When you were 17, what did you want to be?
Probably the most honest answer would be I had no idea, but my family was in the radio business, and my grandfather was retired editor in chief of the Columbus Ledger Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia. My grandfather was amazing. I had to write a paper about the person I admired most, and I wrote it about him. He wrote a column for the paper called “Our Town” until he was 86. He was just amazing. And my parents built that radio station from the ground up. So I felt like journalism would be my path, and I would do something in that.
How did you decide to attend University of Georgia?
I looked at about six schools, but I only applied to one - University of Georgia. I grew up on Georgia football. Every weekend during the season, we would meet my aunts and uncles at the games. And Georgia was a good school and it was only 20 minutes from my house.
How did you choose your major?
I got accepted into the journalism school at the University of Georgia, and I did graduate with a degree in journalism. But I also got married and had my daughter when I was in college. I was very lucky that my father-in-law really wanted me to finish my degree.
My dad thought I should be at home with my daughter, even though my mother worked every single day. So I decided to add a minor in home economics. I learned sewing and took classes in decorating and art history. I was probably one of the only people to ever graduate with that a degree in journalism and home economics [laughs].
How did you get from college to where you are now?
[My husband and I] moved to Winder, Georgia, and my husband got a job at a bank in Winder, and I went to work for Daddy. I scheduled programming for the station, and had a few little programs that I did. So I brought home a paycheck, but when I wanted to do something, I could. And my mother was probably the worst promoter of "Celia, we're not going to work this morning. We're going to go do this." So, it was more like charity I think at the time. But it wasn't my calling; I knew that it wasn't where I wanted to be.
And I knew my husband was miserable working at the bank in Winder, Georgia, and that he did not want to stay in Winder. So as much as I loved having a built-in babysitter all the time, we ended up moving down to Thomasville, Georgia three years later. And I fell in love with Thomasville, and ended up just having the best time ever there.
I immediately got a job working in Family and Children's Services for the State of Georgia. My first position was determining eligibility for food stamps. I learned and awful lot, and the people I worked with were awesome. I still have good friends from that I worked with there.
We also had two more children while we were in Thomasville. Once I got pregnant, I left Family and Children's Services. It just wasn't going to work with two and then three kids. By this time, my husband had decided that he didn’t like working in a bank, and that he was going to be a dog trainer working on a plantation. I didn't care – I was fine being a plantation worker's wife, and the home was provided. But we were not wealthy. So I took part-time jobs doing whatever I could to bring in money.
I ended up working for the 1979 pre-list census, canvassing an area and finding households, so everything was ready for the next year. I was a supervisor, so I hired staff and sent them out to canvas the area and meet people and have them fill out the forms. It was all done by hand, on foot.
Then, my husband finally took a decent job. The dog training didn't last very long, so he took a job working for a company called Davis Water and Waste. They made everything that goes under the roads and up to the house for gas and water. He flourished there, and after 10 years they transferred him up to Raleigh, North Carolina.
I was just devastated because I had so fallen in love with Thomasville. My mother and father-in-law lived there, and they were always there for us with the children.
But my motto is “bloom where you're planted.” I have felt that way my entire adult life, and I made up my mind I was going to be happy wherever I was. Because it is a choice.
So we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and my husband had a great job, but I was still floundering and looking around and trying to figure out what to do. I went back to my experience working for the Department of Family and Children Services, and
I was working in what you would think of as the welfare. I started out as a fraud investigator, finding and prosecuting the cheaters. And I just fell in love with law.
I was thoroughly enjoying what I was doing, and then one of the cases I worked on, my boss ordered me to prosecute a 96-year-old woman who was on welfare because her brother had stolen money from her. Technically, she was ineligible, and he insisted that I recommend prosecution, and I refused. It was against my morals.
So then I went to the head of the nursing home eligibility unit and asked if they had a position for me. They put me in as a supervisor over the division that determines eligibility for benefits while in a nursing home, which sort of leads me to where I am and what I've been doing.
I worked for Social Services for five years, and I loved it, but the legal part was still nagging at me because I had fallen in love with it. There was something in me that, found it very intriguing. I decided that I was going to take a leave of absence to go to paralegal school.
I went to Meredith College, a girl's school in Raleigh. I was probably the oldest in my class, but I was also the top of my class. My specialty was trust and estate administration. One of the professors saw something promising in me, and he really helped me along. Years later, he actually came to me and said, "I want to retire from teaching. Will you take my classes?" So I ended up teaching paralegal classes at Meredith.
When I graduated, I went to work for a law firm, which I loved. The first job they put me in didn't have anything to do with trust and estate administration; they had me researching real estate titles in the courthouse. Every day I went all the way downtown, and I opened up the real estate deed vault and turned on all the computers for the people that worked there because I always got there early. The more difficult ones were the ones I just loved. The title searches just led me to so many places.
I did that for a while, and then they put me in domestic, which was divorces.
Only, I was going through a divorce at the same time and it was overload for me. I went to them and said, "You've got to transfer me." They decided they were wasting me since I was considered the estate and trust specialist all over the county, so I finally got to go into estate and trust administration, and I loved it.
Under the supervision of an attorney, I could settle estates after somebody passed away or handle a trust and what the document says to do in that trust. It just opened up a whole new world for me. Every estate was different. You learned something about that person and what they did. There could be a shopping center in the trust, and you had to manage the business side of the shopping center. I absolutely loved that kind of work.
But there was a drawback. After five years at the law firm, I couldn’t go any further. I wasn't getting any retirement. By that time, I had gotten a divorce. I had nothing that was going to build for my future; everything up to that point was building for our future, for my husband's future, not mine. I went to them and I said, "I've got to have some kind of a retirement. And they said, "Okay. We will put money in a CD account in your name, but you have to keep it a secret," so that none of the other paralegals would catch wind of it. But I couldn't do it, I couldn't go that low.
So I found a job working in the trust department of a local bank and worked there for five years. Many times in that five years, I would have a trust client where we were handling her trust because she was old and couldn't handle paying her bills, so I did it. I started thinking, these people need somebody to hold their hand. They don't need a trust officer that's just going to pay their bills and not pay attention to them. They need somebody that's going to be right there.
So I got this idea for starting my own business. I knew I couldn't handle a trust or estates without being under an attorney, so I couldn't go out and hang my shingle up and say that I was a fiduciary. But I incorporated, I did everything totally by the books, and started a business where I would go into people's homes and take care of their affairs. I called it Personal Administrative Service, and I looked at it as I was the one in the middle with the client. I helped the client interface with the attorney, the CPA, the trust officer, the insurance agent, all the important people in their lives.
I ran a successful business for 15 years, and I had five employees at one time. I was in an association called National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). I served as treasurer for three years, one year as vice president, and one year as president. I became pretty well-known in the area, and I had attorneys that would turn to me for estate and trust advice. It was a wonderful experience running my own business.
And then I met Bob, we got married, and we moved to California. I had to shut my business down. I had two ladies that I had mentored as part of NAWBO who I was able to turn all my clients over to. Before I moved, I found out that California has licensing for fiduciaries. Meaning I could handle trusts and estates without an attorney, which is a really good thing because I had 25 years of fiduciary experience working at the law firm, the bank, and on my own.
When I moved to California, I immediately got in touch with the Professional Fiduciary Association. I joined and then started learning about the licensing and started studying for it. Within six months, I had passed both the national exam and the State of California exam and became a licensed fiduciary. I hung my shingle up for the first time in my life. It gave me great satisfaction to be able to say, "I can do this and I can do it on my own.”
I joined a mentoring group, and my first client came from my mentor. She was a wonderful woman, she taught me so much about the specifics to California because each state’s estate and trust laws are different. I did have to bone up on probate laws in California, but I'd done that before. I knew what to do. And the legal side is still a big part of what I do.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I have so many times wished that I could have gone to law school. But the only reason I was able to go to paralegal school was because I inherited just enough money, and I also had a daughter that was starting college at the same time, and two other children. So it was just not possible.
I think early on I probably would have looked out for myself a little better. I just never thought that I would find myself single again, and I would have looked out for myself a little bit better. I would have been more cautious of, like when I worked at
places like Family and Children Services, I would have reinvested the retirement into something just for me. I would make sure that my future was a little more secure.
And realize as you are changing jobs that every single thing you do is for a reason, and there will be eventually some benefit on the end. For instance, with me, everything I did led to coming to California and finding out I could hang out my shingle. Every new job, every move, it completely calls for a reinvention. Every job I had, everything I did as a mother, everything leads me to where I am today.
Every single little detail.