A Tribute to Kathy Brown

Jim Muncy,
[ to cite ]:
Jim Muncy (2005) ,"A Tribute to Kathy Brown", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, eds. Geeta Menon and Akshay R. Rao, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, 2005

A TRIBUTE TO KATHY BROWN

By Jim Muncy

When I agreed to become Executive Director of ACR, I knew the job would bring with it the unexpected. There would be both unexpected challenges and unexpected joys.

One of the biggest unexpected joys of the job came in the form of a wonderful woman named Kathy Brown. She was ACR’s incredibly talented and committed Conference Coordinator.

Just three days before I was to leave the position of Executive Director, the job threw me its biggest unexpected sorrow. I received the news that Kathy had been killed in an automobile accident. It was a shock, not just to me but to everyone who has had a significant role in putting together an ACR conference or doctoral symposium over the past several years.

Kathy’s incredible commitment to ACR made all of our lives so much easier and her personality and character made all of our jobs so much more enjoyable. There is no way to express what an incredible loss this is to the ACR community.

When Rajiv Vaidyanathan agreed to take over as Executive Director, one of the first pieces of advice I gave him was to do everything he could to keep Kathy on his team. I went on and on about how much she contributes to the Association. When people would ask me how long I would remain as Executive Director, I would comment that I would stay as long as Kathy Brown and Steve and Carol Barnett (a couple many of you have worked with) are still on the team. I had a hard time seeing how I could do the job without either Kathy or the Barnetts.

Anything I did right for five years as Executive Director probably wasn=t really me. It was probably either Kathy Brown or the Barnetts. I may have done many things wrong as Executive Director but this one thing I know I did right. I tried my best to stay out of Kathy’s way and let her do her job. She knew what she was doing, she did it with great passion and commitment to ACR, and no one could have done it better.

I start every day of my life the same way. I open it in prayer thanking God for specific blessings he has brought into my life. I can’t tell you the number of times over the past five years that Kathy’s name has come up as one of the people for whom I am thankful.

When you put on a conference, there is a lot of coordination that goes on between the hotel and the associationCmuch more than I ever imagined. Before becoming ACR=s Executive Director, I would just show up to conferences and assume that everything just happen to fall into place. Not so!!! It takes a huge amount of work. That is why the hotels will assign one person, an event coordinator, to a group and that person will work very closely with the association’s conference coordinator.

Hotels have many groups coming in and out and so a hotel event coordinator meets with hundreds of conference coordinators every year. Without fail, sometime during the ACR conferences, the hotel event coordinator would come up to me and make it a point to mention that they had never worked with anyone as capable, talented, and organized as Kathy Brown.

The way she did her job left an incredible impression on the minds of the people we had met at these hotels. I remember recently calling Royal York in Toronto. I needed to request some financial information. It had been over a years since we had been there. Given the number of groups they have to deal with, I wasn=t sure anyone would even remember who ACR was. When I got our event coordinator on the phone, I said "I am not sure you remember the Association for Consumer Research but..." His enthusiastic response was immediate. "Oh yes, you’re Kathy Brown’s group." As was typical when talking to event coordinators, our conversation didn=t move forward until he told me what an incredible job she had done and what a delight she was to work with.

So often, Kathy’s integrity, skill, and ability to do her job saved ACR and me from some serious mistakes. Let me give you just one recent example. At our most recent conference in Portland, I made a very expensive mistake. It would have been a lot more expensive had it not been for Kathy. We implemented a new procedure for estimating how many people would be at the luncheon banquets. That is typically a tough number to come up with but we want it to be as accurate as possible. Here’s why.

Hotels need to know how much food to order, how much staff to have on hand, etc. We have to give them our final food count long before the banquets. Now, here’s the problem. Once we tell them how many people are coming, we have to pay for that number of peopleCwhether they actually come or not. An empty seat costs ACR just as much as one with someone sitting there and eating.

At Friday’s luncheon, our new and improved system cost ACR around $1,500 in extra food. I went to Kathy for the count for the next day and I knew it would be even worse. As I was sitting there in a state of panic, Kathy called the event coordinator. With a skill I never dreamed possible, she was able to convince the hotel to substantially drop our food count less than twenty-four hours before the banquet. Had it not been for how well Kathy worked with the hotel, they would have told us to jump in the lake. And they would have been justified in doing so. They had already bought the food and hired the workers. It was my mistake, not theirs. Fortunately, there was Kathy. She knew exactly what to say. More importantly, she had the respect of the hotel so she could say it. She saved ACR a few thousand dollars. That was just one of many instances. I could go on and on about the ways Kathy did things I don’t think anyone else could have done.

Kathy will be remembered for all the ways she helped ACR. We will remember her as being the absolute best conference coordinator on Planet Earth. But more than any of this, we will remember her for what a special person she was. The months leading up to a conference are an absolute sprint. There are so many things to do and so little time to do them. There are so many details that must be attended to and so many things that can go wrong. I would show up at the hotel totally stressed out with a million things on my mind. Then would come that moment when I would look across the lobby and see Kathy Brown. Just her smile would tell me, "Everything is OK, you can relax." And do you know what? As long as Kathy was there, everything was OK.

There is no doubt about it. Kathy Brown was a very special person. My life was enriched so much by having the opportunity to work with her over these past five years. She enriched the lives of so many others. We will definitely miss her. I don’t know if there are conferences in Heaven but if there are, I bet I know who God is going to put in charge of coordinating the most important ones.

James A. Muncy

Professor of Marketing

Department of Marketing and Economics

Langdale College of Business Administration

Valdosta State University

Valdosta, GA 31698

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