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Gail Markham - Jr. Achievement Hall of Fame Speech

On April 10, 2013, Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida inducted Gail Markham of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company P.A. into their 2013 Business Hall of Fame. The prestigious award recognizes outstanding entrepreneurs who serve as role models for youth through their professional accomplishments and commitment to the community.

During her remarks, Markham noted her newly established fund with the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and noted the importance of leaving a Legacy. Below are her remarks:

Gail Markham's Speech

Thank you for this great honor – to follow such former "hall of famers" as Jim Nathan, Amy Gravina, Robbie Roepstorff, and Gary Trippe is humbling.

I considered sharing with you my story of a difficult childhood, or telling the now-familiar story of running into Judge Seals in a parking lot one day, when he asked me to help establish a local school for at-risk girls. He did not know of my personal history, so our meeting could be described as what Johnny Sheppard calls a "God winks" moment – a circumstance that looks random until you view it in hindsight and see its importance. Instead, this evening I'd like to share some personal thoughts about one event in my past, my thoughts about my future, and leave you with an idea.

Receiving this honor has allowed me to think about something that happened to me 44 years ago. Metta Heathcote, a lifelong St. Petersburg resident where I was born, often expressed her pride in being a native-born Floridian, just as I am. Before her death in 1965, Miss Heathcote established a fund to award scholarships to deserving and needy young people who, without financial aid, would not be able to go to college. I was a high school student without any money or family resources, but with a drive to better myself – to get an education and escape the world I knew as a child. Miss Heathcote rescued me – her scholarship, along with other scholarships and grants, allowed me to attend the University of Florida and realize my dreams.

I did not know that part of my dream would be to start my own accounting firm. I wanted to work in a place that treated employees with respect and appreciation, and maintained high ethical standards. I wanted to control my own destiny. As a result, over 33 years ago, I established a CPA firm and today Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company is the one of largest accounting and business consulting firms in SW Florida.

Make no mistake, this was not a Cinderella story, and I have learned over the years that telling one's story is an important part of transparent ethical leadership. Our road to success was not without its missteps, and I tell these stories to young adults, so they will understand that particularly in accounting, your reputation, along with ALL of your team, is ANY firm's most important asset.

The culture of where you work is the combination of the partners and the team members working together to set standards. The culture and values of the firm have to be the first and major priority of EVERYONE – and it has been, right from the beginning.

For that reason, I'd like to acknowledge not only my family, my dear friends, my greatest supporter, Doug Meurer, but also my partners and team members. They, along with Miss Heathcote, have made this night possible for me.

So this is my message of inspiration to the students in the audience:

  • Don't lose hope
  • Study hard
  • Concentrate on overcoming your obstacles
  • Become young adults with character and integrity – because the opportunity is there for you to move forward.

Someone you don't know – another Miss Heathcote – will make it possible for you, as she has for thousands of students in the last 48 years. In fact, this person may be sitting right next to you tonight!!

I'd also like to share a message with the adults in the audience.

I am standing here to receive this honor on the shoulders of many supporters – not only Miss Heathcote, but the teachers and guidance counselors I had, my early clients, and my partners and associates who have given me the time and resources to give back to the community, to start an organization like PACE.

Not everyone has that. Some of you may be thinking, "I need to focus all of my energies on my job and my business. My elderly parents need my time and attention, as well as my growing children." I understand that we all have limited time and resources.

But tonight I'd like to ask you to think about the word "LEGACY", which doesn't require us to do anything today except to plan, like Miss Heathcote did. Being a Baby Boomer, I, like many of you, like to control things. We think we can determine the outcome of almost everything we face. And we want to leave our mark. Taking a lesson from Miss Heathcote, my goal is to grow an endowed scholarship fund at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, so that I can leave part of my estate to ensure that needy girls – 30, 40, 50 years from now – are supported and educated, just like I have been. I believe that if we do not do this today, there may be no safety net for them tomorrow.

Here's my thinking: I'm not sure it matters whether on the day you die you have 40 thousand dollars in assets or 4 million. The only question is, could your heirs live without 10% of those assets? 20%? 40%? Pick a number.

Our perpetual legacy can be our gift that happens long after our obituary is printed and forgotten. All it takes is a little planning today to write up our future intentions. If you don't have an organization you are passionate about, pick a field of interest – the arts? Environment? Health care? Consider leaving a legacy gift to the Jr Achievement endowment fund for scholarships. Or, if you just love this paradise we all call southwest Florida, leave an unrestricted gift and the community foundation will give it where it is needed. For as author Stephen King said after lying in a ditch, gravely injured in an automobile accident in 1999, "all that lasts is what you pass on."

Here's what I've learned about a legacy gift of any amount, left in an endowment fund – it lasts FOREVER. Miss Heathcote established her scholarship fund nearly 50 years ago, but every year since then, it has granted dozens of scholarships worth thousands of dollars.

I don't know if my life will end next week or 40 years from now, but I do know my life will have meaning because my legacy will last forever. We all want to be part of something larger than ourselves. And this isn't a unique thought – I'm hearing it from my clients and friends as our conversations turn from today's finances to tomorrow's estate planning. Last month I established an endowment fund, with a small donation to get it started. I feel good about the fact that this first step is finished, and it was easy. You will feel that way too, once you make a plan and put it in writing.

Let me close with a story about another local woman you may not know. Edna Broome Swain, a widow, who died in Ft. Myers in 2002. I suspect this hardworking woman, who worked for decades as a maid for Sydney Ann Brinson, didn't have a lot of time or energy to do things that would have brought her great honors such as this one. She did not have the family money Miss Heathcote did. But she did think about her legacy, and with no children of her own, she quietly established a scholarship fund at the community foundation – where Mrs. Brinson's daughter worked. Her scholarship was for deserving individuals who were members of her church in Fort Myers. Her estate in 2002 was estimated to be about $250,000. In less than ten years that fund has given out 63 scholarships to young people and her fund today is worth $305,000.

Metta Heathcote & Edna Swain.

One a wealthy woman who thought of deserving young people like me. The other a woman of very limited means who thought of deserving young people from her church. Now those are legacies I admire, as should we all.

Students: there is someone you don't know, who will help you, if you work hard and don't give up.

Adults: A I hope I have given you an idea –create a legacy. If someone has helped you, pay it forward.

There is a saying I like a lot: "Always know to the world you might be just one person, but to one person you might just be the world."

Thank you for being someone else's world after you have left this one -- and thank you for this honor.

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