The first time I got fired was a total blindside. I showed up at work, prepared to evaluate my first full year as a talk show host for a tiny start-up station near Oklahoma City. Instead, the boss told me I was being replaced with the line, “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” For the first time in my career, I was unceremoniously out of a job. I don’t mind telling you I was both devastated and petrified. I’m certain I called my Mom and probably my brother, best friend and boyfriend, too. Of course, I would have contacted the handful of people most important to me. But the only phone call I actually remember was to a TV sports anchor (and fellow radio host) in OKC. He had taken this outsider under his wing and been kind to me when most other men in the market were unwilling to help. He calmly listened as I got emotional, wondered how I would recover and what I would do next, and then he said something I’ll never forget: “Remember you haven’t made it in this business until you’ve been fired at least twice.” To this day, it’s the best professional advice anyone’s ever given me. A ray of hope mixed with humor, it was a reminder that my journey would include multiple failures, but that my story did not end there. Those words mean even more to me in light of the last 10 years…and one Saturday night this summer.
The first time I met Bob Barry Junior at an Oklahoma City sporting event, he told me his legendary dad loved working with me and was a big fan. I thought he was just being nice; after all, he didn’t know me from Eve. But that was Bob. Like his dad, he was always genuine, always sincere, always gracious, always fiercely loyal. The more we crossed paths, the more I realized it wasn’t an act. For some reason, he cared…about me, my relatively new career, my struggle so far away from anything familiar in the southwest. I leaned on him when I had questions about the media business, about football, about the Sooners or Cowboys or Big 12. It didn’t matter how dumb the query, he never treated me like I was bothering him. And even though we laughed a lot, I knew he was never laughing at me. Bob was the first outside of my family and close friends to believe in me without hesitation. More than 10 years ago, his confidence in me lifted me up when I was crushed, put me back on my feet, and gave me the shove I needed in the right direction. I still don’t know WHY he was so sure I would “make it” and achieve my dreams. I never asked him; and he never wavered. He was like a big brother who always looked out for me which was exactly what I needed. I can’t remember every conversation or series of texts (though I wish I could), but I’ve clung tightly to that piece of advice for more than a decade.
Not even three years after getting fired in Oklahoma, I was fired again…this time in Providence, Rhode Island. Eerily similar to my first experience, I was prepped for my evaluation, even ready to make my pitch for a raise; instead, I was told the radio station was going in a different direction. As shocking as it was, my panic level wasn’t nearly as high the second time. I was better equipped for another abrupt change in my career. Of course, I remembered Bob’s words and told myself NOW I had made it. NOW I was ready for the next big thing. As it turned out, the next step was network radio. Bob was so proud of me. Before anyone knew my name, he celebrated my success. When I first waded into the volatile world of twitter, he kept a watchful eye. He knew I would stew over the nasty comments now and then, so he sent me messages to counter the negativity. And there were random texts telling me he loved hearing my voice on the air. That kind of support and encouragement naturally fades away, right? Especially when you’re friends over long distances with so many demands on your time and energy. Except he didn’t change. Bob juggled multiple jobs and assignments, navigated crazy hours, traveled to sporting events all over the region, and took care of his family. He worried about staying relevant in what he labeled a “young man’s world.” But he managed it all with his contagious smile, never-ending enthusiasm, quirky humor, and kindness toward others. He loved the in-state football programs and the Thunder. He was smack dab in the middle of the frenzy over Oklahoma’s team, and he was always the first to defend Russell Westbrook from criticism, ha. Bob was my go-to for information and interviews whenever the subject was the Sooner state, and he only turned down a request to be on my show when he was on vacation with his wife and family. We bonded over the Celtics and Red Sox (two of his favorite teams), and those were the first topics he asked about when I joined his radio show. It doesn’t seem real that I won’t hear his voice again in this lifetime.
One Saturday night this summer, my family and I were in the midst of packing and moving me to a new house. We stopped for ice cream, and I checked my phone to see a half-dozen text messages from friends in Oklahoma. Bob was gone, the victim of a car accident that was no fault of his own. After his 30 years working in OKC, the whole region mourned. Tributes poured in from all corners of the state: from colleagues, football coaches, athletic directors, friends, and fans. Countless lives impacted by Bob’s generous spirit and willingness to help anyone and everyone. My story may not be unique. Maybe he shared the same advice with others. But I’m beyond grateful we crossed paths in Oklahoma for a short time, beyond grateful I called him “friend” for more than a decade, eternally thankful for that one piece of advice I still cherish today. So true that a rocky road is always made easier by people who pick you up when you trip and fall and refuse to let you wallow in self-pity or doubt. We should all have one Bob Barry Junior in our lives.