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first column

ERNA: ‘Be Afraid, But Do It Anyway’

INTRODUCING ERNA

‘Be Afraid, But

Do It Anyway’

By ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS  • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

One day a woman who had sat next to me at a fundraising dinner called me. She wanted me to be the speaker at an event for women alumnae from NYU. How could I resist? She titled it, “An Interview with a Financial Superstar”.
She asked about my growing up outside a little village in Upstate New York. How did you go from no hot running water in your home to being on the Barron’s Top 100 Financial Advisors list?

Editor’s Note: Erna Morgan McReynolds, managing director of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Oneonta before her retirement last year, has agreed to write an occasional column for our newspapers. Here, she introduces herself. Enjoy!

Good fortune blessed me. Or I thought it did. As a child I thought I was lucky. Wouldn’t it have awful to be poor in the city? Instead I grew up in a village of 300 and went to a small central school where teachers and villagers alike could look after every child.

Knowing that our family was poor, a teacher helped me get jobs cleaning houses and serving at soirées for the wealthy society of the village.

During my high school years I worked at the grand summer home of a descendant of the founder of the village. Mr. and Mrs. G. gave me special standards.

She dogged my steps as I dusted and polished with her white glove ready to pick up any speck of dust. Her husband led me to his library for 15 minutes every day. He wanted me to learn about music as diverse as the Welsh National Choir to the Brandenburg Concertos.

They gave more. On my day off each week they had me sit with them at their grand dining room table for lunch. I had prepared those gourmet meals using the Cordon Bleu cookery course they bought me.

They taught when and how to use all of those forks and knives and spoons and eat strange foods. Mrs. G called them “alligator pears.” Now I call them avocados. And I know how to do more with them than guacamole. Sometimes my knees shook under the table trying to do everything just right.

As a high school senior, my English teacher persuaded me to write an article which landed a scholarship at a journalism course.

Terrified.

Yet somehow I finished that course thinking I could be God’s gift to journalism. I took a series of jobs when women couldn’t be journalists but only were secretaries, nurses or teachers. I became a sports reporter while going to college, then a radio news director and advertising sales woman at a local station. By selling ads to pay the bills for a group of weekly newspapers, I became a reporter/editor.

Want to know scary? A girl who couldn’t even dribble a ball covering soccer and basketball? Going into rooms filled with cigar smoke, politics and men who sometimes leered.

Next with the naivety of under 20s I emigrated to New Zealand, where I became a reporter for the morning paper in the capital, Wellington. This was the era when there were no real women reporters. There were two others in the newsroom: the women’s page editor and another woman who never saw the light of day working overnight as a sub-editor.

Getting a “round” or a beat was for men. But I became what no man would – the energy reporter. That was 1973 – the year of the oil crisis. Good fortune again. I was in the right place at the right time.

After all of those front page leads, I landed a job as a radio/TV reporter at the NZBC. Great tales attached to both jobs. Then on to London. By age 23 I produced the news and current affairs show which boasted the largest audience in Europe.

Lured back to the U.S. by the most persuasive man I ever met – my husband of 35 years – I became a news producer at 30 Rock, NBC. Scary too. Would I be good enough?

My final career, I thought. Then another piece of good fortune. Lured back to Otsego County by that persuasive man, we built one of the largest investment advisory practices in the country. One of three top teams in America. We advised foreign governments’ social security funds and thousands of individuals.

During those 30 years I became a Girl Scout Woman of Distinction and a Maker – one of a select group of women who “make things happen” along with women like Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton. Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year. Part of the Barron’s Hall of Fame Advisors. And I spoke at the United Nations in the room where the General Assembly meets. Where they have all of those headpieces that translate to your language.

When my interviewer asked the audience for questions, the first one was … how did you do all of this? What gave you the courage?

The answer: I have no courage. I have been afraid of everything I have ever done.

When Jim Kevlin suggested writing a column – I didn’t think I could do it. I was terrified, but Jim said I could do it so…and more to come.

A French teacher I had once told me I could speak French but that I am a perfectionist. Hope she was right!

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