As a upper-middle class white girl from Atlanta that went to the right schools and ended up in a sorority at Alabama, I've never felt "otherness." Then I became Jessica Johnson, Associate Editor with Hatton-Brown Publishers. Since I began the Woods Barbie journey, things sure have changed—but the otherness never went away. If anything, it was amplified.
I remember as clear as a bell meeting old Tommy Battle in Wadley, Ga. in the meaty part of a Southern summer seven months pregnant with Fitz and Alex. It was hell. He stared at my belly for a good five minutes before speaking. Then he was unsure he wanted me to poke around his hardwood sawmill; I ignored him and walked right on in, asking the questions I needed to, showing him I wasn't some shrinking violet. When we finished, I got in the car, drove to a Hampton Inn, promptly took off my maternity work gear and laid on the bed with the air on 50° trying to cool off. I was not shrinking violet but I was hot as hell. I felt like I had something to prove. I feel like I have something to prove.
The otherness changed drastically though in late 2015. My boss announced that for the first time in 28 years, the annual Timber Processing Man of the Year award, an award that recognizes a figure in the sawmill business that is involved in their community, runs an excellent and high producing mill, and is involved in furthering the positive face of the lumber business, was going to be Jill Snider Brewer.
As the only woman on the editorial staff I was tasked with writing the story on Jill, her mill and why she was worthy of the award. It was a huge honor for her and for me. The following is an excerpt of the editorial I wrote for the Man of the Year issue, which hits mailboxes around the world this week. It was my "I am woman hear me roar" moment. It was the definitive point where I decided to stop noticing my otherness and just do my damn job. Stop acting like I have something to prove and realize I've proved it. I deserve what I've gotten and everything I have coming because I haven't stopped working hard. I now just have to keep the path.
From One Woman To Another
I’m really proud of what came about from just two girls at two very different points of their sawmill exposure having a conversation. Above all else, Jill Snider Brewer inspired me. I’m a twentysomething young mother with a lot to learn about life and about sawmilling. She told me repeatedly she didn’t have all the answers, but the more I listened, the more I realized how much her comments about running a sawmill actually apply to real life.
When I spoke with Jill about the importance, and perhaps greater ineptitude of certain folks (read: fathers) on details she laughed it off. We then wound the conversation back to the topic of the day. I noticed how she was shy at first to tell me about her accomplishments and overall signature on Snider Industries. She told me at first she wasn’t so sure she wanted to accept the award at all. Throughout the interview she kept attempting to deflect the spotlight. Defaulting to her employees and her father as the real face of Snider Industries. “I’m always happy to be in the background, hopefully making everything successful,” she told me.
That’s when it all came full circle. A real leader whether, in the home, in the front office or in the filing room, doesn’t try to be in the spotlight, they only care about setting everyone up for success.
I’ve read nearly all 28 Man of the Year stories, and that’s one thing they all have in common: a desire to set their mill, its employees, their communities and the lumber industry as a whole up for success.
It just took 28 years, and a woman, to articulate it.