A Circle Never Ends: The Life of Julie Dickson

Julie Dickson had a way of making everyone feel special through her generosity, her patience, her never judging way, her kindness, her amazing instincts, her coaching whether on the playing field of hockey or life, her sixth sense seemingly specific to us—her immediate understanding of what we needed to hear and when to help us “deal with” our own individual situations. She was a champion, an advocate for many. Julie made all she met feel like they belonged.

Julie was a Spouse. Daughter. Partner. Sister. Aunt. Great Aunt. Loyal Friend. Confidant. Advisor. Mentor. Coach. Entrepreneur. Civic Leader. Athlete. Teammate. Trustee. Teacher. Golfing buddy. “UTBA”—an acronym Julie coined to describe herself—“Used to be athlete”—reflective of an identify she never shed.

Julie’s circles can be clustered into four: circles that stand individually but that also collide in planned and unplanned ways, just the way Julie liked for bonds to form.

The first circle is family.

Julie kept a fishing picture from the late 1940s on her office wall, everywhere she worked. The picture is a photo of her father, Dick Dickson, and a few others from a tuna fishing trip. On the day of the trip, Dick and his buddies were set to go out when one guy pulled out because the conditions were not good. There were rough seas. So, his wife (Julie’s mother) Sally went in his place. Sally was the only one to catch a fish that day… a 120-pound tuna. It took her 45 minutes to pull in the fish. She declined offers from the guys to pull it in, quite unusual in the 1940s.

Julie always said the story inspired her and reminded her that she could do anything. To never give up. To not be afraid. To find and pursue a better path forward, if it was necessary.

Her source of persistence, resourcefulness and strength was her mother, Sally.

That’s not all she received from Sally. As part of the Dickson family and the extended family that was part of “Aunt Sally’s Kitchen,” Julie quickly came to understand the importance of social connections, hard work, a disciplined approach, independence, insightfulness, and kindness.

The second circle is friends.

“She knew me before I knew myself.”

Julie was there for many people who were struggling through one of the most difficult times of their lives. She had a deep understanding of so many people.  She could be tough and demanding, yet also compassionate, loving, empathetic. She was like the lead camp counselor: always at the center, convening conversation, as people worked through solving all the world’s problems, as well as their own. Inevitably, the conversations really came down to what was most important—where we were going to dinner, and who had the best crab cakes that particular year!

The annual Pinky outing, in its ninth year, exemplifies Julie’s love and valuing of friendship. Pinky had Julie’s fingerprints all over it. Her creation, reborn from a gathering she started decades earlier at the farm in Elizabethtown, PA, the outing offered an opportunity to enjoy golf and friendship. Of course, there was an opportunity for “friendly” competition—there was some challenging and taunting led by Julie—but most importantly this was about friendships and meeting new people.  Julie even created a group of FOGS, friends of golfers, who would join the after-golf party.  I know we will all cherish the chance to continue this tradition.

In her friendship, she brought into each circle, so many new friends.  It was part of her design.

Julie was never afraid of anything, including death.  For Julie, these words from the song, Song of the Soul, are really true:

“I am not dying. I am dancing. Dancing along in the madness. There is no sadness.”

Her friends danced with her (and Helene), along in the madness…at their infamous Christmas parties on Vine Street. July Fourth parties at the beach. Labor Day beach pot lucks, and sing-alongs where she prepared and handed out the lyrics in homemade music books.

The third circle is sport.

Julie’s commitment to women, to developing them as leaders, guided her and started with her interest in sport, especially field hockey, and then later with golf.  She was always ahead of her time. Before coaches really studied film, Julie held film sessions with her teams, taking them far and wide if there was an opportunity to expose them, visually, to good hockey. She understood the importance of data before using analytics to improve performance was invented. There’s a story of Julie tracking individual player performance at Brown by keeping detailed notes on what players successfully received, passed, and carried the ball in which part of the field and then synthesizing all the notes and sharing the data back with each player, individually, so that they knew exactly what to focus their practice on. Julie later did this for herself, and many others, in golf.

Julie was a role model.  She developed many women into coaches who watched her from afar, an imposing figure, at times, who demanded respect, who always gave her best and expected the same from her players.

 “I learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to throw something back.” —Maya Angelou

The fourth circle is entrepreneurship, leadership and service.

Through Julie’s move from years of success in sport into roles of entrepreneurship, leadership, and service, she reminds us that the essence of life lies in transition, where all hope, creativity, insightfulness and possibility resides.

Soon after she turned 40, she retired from Brown University and teaching and coaching, a passion and career that defined her most of her life.  She started her own business as a State Farm Agent in Manheim, PA. She approached this phase of her life with amazing clarity, courage, and fearlessness. One would have thought that Julie’s identity as a highly successful coach, teacher, and pioneer for women in sport would have discouraged her from pursuing such a challenging path, but staying in a comfort zone was not Julie. She pursued the challenge of learning an entire new business, insurance, with zeal.  Her passion for lifelong learning now fueled. Her brilliance was to apply the strategies and techniques she used in other areas of her life to this completely new chapter. The mentorship she showed her staff and her sense of responsibility to her policyholders was remarkably Julie.

Yet, there was another calling for Julie, a calling to influence lives beyond her coaching and work at State Farm.  When asked to run for office—a natural candidate—Julie embraced the challenge.  She was the elected to Lancaster City Council, serving for 10 years, ultimately as its President. Her initial campaign goals focused on the importance of electing a woman. After consulting with trusted friends and colleagues, Julie decided to acknowledge this fact, but focused more on her commitment and qualifications. This decision was true to what we all know about Julie and provided a window into how she would govern. Always a consensus leader and a bridge builder, at the same time, Julie never stepped back on the importance of advancing the voice of women in leadership.

A circle never ends.

Core. Heart. Anchor. Eye. Hub. Connector. Collaborator. Rock. Star.