Friday, February 3, 2012


It was 1989 when I saw the job posting for the Oklahoma Manufacturers’ Directory Coordinator. I had no idea what the publication was. Turns out, the directory was brand new to the state and Debra Lea was who made the directory what it was.

At the time, Debra was a freshly minted OU business school grad, She took on the job with enthusiasm and a forward-thinking attitude that made the directory easier to search and publish even though database tools were nowhere what they are now.

Even before I worked on her team, Debra was always a good friend to me. In 1990, when I discovered I had cancer, she was the first to give me a hug. Then she handed over some of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Xanth and Xanax kept me from flipping out through the whole ordeal.
I also believe Debra was the one to get me my first office. Okay, the room sucked. We had dueling thermometers with one co-worker always hot and another always cold. And since the room was behind the mens’ room, my office occasionally had that zesty urinal cake smell, but it was my office and it meant I was getting somewhere. So I wouldn’t feel so lonely in the windowless room, she cross-stitched a window for me. I still have that framed cross-stitch and love it dearly.
April 19, 1995, when we got the news of the bombing Debra volunteered her van for a bunch of us to donate blood. By the time we got to Sylvan Goldman, the lines were blocks long, but she was always willing to try and help whenever there was a need.
Okay, she gave us a kick in the butt those days after, too. She let us cry, but she reminded us people were counting on us, too, and we needed to keep going on with our work because that’s what the people who died would want us to do. Debra had a great work ethic and she did her best to take care of her team as well as her customers.
Debra definitely challenged me. One day, she walked into my office with an assignment that gave me a nickname and a priceless opportunity. One of the Eastern Oklahoma legislators had written to the agency asking for a report about recycling chicken waste. Researching that question was both interesting and challenging. I worked hard on that report, even getting samples of recycled chicken waste products, including types of fertilizers and “recycled chicken food”. For that effort, I earned the nickname “The Chicken Shit Queen of Commerce.” Nobody wanted to come nearly my odiferous office. But, the ultimate joy was when I sent the report with samples to the legislator. For once, I got to give back just a little bit of the crap they gave us.
Working with Debra wasn’t all hard work and no play, though. We had a lot of fun “decorating” offices. Every time she went on vacation, we’d TP her office. She’d finally had it and said, “I don’t want to see my office TP’d when I come back.”
She really shouldn’t have thrown down the gauntlet. That morning, I got to work early, took a roll of toilet paper and rolled it out just so the end would show. When she walked in, she came straight to me and said, “I don’t know whether to kill you or fire you.”
“That’s what you get for telling me I shouldn’t do it,” I told her, doing my best not to smirk.
Debra literally could not bring herself to open the door and see the mess. When she did, she just stood there and laughed for five minutes or more. I will always remember Debra for her hugs, her sharing spirit, her dedication to her work and yes, her laughter.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle

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