Remembering Barbara Petit

Barbara Petit

In order to start and run a successful business, one has to have a pretty broad skill set...or at least be really good at a few critical things. I was like most entrepreneurs when I started Proof of the Pudding in Atlanta in 1979 - just dumb enough to not know what I was getting into or I might never have taken on the job. But I had one skill that I know made all the difference in the life and growth of my business: I knew how to spot and hire good people to be members of the team. 

 Barbara Petit was one of the really best people I hired, one of the best people I have ever known. She died in late October after a long battle with ovarian cancer. 

Call it what you like- luck, coincidence, synchronicity, fate, but it was back in the early eighties when Barbara and her husband CJ Bolster happened to move into the condo upstairs from us on Juniper Street in Atlanta. She sported a business suit and brief case then and did a lot of traveling.  She had trained as a nurse and was now consulting at various hospitals about services and systems. There was a earthy, direct fresh-faced hardiness about her that spoke of her Indiana roots.

I knew when she arrived home because she had a very determined walk and wore clunky heels which were quite fashionable back then. I decided I might broach the subject of rugs or slippers for their apartment, but to be neighborly, I first invited Barbara for tea. I liked her right away. Before we finished the first cup, we set a date for dinner. She said she would bring dessert. I never mentioned the shoes.

We had a great time..our husbands hitting it off in their mutual love of basketball and Barbara and I talking food. I found that wherever Barbara was, there was lots of laughter. What a quick and wicked sense of humor she possessed. I don't remember what I cooked that night, but I remembered what Barbara brought..an exquisitely prepared fruit tart. I was surprised and truly impressed and just a little jealous since I never was much of a pastry maker myself. The fact that I remember that tart maybe thirty five years after I ate it says a lot.  I heard many years later that the making of that tart was quite a production. Barbara wanted to get it right! I also saw in her a passion and longing to be involved with food. She was a natural. I probed a little about if she had any interest in working in the food world as a professional. She had briefly tried out being a sous chef before moving to Atlanta, but she insisted she was not wanting to return to that world.

Not convinced, it took several years and attempts, but I finally got Barbara to come work at my company as an event coordinator. Even though she had never done this work before, she was stellar. Her attention to detail, her creativity, her knowledge of food, and her ability to work with everyone from customer to cook made her so valuable to our team. A staff meeting with Barbara Petit at the table was an event in itself. And as those of you in the food world would know, her perseverance, her problem solving skill and keen intelligence was challenged and honed in the trenches of those early days of planning and executing events at the Carter Center and elsewhere.  The experience served her well in future endeavors and I believe, even in her battle with cancer.

 I have kept up with Barbara over the years. I often reached out to share a project idea or some writing with her or just a cup of coffee. I trusted her opinion and valued her friendship. I knew I would be assured a few good laughs. I last joined her for a glass of wine at her home in Atlanta and we shared our news of grown children and work.  Barbara’s career had blossomed and clearly thrived through the years. She loved growing Georgia Organics into a mighty organization that brings health and benefit to farmers, their customers and the environment. But she was finally winding down her professional work. We agreed that I needed to come visit her beloved summer home in the Massachusett’s countryside and we poured over photos. The prospect of hanging out and cooking there with Barbara in the country sounded like heaven. 

When I heard that she had entered Hospice care, I was so sad that she would lose her long and courageous battle and that I wouldn’t get that time to hang out with her. She rarely spoke of it, but I think her illness only increased her determination to live her life fully and focussed on what she cared most deeply about. I know that her daughter Caroline was always on her mind and she was very proud of her accomplishments. I had only met her a couple of times as she grew up, but Barbara made sure I knew about Caroline and especially her musical talents. When I think of the large number of women that were a part of Barbara’s friendship and professional circles I wonder that she hadn’t intentionally left a network of mentors and substitute mothers to be available for Caroline in the years to come. Barbara would have thought that way.

Barbara showed up in a dream I had a few days after she died. Most pieces of it slipped from memory as I woke up. But these images remain clear: It seems that Barbara left us an old treasure map. It showed a broken line through a valley flanked by some rugged mountains that one must travel by foot.   And the treasure at the end? Buried in a ziplock bag to keep it from the elements was a well-worn copy of the “Joy of Cooking.” 

There are many ways I might interpret this message, but it seems most obvious that even an arduous journey, requiring determination and courage can be accomplished when what we seek and give others is joy and nurture. Barbara Petit, whom we treasured, knew where the gold was and she has shown us all a way to find it. The joy she received in pursuing her passion and feeding others she has passed on to us. The path is clearly marked because she has gone before.  One need only follow.

 Thank you, Barbara. I will miss you.

Comments

  1. Kelly's avatar
    Kelly
    | Permalink
    Thank you Kay - so glad to hear your voice, and to add your recollections of Barbara to my own. I loved Barbara, too, in that way that one can love someone's presence no matter how close or limited one's relationship. She made apple butter with our class when Caroline was in it, filling the room with warm, spicy smells all day and then offered to do it again, several other years when Caroline had long since left for JH and HS. What a generous soul. She radiated joy in food and cooking, but she also treated the kids in our class as intelligent, interesting, hugely likable peers. Miss her. Miss you, too!
  2. Matt's avatar
    Matt
    | Permalink
    Wonderful writing. Thanks for sharing your voice and memories.

    Matt @ Fletcher's Brooklyn
  3. martina's avatar
    martina
    | Permalink
    What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful embodied soul!

Leave a Comment