Abby San Juan was barely 21 when she came to work for me in the cable-television industry, in 1985. She started as a part-time receptionist; now she’s a certified meeting professional.

Seventeen years later, I changed careers, taking the helm at Children’s Fairyland. For the 12 years I’ve been here, I’ve been lucky enough to have Barbara Griffin working for me, juggling a hundred tasks at once.

I know that some people go through assistants like Kleenex, but I’ve been reflecting on how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have two remarkable—and very different—professionals who’ve not only enabled us to accomplish great things, but to also build friendships that have encompassed the inevitable highs and lows of life over time.

Abby is a sassy woman who rarely drops a stitch. Good thing, too, as we, along with a great team, built a cable-industry convention that eventually topped 30,000 attendees.

Here are a few of the crazy things we recently recalled about our years working together:

The wild promotional items that cable networks wanted to distribute inside the rooms of attendees, including red bras, plastic legs with fishnet stockings and high heels, and plastic outlines of dead bodies.

The network that wanted to feature a motorcyclist jumping over a long line of cars in our convention parking lot.

The promoter who, when told of our “no animals on the exhibit floor rule,” asked if fish counted.

Program exhibitors like HBO and The Disney Channel spared no expense on parties designed to sign on cable operators to carry their services, often with big-name (and big-ego) performers.

Abby helped produce our many panel sessions, where our lively speakers included everyone from Ted Turner to Penn Gillette. I may be pathetic to admit it, but Abby and I planned our pregnancies so as not to interfere with the convention schedule.

One week in 2001, while we were in Manhattan to produce an annual fundraiser for the industry, we and the rest of our team shared an experience that bonded us forever: the September 11 attacks. Like the rest of the world, we were in shock. But for us the smells, the pain on the faces of New Yorkers, the local media coverage: they were all very real. And for what seemed like an eternity, we couldn’t get home.

Abby, whose child was still an infant, parked herself at Jet Blue’s terminal and ended up being one of the first people out. Her fierce commitment to her family is only one of her many special qualities. Over the last decade-plus, Abby and the two other members of my “September 11 staff” meet once every couple of months, just to catch up.

Barbara Griffin is the calm amid a storm. She came to Fairyland after retiring from AT&T, so customer service is in her genes. She is Information Central at our reception desk, where she has reunited many hundreds of lost kids, made countless “owies” better, patiently explained to callers, over and over, why she can’t predict future weather, and counseled young people on our staff, some of whom even call her “Mom.”

Barbara’s is the voice that sweetly—and then firmly—requests that you leave the park because we’re really, really closed. She makes sure that board meetings go smoothly, and I love talking with her about the latest movies, books, and headlines. The cool jazz music she plays at her desk helps create a sense of serenity in a place where a million things are always going on at once.

Over the time Barbara has been at Fairyland, we’ve more than doubled our attendance, and we’ve created an outreach program that serves over 8,000 low-income and at-risk kids each year.

This week, Barbara will be retiring from Fairyland. We’ve watched her four grandkids grow up at the park, and she’s looking forward to spending more time with Ebony, Mahogany, Rocco and Rio. I hope she’ll also have time to occasionally join me for the independent movies we both love.

When Barbara retired the first time, it wasn’t to a job that was slow and easy. But over the last 12 years she’s retained her sense of humor and has modeled a high level of professionalism that has greatly benefited the scores of teen workers we’ve employed. It seems incredible that between them, Abby and Barbara have worked with me for a combined total of nearly 30 years.

So here’s a heartfelt “thank you” to Abby and Barbara. Not only have you made me look good, but you’ve also made me a better person for having known each of you.

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