Receiving the Special Olympics North America coach of the year award
I just got news from Cayman that Penny McDowall passed away on New Year’s Eve. The short instinctive note I sent to her husband Rod simply said:
Such a loss, and such a life. An inspiration and wonderful human.
Today, I feel moved to write about Penny, about her legacy, and about how we can all live and model what Drew Dudley call’s “Everyday Leadership”.
Everyone called her Miss Penny, and for you to know, in Cayman to call someone Miss or Mr is a mark of high respect.
First, the photo above is from January 2017, with Penny being presented a special award by one of her most accomplished Special Olympics athletes, Andrew Smilley. I saw first hand the level of love, care and support Penny had for Andrew as he was in the same training squad for swimming as my oldest son for several years. Penny was also a constant as a volunteer at swim meets, running our computer for results from “the shed” whilst also being there to cheer on her athletes. Many a session I have spent in the shed swapping stories and jokes with Penny as we worked to get the results of the races out.
From the story in 2017 where that photo originated, a little about Penny:
McDowall has been the driving force of the Special Olympics Cayman Islands swimming program for over two decades. Starting at a local special needs school, the Lighthouse School, in 1991, she realized the need for a learn-to-swim program for students. Despite having recently retired from teaching, McDowall continues to serve as the head coach for Special Olympics Cayman Island’s swimming program – the largest of the country’s Special Olympics sports. In 2015, she coached SOCI athletes in open water swimming at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, CA.
So much of Penny’s life was devoted to supporting others, she leaves a legacy that will be remembered by so many and for such a long time.
My own simple definition of leadership is:
“a leader is someone others choose to follow”
Penny McDowall’s leadership in selflessly serving her community has and will continue to inspire others. They already do and will continue to follow her lead and her leadership.
Thank you, Miss Penny, you inspire and your legacy lives on 🙏🏻
This profile of Miss Penny was from 2009:
All too often, we think of leaders as being people like corporate CEOs, politicians and other figures, often famous on the global stage.
Thinking about “Miss Penny” and her leadership, I am reminded of a talk I gave to the Cayman Islands Nursing Conference in May 2012 entitled “Leadership is for Everybody”. In recalling that, I offer my thanks and acknowledgement to Rebekah Brooks for asking me to give what was a quite different kind of talk to a conference like that. The experience will always stay with me as one of my favourite talks I’ve given, through the strong sense of connection I felt to all the amazing nursing leaders in the audience.
As I look at the slides, it really does resonate for me that the themes in there remain some of the core themes I talk about today, nearly seven years later.
At the heart of that Prezi is a TEDx talk by Drew Dudley on “EveryDay Leadership”
I leave you with the closing of his speech from the transcript of his talk on TED.com and as I share it with you, I have goosebumps, as I realise this was the first time I came across the Marianne Williamson speech I use again and again for myself and to share with clients and others around the world to inspire bravery. I wrote about it (with the full quote) here.
Thank you Drew for so inspiring me in a way that I now realise I have passed on again and again.
“As long as we make leadership something bigger than us, as long as we keep leadership beyond us and make it about changing the world, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it every day, from ourselves and from each other.
Marianne Williamson said, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. [It] is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light and not our darkness that frightens us.” My call to action today is that we need to get over our fear of how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other’s lives. We need to get over it so we can move beyond it, and our little brothers and sisters and one day our kids — or our kids right now — can watch and start to value the impact we can have on each other’s lives, more than money and power and titles and influence. We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments — how many of them we create, how many we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward and how many we say thank you for. Because we’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it.
And if you change one person’s understanding of it, understanding of what they’re capable of, understanding of how much people care about them, understanding of how powerful an agent for change they can be in this world, you’ve changed the whole thing.
And if we can understand leadership like that, I think if we can redefine leadership like that, I think we can change everything. And it’s a simple idea, but I don’t think it’s a small one. I want to thank you so much for letting me share it with you today.”
Also published on Medium.