Depending on how you interact with PCT, you may be familiar with a variety of people from our staff. You might know me or my colleagues, Dan Moreland and Brad Harbison, if you travel to industry events, or from reading this column each month. If you need to renew your subscription, you probably have interacted with our circulation department. If you’re an advertiser, you’ve worked with our sales team and production/graphics departments. And while our small staff may be the face of GIE Media to you, PCT’s parent company has about 100 employees working to publish trade magazines, produce trade shows, create digital media and more.
A year ago this month, GIE Media lost someone who you likely never spoke with or knew. She was one of the most honest and influential people at our organization. On Nov. 12, 2016, Helen Duerr O’Halloran, our production director, was killed when a wrong-way motorist collided with the car she was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. She was just 56 years old.
Twenty years ago, I was introduced to Helen as a coworker. But over the past two decades, she grew to become my great friend. We shared a common interest in cooking and baking; in fact, we took a couple cooking classes a year for many years. She went shopping with me for my wedding dress; she was the first one to tell me I was pregnant with a girl (she was right!); she hooked me up with a pediatrician she loved and trusted; she made my daughter’s baptism cake…I could go on and on.
This page isn’t big enough to tell you all the things I miss about her. I, along with others at our office, still struggle with her loss. I have the picture below framed on my desk and talk to her. Out loud. All the time. Sometimes I randomly cry thinking about her and her family, and the senselessness of her death. It boils down to this: I miss my friend.
And although she was my friend, for you, the reader, she was the last line of defense against typos in this magazine.
As production director, Helen had huge responsibilities. Part of her job required her to send every page of every publication we produce to the printer. We publish about 20 magazines, most monthly. And even though it wasn’t her job, every month she would double check all the ads and read all the articles. She wasn’t trained as an editor but she was better than most (myself included). When she found a mistake she would bring that page into your office and say, “Are you sure that’s spelled right?” And 99 times out of 100 she was right. How could Dan, Brad and I proofread the issue multiple times yet she would catch a typo at the very last minute? I don’t know, but I can’t tell you how many times Helen saved our butts!
It took Dan and me months to remove Helen’s name from our corporate staff listing at right. (He’d known her for her entire career at GIE; they were very close too.) We just couldn’t do it! And it’s taken me a year to write this column. Ugh! She would laugh at that, especially since she was the one tasked with trying to keep us on schedule.
Helen was the most honest person I’ve ever known. Whether you liked what she had to say or not, she was a straight shooter. On the surface, and to those who didn’t know her, she was tough. She had an edge. She didn’t take any crap (especially from our sales “schmoes,” which is what she often called them). But underneath was a woman who quietly volunteered in her community, loved her family desperately, and was spiritual, kind and as smart as they come.
Helen was a moral compass for our company. She touched virtually every printed page we produced for almost three decades; this month would have been her 30-year anniversary.
Helen Duerr O’Halloran is survived by her husband Mick and their son Liam; and her sister Sue and her family.
The author is editor of PCT.