Last week I lost a friend to cancer. When I heard the news, I wasn’t sad. I was grateful. Here’s why:

I’d known Pola Kelley for ten years. First, as the Executive Director of the Sedro Woolley Chamber, one of six local chambers in Skagit County, Northwest Washington. Then, through various photo and video projects and one dog-sitting stint for her adorable Shih-Tzu, Smudge. I got to know Pola as a complex, compassionate, loving human deeply committed to her family and community.

Several years ago, Pola was diagnosed with cancer, and in recent months, word was that she was losing her battle. Technically, Pola was still the Chamber Executive Director, so the interim ED, Monique Brigham, took action and made arrangements for a retirement celebration on Friday, December 16th.

I began crafting a parody song to honor Pola as a remarkable human and her immense contribution to our community.

Within an hour, I’d chosen the song. But the lyrics? Those took some time to nail down. Also, it was clear to do the song justice would require two backup singers/dancers. So I reached out to friends with a penchant for showmanship: David Bricka and Germaine Kornegay.

“Here’s a song for Pola to the tune of ‘Copacabana’ called “That’s Our Pola.” I need you! Are you in?”
Immediate replies, “I’m in!”

In the days leading up to the 16th, we had a 60-minute rehearsal to craft some dance steps. I tested and devised supporting audio technology for the music using my antique iPhone w/3.5mm jack, adaptors, Smule app, and mic + speaker. Then what camera and mic to record? I settled on my old Panasonic camcorder and a shotgun mic. 

Then came the big day. Guests filled the Chamber office that Friday afternoon. Our guest of honor arrived and was seated so she’d have a primo view of our performance, which went off without a hitch. Pola loved it. The next hour was a joyous celebration of Pola filled with many hugs and a few tears.

Pola Kelley Celebration

The following morning Pola fell unconscious. She spent the day at the hospital before her official departure that evening.

When I reflect on this story, I’m not sad. I’m grateful. I have no regrets. It’s a wonderful feeling. But had it not been for one person’s leadership initiative, insight, and thoughtful actions, I wouldn’t feel this way.

Thank you, Monique. Because of you, we celebrated a beloved friend and community leader while she was here to enjoy it. A celebration of life for the living. What is more beautiful than that?

About the author

Northwest Edutainer Rebecca P. Murray delivers high-energy virtual and live programs to those ready to become confident, creative, and compelling leaders and team players. Through her work as a communication trainer, entertaining emcee, and character comedian, she makes room for others to share the stage and showcase their shine to the world. The stage is Rebecca's playground. She'll go to almost any length to make learning fun and memorable.