callie and I were chatting one-on-one. She mentioned she was not feeling well. She was tired and didn’t know why. I told her I could tell something wasn’t right. I then confided in her something. I wanted her to know. She looked me in the eye, and I won’t forget what she told me. It was comforting. We hugged, and we went our separate ways socializing.

We didn’t see each other again. I won’t forget the night she messaged me to tell me about her diagnosis. I was gob smacked – helpless, other than offering words of encouragement, what could I do? What should I do? There was nothing to do other than that – be a friend. It’s what she needed.

I DM’ed her words of encouragement. I texted. I sent her a birthday card. She sent me a thank you card that I hung on the fridge. It won’t leave the fridge for a while.

The last communication I received from her was a text letting me know her fight was coming to an end. I thought about her family. I was heartbroken, but her family, my God, I felt for her and for them.

Callie was my friend, and now she’s gone to the eternity to which we all must enter. I will miss her. However, her influence will remain. A quick search on social media proves her influence was strong, and it will be a lasting influence.

Like the brightest stars, she didn’t last as long as others, but she burned brighter, and that is important to remember.

The last message I sent to Callie is below. I want to share it. I want people to know how important she was to the world. I want people to know that she was important, impactful, and inspiring. Callie was someone who has touched my life in ways she may never know, but if others know, then her spirt can live on. She deserves to live on in any way life will allow.

Callie, we’ve only known each other for a little over a year or so. Despite this, you’ve made a powerful impact on my life. You may not realize how important and meaningful you’ve been in my world. I want you to know that I’m so very thankful for our time together. Thank you for being there for me – especially in moments you weren’t likely aware that you were. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your world. I’m honored you let me in.

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