Sunday, September 30, 2007


If a person is genuinely lucky during the course of his life, he will encounter one or two people who help him to believe in himself and inspire him to keep working at whatever he has chosen to do. I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with three remarkable women at crucial turning points in my life.

During the late 1960s, while she was starring on Broadway in the hit musical Mame, I made the acquaintance of Angela Lansbury. Watching her perform the title role many, many times in Broadway's Winter Garden Theater (while managing to keep her performance fresh for each new audience) showed me what it meant to set high standards of professionalism and stick to them.

Offstage, Lansbury demonstrated to all who worked with her what it meant to be a good colleague and a hard worker. Angela and I began to correspond and, shortly after moving to San Francisco, I received a letter in which she wrote "With your talent, I have no doubt you will land on your feet."

Because her letter arrived at a particularly stressful time in my life, I remember being flabbergasted that a "big star" like Angela Lansbury could be generous enough to reach out and give a few simple words of encouragement to someone living in a world which must have been light years away from her daily reality. Her words bolstered my spirits during many emotionally tough moments and Angela has always been an inspiration to me: as a performer, as a professional, and as a human being. Here are two clips of Angela and George Hearn performing Stephen Sondheim's tongue-twisting lyrics from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

During my career as a freelance writer I gained a reputation as the only music critic to give serious attention to the growth of regional opera throughout the United States. One of my most stalwart supporters in this endeavor was Ava Jean Mears, who was then Public Relations Director and Archivist for the Houston Grand Opera. A woman with an incredible memory, Ava Jean is a writer's strongest ally (a colleague once opined that if he ever needed to find a one-legged albino dwarf who could swing upside down from a tree limb while singing all four parts of some obscure operatic ensemble in Swahili, that person probably went to school with Ava Jean).

The dozens of professional arts publicists who matured under Ava Jean's guidance learned how to be solicitous without being pushy, how to be concerned without being territorial and, above all, how to be fair when dealing with the press. When I became National Editor of Opera Monthly magazine and needed an additional pseudonym for my writing, Ava Jean's devoted golden retriever, B.J., was hauled into service. Numerous young American opera singers were subsequently interviewed by "B. J. Mears" and were grateful for the opportunity.

In January 1991, after 15 years as a freelance journalist and opera critic, a combination of decidedly unpleasant events knocked the wind out of my sails. Forced to abandon my career as a writer and get a "real job," I was lucky enough to fall back on a skill I had completely forgotten I once had: medical transcription.

Although I had not transcribed for more than a decade, Janet Photinos, who believed in my talent, gave me a chance to sharpen my skills and start transcribing again. Had she not done so, I might have become homeless. A tough-minded, stubborn woman, Janet set extremely high standards for herself and everyone she hired. She believed in fighting for both the patient and the dignity of the English language. Unlike many other transcriptionists, Janet did not hesitate to criticize doctors for their sloppy dictation habits. As a result of her prodding, I eventually joined the American Association for Medical Transcription. AAMT's invitation to speak at its second annual managers and supervisors conference in Las Vegas triggered a curious chain of events, which led to the creation of this blog.

To Angela, Ava Jean, and Janet, my heartfelt thanks for your generosity, inspiration, and encouragement.

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