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day 53: hammer and a nail

March 26, 2011

Day 53 began with a phone call from my friend Courtney.

“You’ll never believe this,” she said incredulously, “but I’ve been named one of the Triangle’s 40 Under 40.”

I immediately knew exactly what she was talking about.  Every year, North Carolina’s Triangle Business Journal names 40 professionals under the age of 40 who demonstrate (according to TBJ publisher Brian Hamilton) “fresh ideas, progressive initiatives and persistent hard work.”  Hamilton calls this esteemed group “the region’s up-and-coming thought leaders” who will “shape the Triangle’s vision of tomorrow.”

In other words, this is a big deal.

In classic Courtney fashion, she sounded dubious about the news.  She had skeptically double-checked the website to insure that she had actually won this prestigious award, and — seeing her name in black and white — was finally convinced.

It’s unlikely anyone else needed much convincing of her worthiness.  Through the eyes of the Triangle Business Journal judges, Courtney is the managing partner and broker-in-charge of Urban Durham Realty, a full-service real estate agency she began in 2009 with the dual mission of creating a successful firm and serving the Durham community.  Under her leadership, the agency donates a portion of every closed transaction to a local charity (a pretty amazing practice, if you ask me, especially in these challenging economic times).  While it would be cheaper and easier to shop for office supplies online, Courtney demands that Urban Durham eschew big box retailers and instead buy from local vendors at every opportunity.  For agency events,  she always employs local caterers and bakeries, though she could easily buy scones and cupcakes from Costco.  Courtney serves on countless boards, including the Affordable Housing Coalition, the Durham Preservation Society, and the Durham Regional Association of Realtors.  Reviewing her accomplishments, I can’t imagine that the Triangle Business Journal judges had much trouble choosing Courtney — through their eyes, she exemplifies the progressive leadership they value.

And through my eyes, her friend of almost twenty years?  I am just so proud of her.

When Courtney told me the good news of her award, I had an immediate flashback to 1995.  It was the beginning of our senior year in college, and Courtney and I had moved into an off-campus house (unaffectionately dubbed “The Hellhole” by my father) with two other friends.  Arriving before our other roommates, Courtney and I walked into the decrepit kitchen (hey, my rent was only $262.50 a month) and let out a collective sigh.

“Come on,” she said suddenly, “we’re going to make this better.”

After an hour at a Nashville hardware store, we were loaded down with paintbrushes and cans of the cheapest interior paint we could find (it was on clearance, and it was — I kid you not — bubblegum pink).  We hardly talked about what we were doing, instead opening the windows and flipping on the stereo.  As we painted the mottled walls and abused cabinets of our tiny kitchen, I realized that painting this kitchen was something I never would have done if Courtney hadn’t encouraged it.  I would have thought about painting it.  I probably would have complained loudly about how ugly the walls were, and I might have even called the landlord (kooky Dr. Yu) to request that he have it painted (not a chance, by the way, considering he refused to so much as repair a toilet).

The kitchen got painted because Courtney saw a problem, gathered the tools she needed (I was, I suppose, one of those tools), and worked hard to fix it.  While our bubblegum pink kitchen wasn’t perfect, it was infinitely cheerier thanks to Courtney’s willingness to dive in headfirst and improve it.

Throughout the years I’ve known her, she has applied this roll-up-your-sleeves-and-make-it-happen mentality to everything she’s done.  I find it thrilling — though unsurprising — that Courtney has created a successful business that so completely aligns with her value system.  Award or no award, I know she will keep hammering away at her vision of a better Durham, putting both her money and her time where her heart is.

Full disclosure:  yesterday, I had every intention of giving an entirely different gift than that documented here.  I wasn’t yet prepared to write about Courtney, but my “a gift a day” project — and the folks at Triangle Business Journal — had other plans.

So, what the heck is my gift on Day 53?  What do I give to a friend whose work and life serve as such powerful examples of giving back?

I’ve come up with little —  just  a declaration and a promise:  a declaration that I couldn’t be prouder of all the good that Courtney has created, and a promise that, across miles and years, I will never stop cheering her on.  The promise comes weighted by the fact that our little family is leaving Durham for Texas sometime this summer.  I’ve spent the last ten years sharing a town with my closest friend, and the prospect of leaving is bittersweet.  While I think she knows that no matter where I live I’ll never be anywhere but on her side, it is important for me to put it in writing.

She’s skeptical, after all, so it may help to read it in black and white.

My friends and I listened to a lot of Indigo Girls in the ’90’s, and the lyrics below are from “Hammer and a Nail.”  They’ve always made me think of my dear friend Courtney.

Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

Like Emily and Amy sing, “if (you) have a care in the world, (you) have a gift to bring.”

So much of your good work goes unrecognized, and I hope you’ll keep on doing it anyway.  Paint your Saturday bubblegum pink, and thanks — always — for showing up.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Courtney permalink
    March 26, 2011 2:54 pm

    You’re making my eyes puffy again, Anne! Thank you for the post. What an incredible gift you’ve been in my life, and the lives of countless others. Quite simply, you are amazing. Keep writing so we can all continue to enjoy your indescribable magic with words!

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