by Ann Brooke Raynal
photographs by Eve Kakassy Hobgood
Mothers. They read and sing to us, listen and advise, salve blisters and broken hearts. And so often mothers are the models for the ways in which we live and work. To celebrate Mother’s Day on May 10, Walter is happy to honor local mothers whose professional accomplishments have enriched themselves and their families, and inspired the next generation.
When her husband Bernie was on the road, Phyllis Wolborsky would take her four young sons out to dinner almost every night. It was the early 1970s, and Phyllis was raising a family and building a thriving real estate practice in Raleigh. “Going out to dinner was an excuse to get away from the phone, and to give my boys my complete attention.”
Her sons listened and learned. “When I was on the phone with a client, Bernie would whisper to them, ‘Listen to your mother. See the way she treats people.’”
After their father’s death in 1997, the boys wanted to help. “They volunteered. It was also their calling. They were raised in this business,” Phyllis says. The Wolborsky team today includes sons Kevin, Mitchell, and Brian, and daughter-in-law Jennifer. “I’ve learned from working with Mom to do it the right way,” Kevin Wolborsky says, “Or not at all.” He recalls a time many years ago when he brought his mother an offer – but the buyer’s initials were missing in one place. She wouldn’t accept it. “I almost lost the sale,” he says, with a mock outrage that makes clear his admiration.
The family gathers for weekly Sunday dinners, mostly prepared by Phyllis, and the talk often turns to what’s on the market. “There’s an advantage to working with us,” she says. “Five heads are better than one.”
Phyllis earned her real estate license in 1969, but the last 56 years have only increased her drive: “I’m so proud of my children, but I still love this. I’m not retiring any time soon.”
During the 35 years that Joyce Hawley worked two jobs and raised two daughters, Liz and Crissy, she dreamed of having time to paint. She intended to become a portrait artist, but luck and fate intervened. Joyce had a knack for giving new life to old wooden furniture – first for her own beach house, and then for Eclectic Furniture and Décor (formerly, the Eclectic Furniture Garden), a business she has run with her two grown daughters for the last 15 years.
In the early years, the store provided a way for Liz and Crissy to work outside the home while their own children were young. Each daughter has two boys. “We would switch off schedules and bring the babies into work with us,” says Crissy.
“I wanted to give my daughters what I didn’t have: the time and space to be a mother,” says Joyce. The daughters agree that their mother has always had their best interests at heart. “There’s a trust factor with her that I couldn’t find anywhere else,” offers Crissy. And that trust goes both ways. “If we are going to succeed or fail, we’re going to do it with family,” Liz says.
As Crissy, Liz, and Joyce finish each other’s sentences and good-naturedly interrupt each other, it’s clear that Joyce Hawley’s daughters have inherited more than their mother’s good eye and sense of color. The store itself, with its cheerful mix of painted furniture, locally sourced artwork and accessories, reflects the sunny dispositions of its three owners. “It’s a happy place,” Joyce says.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Dr. Frances Foster’s grandmother always told her, “A woman should have her own.” And though plenty of women in her hometown of Laurinburg, N.C. had jobs, most were still dependent, socially and financially, on men. Foster was determined to be different. She attended medical school at a time when very few women, and even fewer black women, were matriculating. A role model for daughter Carmen and her friends, Dr. Foster built her own successful ophthalmology practice in Kansas City. She was lured back to North Carolina by her daughter, Dr. Carmen Foster McLean, who opened the McLean Eye Center in 2012.
McLean is good at cultivating relationships. Her practice allows for quality time with her husband and two sons as well as with each patient. “I love getting to know my patients,” she says. “Ophthalmology enables me to have an ongoing relationship with them.”
The other clear advantage: her mother. “It was always my dream to live near and work with my mother,” McLean says. “We ride in to work together, talking the whole way.”
“I trained her as my tech,” Foster says with pride, “but now I work for her.”
On Mondays and Fridays, doctors Foster and McLean see regular patients at their Falls of Neuse Road location. Weekdays in between, the show goes on the road. “Carmen had this idea: people in assisted living facilities were not receiving services, so she got a mobile unit. Now, we can make examinations on site, which is so much less disruptive for our older patients,” Foster says. “She’s a wonderful, caring doctor.”
THE FINE ART OF A FAMILY VENTURE
What do many of the paintings in the generous and light-filled space of Bev’s Fine Art have in common? A touch of Bev Kesterson’s favorite color: orange. After 28 years running the art gallery and custom framing business, Bev turned the operation over to her three grown children this year. “My new role is to play,” she explains. Hence the fun-loving orange.
But it hasn’t always been play. According to daughter Wendy, she and her siblings were shaped by witnessing their mother’s “hard work and dedication, her attention to detail.” When she was first starting out, Bev was frustrated by the poor quality of framing for her artwork. So she expanded her business into custom framing. “I wasn’t satisfied with ‘good enough,’” Bev Kesterson says.
Bev and James Kesterson’s three children – Wendy, Ken and Aaron – have all been working for the family business for more than 15 years. The gallery carries a wide variety of paintings and sculptures in a broad spectrum of styles for both individual and corporate clients.
“We defer to each other’s talents,” says James of the way his children work together. Daughter Wendy chooses art and presents it, working closely with Bev’s corporate clients. Wendy’s husband, Charlie Oxrieder, is helping the business develop a better online presence and a computerized inventory. Ken handles ordering, receiving, and custom finishes, while Aaron organizes assembly and installation.
With an inventory of thousands of pieces of art, clients have a lot to choose from. “We can send a van full of artwork out to your house,” says Aaron. “We help clients decide what looks best on their walls. It’s all about customer satisfaction.”
This fall, Broughton High School English teacher Carol Allen told her 26-year-old daughter, Anna Christian Allen, “We can talk about school as much or as little as you want.” Since the school in question was both women’s alma mater – as well as Carol Allen’s workplace for most of the last 32 years, those words were especially comforting to the first-year English teacher.
Carol Allen knew her daughter would be walking into a collaborative and affirming faculty, and would be linked with a veteran teacher mentor for her first year. “It’s exciting to think she could have this opportunity and these resources available,” she says. “It’s just an awesome school. I have loved watching her get into her rhythm as a teacher.”
Anna Christian was a Teaching Fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she also received a master’s in teaching, but it took 18 months of working and traveling in Asia to give her the distance and perspective she needed to come back to Raleigh and teach at her old high school. “I see Raleigh so differently after a year and a half overseas. I’ve come back with an enlarged worldview, and with eyes wide open,” she says.
Anna Christian, who also coaches JV girls’ basketball, credits years as a camper and counselor at Camp Seafarer, where mom Carol also worked, for kindling her passion for working with young people. “I’m still finding my style and my voice, but working with teenagers – bringing out their gifts and their passions – that transition has been seamless.”