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The Magic of Mentors

Phaedra explains why Willie was the only choice to be her mentor in the funeral business.

By Phaedra Parks

During this week’s episode my quest to enter into the funeral business is highlighted during a visit with my friend, the legendary Willie Watkins.

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Willie and I met almost ten years ago during a fundraising event held by my mentor, the late attorney Charles Mathis. Charles was not only known as one of the best litigators in the South, but he was also known for having the most elaborate events in Atlanta. When I entered the practice of law over twelve years ago during the swearing in ceremony, the judge stressed the importance of having a legal mentor and a sounding board.  As I stood before him I recall him saying in a stern voice, “A mentor should be a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction." As I left the courthouse that day, I pondered on who would be willing to take on such a task.  I knew I needed a mentor who would understand my vision and encourage me to pursue my goals. Most people who know me know I have always had lofty dreams and what some might consider an eccentric personality. Much like myself, Charles brought his great work ethic and an even bigger heart from his small town to the big city of Atlanta. He loved to help people, entertain, and most of all, win cases.

I never formally asked Charles to be my mentor. Once I was sworn in he took me to lunch and I told him I was making him my mentor whether he liked it or not. From that day on, he treated me like a daughter.  His family became my family. His daughter CoCo became my sister. Charles always listened and gave me sound advice. I could always trust and depend on him. In May of this year, Charles passed. His passing left a hole in my heart, because I not only lost my mentor, but also a member of my family.

Willie handled all the arrangements for Charles’ funeral, and as always everyone was pleased. Willie has always been known for his signature elaborate funeral services. Although I know numerous funeral directors, when I thought about entering into the business, he was the only mentor I considered.  Willie is a trailblazer who has always followed his heart. Similar to myself, he has never been afraid to be different. Willie blazed a path that I hope to pave with more opportunities for women. Mentoring is important because, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”(Benjamin Disraeli)  I often say, “No great person makes it to the top alone.” As I continue to make a conscious effort to mentor, I challenge you to do the same. It only takes a moment to change the path of someone else’s life. 

Rest in peace Charles A. Mathis (1953-2011)

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