If we’re lucky, at some point in our lives we’ll have a mentor. A special advisor, friend and tutor to help us navigate the twists and turns of life’s highways and byways. In their own special way, whether personally or professionally or both, mentors guide us to our greater good.
Such a person for me is Ina Roth.
As I write, I am brimming with deep admiration and appreciation for her generosity in mentoring me. I am also filled with great sadness knowing that she is teaching me perhaps the hardest, yet most blessed lesson I will ever have the privilege of receiving from her.
You see, Ina is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer.
Her friends and I call her a miracle, and she is. Doctors gave her only a few precious months to live and since that time we’ve celebrated a variety of holidays, her 50th wedding anniversary and another birthday. Those few months came and went long ago and she continues to live her life to the fullest despite her grave illness.
Today, a few of us will have lunch with Ina at the Balboa Bay Club, the memories of which I will cherish forever. And no doubt, because she is always looking for an opportunity to make things better, Ina will yet again teach me something new.
Ina and I met while volunteering for the Pacific Symphony, she as League president, I as a new member of their board. I immediately looked up to her strong leadership skills and no-nonsense style. She calls it as she sees it and has no problem in voicing her opinion, traits garnered during her esteemed career as a principal and community leader.
Years later, when I was elected League president, she helped me to understand the importance of knowing and implementing Robert’s Rules. She patiently listened to my fears, taught me the importance of thinking outside paradigms, and showed me that virtually no reasonable, well-planned goal is unattainable. Her counsel has stuck with me and served me in countless ways since, and I remain eternally grateful for her wise insights.
Ina is one tough cookie. She grew up in Queens in a family of modest means. She didn’t know it at the time but she was born to be a leader. She tells me that her first brush with leadership came when she was a Brownie and later a Girl Scout, and that her uniform was the very first new dress she ever owned.
In high school she became the president of the Honor Society; and after studying at Queens College became a teacher. She met her husband, Herb, on a blind date. He was studying at Yale and it wasn’t long before they were married. They moved to Beverly Hills in 1964 and they had two sons, David and Phillip who kept her busy.
Ina became an active member of the League of Women Voters, and soon was acting liaison between the organization and the Beverly Hills City Council. Impressed with her intelligence and go-getter attitude, the Mayor asked her to serve as a member of the Planning Commission. Later, she was asked to sit on the three-person Civil Service Commission, for which she was President for eight of nine years.
In 1976, Ina ran for a seat on the Beverly Hill City Council. She lost by only 300 votes. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Norton appointed her as a director to the Metropolitan Water District. Water quality became her passion and she served on both the MWD’s Engineering and Executive Committees, and was appointed the head of the Water Quality Division, a position the MWD executive director created specifically for her.
Ina pushed to put into operation new technologies that would properly purify the water supply. Thanks to her tenacity and progressive strategy, the systems she implemented are still in use today serving 30 million MWD customers.
During these years, she also went back to school and received her master’s degree, went back to work, eventually becoming the principal of Wilson High School located in the tough East side of L.A.
She and Herb moved to Newport Coast in 1995 when the real estate investment firm where he worked was sold to Don Koll. She commuted to L.A. until she retired in 2001 because she loved her job, and she loved the kids.
It’s not hard to understand why Herb calls her “Wonder Woman.”
On a personal note, when I was dating my husband, Ina taught me the importance of being supportive of the efforts by a man who works hard to be successful. That as a self confident woman with good self-esteem, by being supportive, one is given the ability to help a man be the best he can be and rise to his highest heights. In turn, we are given the opportunity to marry a person we respect. “And why wouldn’t we all want to be with a man who is at his best?” she asked me. If her 50-year marriage to Herb isn’t proof enough, I can tell you I have never been around a couple so connected, so mutually respectful and still so in love.
When I interviewed her for this column, Ina told me that she felt her illness had given her a great gift. “I’m a girl from nowhere that’s been everywhere,” she said with a smile. “I have no regrets. I’ve lived a life and have had opportunities far beyond my wildest dreams. I have nothing to complain about. Absolutely nothing.”
Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. She can be reached via LynnSelich.blogspot.com.