on 28 Jun 2018 2:43 PM

My dear friend Phyllis passed away peacefully recently. I first met Phyllis in Budapest some 20 years ago at a typical expat evening cocktail. Everybody was young, beautiful, rich. Well, at least pretended to be one of those. I was in the young category. And there was Phyllis, a category of her own, petite American lady with style, who was just attracting everybody and talking to everybody, a networking guru. She was substantially older than the rest, but who cares. She certainly did not, never did. Actually her real age stayed always a well-kept secret until one day, but about this later. She came right towards me, “Why on earth would the shortest person in the room want to talk to the tallest person?” She seemed to know everybody at the event and in town. She pulled me along and introduced me to real VIPs. Sure enough she showed up in our office the next day, just walked in. “Here, I am!” That was her style, just go and do it. Take it for granted that everybody knows that I am a VIP.

Eventually Phyllis moved back to New York, she was retired, probably even before she came. I kept in touch, even visited her once and then many years later, she came up with this “crazy” idea. She wrote to me, “I want to move to Hungary, for good. Give up everything in New York.” I write crazy idea, because in her still unknown age, not knowing Hungarian she really decided to start all over again a new life in Budapest. As always, nothing could stop her. She had fallen in love with Budapest. The container with her furniture arrived in Budapest and so did she. She rented a small flat. I got to know her better. She had actually no family, but plenty of friends and acquaintances everywhere. We became friends. I even took her to a basketball game of my daughter. She also turned out not to be a rich American. In today´s terminology she would qualify as an economic refugee or immigrant, looking for a better life in Hungary with her small US pension. And you know the US is not famous for a good social system.

Once we had dinner together with friends, Phyllis climbed the stairs, slipped, fell and was in pain. Finally I took her to the hospital. My first experience with a Hungarian hospital. Crazy stuff that merits a story of its own.  I took care of her, also her paperwork, “Wow, now I knew her age, I was impressed.” She had surgery, broken hip, but recovered with amazing speed. At the hospital bed many of her friends showed up and we got to know each other, finally. Rick was part of the crowd, a retired Expat. Rick and I became friends. Rick owns 2 restaurants in downtown Budapest and Phyllis had adopted one as her daily canteen. Just as she adopted the Marriott bar and all the staff there as her afternoon hang-out.

When she was fit again, she asked me, “Klemens, you are in recruitment. Where could I find a job?” Wow! Here she was again. Ok, I am a headhunter, but that would be a massive challenge in a labor market, where discrimination starts around 50. When she was 50 the word labor market did not even exist, it was still communism here. I finally talked her out of it. During her last months Rick took care of her. Thank you Rick!

Thank you Phyllis Kerle for sharing your energy and friendship with me and for teaching me that age just does not matter, if you follow your dreams.

Klemens Wersonig
Founder & CEO
TARGET Executive Search