Sarah Fraher, a woman who had an outsized impact on my life, died yesterday. She was my best friend Shelton’s mother, and beyond that, she played an outsized role in my life as my “landlord” during most summers in high school (unofficial, just crashing) and college (official).
She was an incredible leader, which she put to work as both a school principal and a family matriarch. She taught me a form of leadership that I try to embody when I can, and I want to share it here.
Sarah led in a quirky way: she was ironclad and crystal clear in her demands but almost never issued a punishment of any kind.
You never had a doubt in your mind what Sarah expected of you and if you let her down, you heard about it in no uncertain language. I was as scared of her as any person on earth. However, I can’t remember a single time she punished Shelton or me, and I can promise you we did plenty of things deserving of punishment.
I never had any doubt that Sarah loved me, trusted me to the extent that I deserved to be trusted, and that she expected me to be a good person. She relied 100% on trust and respect to show us how to behave and, counter-intuitive though it may be, it worked. My parents employed a version of this strategy on me and my siblings as well and I’ve come to believe it’s an underrated idea.
I thought I had more time to see Sarah in her final days and I missed saying goodbye in person. I’m torn up about that. I take solace in my only spiritual belief about death: that people who made a deep impact on others really do live on. Sarah lives on in so many people, from her children, her husband, her students, and who knows how many others. It’s hard to imagine spending any time with her and not being changed, so that number may be astronomically high.