Last week, I learned of the recent death of one of my dearest mentors. Dana Drago took a chance on me at Bank of America – a gesture that altered the course of my life forever.
Dana was 58 at her death in February. The cause was Younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Dana, 41 at the time, had come to Charlotte from the West Coast in January 2000 as the Carolinas President over 450 banking centers. She was a female executive in the Carolinas (leading, it’s worth noting, a team of all men). She was cute as a button, slender, well-dressed, had super high energy, and was probably the smartest lady I’ve ever known.
As a manager, Dana had the ability to get the very best out of everyone. She began to take me under her wing, providing invaluable coaching and advising. Soon, in the spring of 2000, she promoted me to the Market Executive of BofA in Charleston, SC. This meant relocating to Charleston to run the 45 banking centers from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head. (In truth, I wanted the Charlotte region, but Dana had other ideas.) Throughout my two years there, Dana was my rock, helping me hone strong business skills that would ultimately transfer to a new career. After 2 years in Charleston, there was opportunity back in Charlotte. When I expressed interest in a national role in the Mortgage area, she helped me land it and guided me in negotiating my relocation package back to Charlotte.
Because my income dramatically changed as a result of promotions and relocations, I was able to save more money that ultimately became my original investment in The Ivey. In early 2004, I left BofA on a Family Medical Leave and several months later, Dana left to serve as a top executive for The Hartford. You know my story: the leave of absence became a permanent departure from corporate America.
However, none of us, including Dana, knew that Alzheimer’s would also become a key plot twist in her life. The irony of this story is that, because of her, I gained so much that ultimately was realized in the service of families living with Alzheimer’s – the very disease that claimed her so early.
I attribute the existence of The Ivey to the mentorship of Dana. She cheered me on to dream big, and she would be very proud of what The Ivey has become and how many families we have served.
Dana’s sister, Jennifer Palmieri (former communications director for The White House, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and more) wrote a beautiful article about her sister for the Washington Post. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it HERE so you can more deeply appreciate the beautiful soul that Dana Drago was in my life. This written tribute also encapsulates so many of the life philosophies that guide us here at The Ivey.
I find comfort in the fact that Dana’s spirit and strength lives on at The Ivey – in our care staff, in our amazing members, and in their loving families bravely walking this difficult journey together.
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