A Baldrige star has left our earthly realm and now shines brightly in heaven. On August 6th, 2023, former Baldrige Program staff member Mary Jane Poulter (known to most of us as Jane) passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. I am told she died peacefully after a brief period of palliative care. While I can’t find the words to express all that Jane was to so many people, I needed to share some thoughts to begin the healing process for myself and all her colleagues and friends in the Baldrige community.
Feelings about Jane were evident from the immediate outpouring and spontaneous expressions of sympathy on her social media page. Some frequently used descriptors of Jane in those postings included the following:
But all these words in total are still incapable of describing the hole Jane leaves in each of us with her passing. Her husband and partner of 47 years, Harry, described her as “my best friend and the best person I ever knew.”
Perhaps the best, simple summary of Jane as a person was expressed by Kathy Herald-Marlowe, former chair of the Baldrige Judges Panel: “Jane helped keep the world in balance.”
I met Jane Poulter in the early 1990’s when I learned about a Washington, DC area quality circle that had been formed by quality professionals in the health care profession. Quality was new and a big challenge. The group came together monthly to learn from each other and help improve health care in the region. I joined because the Baldrige Program was studying a potential expansion beyond business to include health care and education. It didn’t take long for Jane and me to strike up a conversation that continued from month to month.
As the Baldrige Program started to develop health care excellence criteria and case study material, it was obvious we needed someone with clinical experience. I immediately thought of Jane, and fortunately she agreed to join our small and growing Baldrige Program staff at NIST. Jane worked at NIST from late 1994 through 2007. She then retired to the rural, small farm that she and her husband, Harry, had always wanted.
But Jane had quality and Baldrige in her blood, so she continued her quality teaching at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Richmond, VA, and became active in the Baldrige-based state program in Virginia.
Jane’s contributions with the Baldrige Program had a positive impact on the whole Baldrige and health care communities. Not only did she bring health care and quality wisdom, but she also imparted calm, joy, and life lessons to everyone she met. She wrote case study, criteria, and other educational material. She taught countless Baldrige examiners and mentored many new Baldrige staff members. She left each of us smiling and optimistic every day we interacted with her.
Jane loved nature, cats, bird watching, and festivals. She was a gardener and seemed to thrive in country life. She encouraged attendance and volunteered at the local historic village, Christmas village, and Halloween village. She enjoyed kayaking, hiking, visiting the Galapagos, posing with friends, holding nieces and nephews, and cheering on her husband’s hobbies. She was charitable to all, supporting libraries, suicide prevention, and veterans.
A meal with Jane was always full of rich discussion and humor. And we had time for this each time we ate because Jane was also a notoriously slow eater!
I have fond memories of two special meals I shared with Jane. The first was shortly after she came to the Baldrige Program. There was a snowstorm, NIST closed early, and it was clear that a trip home on the region's Beltway (Interstate 495) would be risky for Jane. I invited Jane to spend the night at our house. She prepared dinner with my wife and they were good friends by the time we sat down to eat. The conversation was about the importance of family. By the end of dinner, we knew her family story and she knew ours. And she not only knew facts about us; Jane had expanded her family to include ours. Her only concern that evening was how her husband would fare without a home-cooked dinner.
The second dinner I remember was just the two of us at a Virginia Senate Productivity and Quality Program annual meeting. It was several years after Jane left the Baldrige Program. The talk was again about our families, our joint Baldrige "family," and others in the Baldrige community. It was not about sharing news, but rather, about sharing love, empathy, and compassion.
In April 2022, Jane posted this quote on her social media page:
It was only a sunny smile,
and little it cost in the giving,
but like morning light
it scattered the night
and made the day worth living.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jane, you were our morning light.
Your life was too short but well-lived. I will miss conversations with you and your infectious smile. However, each night as I look into the sky, I know the brightest star will be yours, and I will tear up and smile.
*Special thanks to my colleagues Dawn Bailey, Christine Schaefer, and LouAnn Scott, who contributed to this blog.
Please feel free to comment below on your recollections of Jane.
So traurig aber auch schön .... (Translation: So sad, but also beautiful...")
I remember Jane with much fondness. I was always happy and grateful to be paired with her for any Baldrige activity. Her smile was positively infectious!
Beautiful and touching, Harry ... you eloquently summed up what so many of us who knew Jane are thinking. Thanks for sharing the love!
Oh dear Jane! I remember her being such a “servant leader”… humbly willing to help behind the scenes with no self fanfare… but as others have expressed, her smile just put newbies and “oldbies” alike at ease and instilled confidence! I will look for her light in the Gulf skies, dear Harry… much love and prayers to her family & colleagues. ❤️
Thanks for the wonderful article about one of the outstanding people who has led the program over the years. Jane will be missed by so many of us who knew her for her work and for her wonderful personality.
I am greatly saddened to hear of Jane's passing. We worked closely together for the six years or so I was part of ASQ's Baldrige workgroup. What a loss. She will be missed. My sincerest condolences to her family and all those who had the good fortune to know her.
Eloquent, kind, heartfelt. Thank you for sharing the background story, Harry.
Harry, this is an eloquent tribute, and it couldn't be more accurate. During my two years as a Baldrige staff member on loan from Sandia National Laboratories, Jane was often my across-the-hall counselor regarding the Baldrige Program and, equally important, personal concerns. She never hesitated to make my life easier by her encouraging presence. I am sorry to know that the world we know has lost Jane, but agree that her star still shines brightly.
What a beautiful tribute to a truly special person woman. Jane was kind, smart, and deeply committed to advancing organizations through Baldrige. I will miss her.
It has been more than a decade since I last volunteered with the program and I only stumbled across this blog today; but, I remember Jane as if we worked together just yesterday. I am saddened to hear of her passing and hope all of her many friends continue to remember what a delightful person she was. Peace!
Extremely uplifting memories of certainly an extraordinary lady & employee engaging processes that are somewhat unknown in my terrain. Thanks for increasing my lifelong learning to share with my grandchildren.
All the descriptions of Jane are quite apt. A life so well-lived and she spread joy, peace, intellect and love to so many, many people. Thank you, Jane, for being you. Your impacts were enormous.
Thanks to everyone for all the heartfelt comments about a remarkable person!