27 Feb 2020 - Tracey Wallace
Pat Sullivan talks to people for a living. He is a senior tech support expert for T-Mobile, and has been for nearly 13 years. People call in with their problems, and Pat helps them find solutions.
By the end of most of his calls, he and the customer have become trusted buddies. He credits T-Mobile for that, saying they have fostered a tech support team that is encouraged to share and empathize with each other and the customers who call in.
“When one of our customers mentions some challenging part of their life like a loss or anything like that, we respond to them. It’s part of our job.
This isn’t just a technical, nickel-and-dime type of transaction. We’re on a one-to-one basis with customers. It’s really nice, too, because you can actually get to know them.
You can go ahead and share things with them. T-Mobile encourages that.”
Arguably, Pat is one of the best technical support reps T-Mobile has on staff. And they know it.
In 2013, he won a top performer award which soon had he and his wife Joyce on an all-expenses paid 4-day vacation on South Beach. They stayed in the Loews hotel right there on the beach.
Later, Pat won the Peak Award, an award given to only two reps at his call center. Pat’s location has more than 800 employees. It is an award that begins with nominations by your peers. Then, those nominated have their performance reviewed. The winners are always those who are both loved by their colleagues and by T-Mobile’s customers.
For the Peak Award that year, Pat and Joyce got another all-expenses paid vacation, this time to Maui.
They loved it so much that they began saving as soon as they got back to Colorado. They were determined to go back on their own dime as soon as they could afford it.
“We saved up for three years before we were able to go back!”
The next year, Pat won his third award with the company.
This time, they sent him and Joyce to Hollywood, and on the second night there, T-Mobile sent the award recipients to Universal Studios, where the T-Mobile employee award winners had all-access passes to the park, with no one else there.
That’s the trip he got to meet John Lagere, T-Mobile’s CEO.
“Joyce and I were sitting at a little table and I was having a beer. Next thing we know, here comes John Legere, our CEO. He comes over and he sits at the table.”
“He says, ‘You’re Pat, right?’ I say, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘How you doing?’ Then he says, ‘You really did good the last couple years.’ He just sat there with us and talked to us. Joyce was so amazed at that. This is the CEO of the company!”
Joyce and Pat loved those trips, and Pat’s competitiveness made sure he was top of the employee list every single year and credits his success to Joyce’s strong support. Joyce, he said, was always so surprised. She grew up poorer and never went on any vacations. You had to work to live, and that was that.
But with Pat, Joyce’s life was often a parade of vacations and leisure time, no matter where they were or what their circumstances.
In fact, decades earlier, Pat was laid off from a job with a union –– the one he had held down since first meeting Joyce. He called her on his way home before 10 a.m. that morning to give her the news. It was the early 2000s and not everyone had cell phones, so he left a message with her boss at Walmart.
By the time Joyce called back at her lunch break, Pat was his optimistic self. He had a good 401K. They’d be able to pay the bills until he found the next gig.
“It was a hit in the face, but my dad always taught me that when one door closes, the Lord opens another one for you. I’m a big believer in things turning out better down the line.
Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me was getting fired from there!”
Besides, he had already put his extra time to good use. Between 10 a.m. and noon that day, he had made his way to Sam’s Club. Joyce had always wanted a fish pond in their yard. Now seemed as good a time as any. He bought a pre-formed pond for $150, went home, and built it.
“The fish pond kind of took on a life of its own! I’ve taken it out and rebuilt it two or three times now. It’s a really nice koi pond and a nice area of our yard. Just real quiet. We’ve got a swing out there and everything. It’s kind of neat.”
Joyce and Pat were married for 35 years, and as much of a talker as Pat is, he admits it’s hard to pack 35 years of life, experiences, and love into an hour-long conversation.
So, we don’t.
Instead, we meander through how they met (on a picket line she was paid to attend), how she never really liked his job at the Union (and though it was tough, both agreed him getting fired was a good thing), how his 60-mile commute to and from his new job at T-Mobile was actually helpful (it gave him time to process any difficult conversations or calls, and come home in a better headspace to hang out with his wife and family), how Joyce didn’t think she’d even be able to have kids (she was married twice before, and was never able to get pregnant), and how the two of them together were able to do things they never thought possible (have a family, buy a home, vacation to Hawaii – twice, own stock in a company, and so much more).
I then ask Pat how he’s been doing since she passed. It would have been 35 years of marriage on January 25, 2020. A lot of people journal. Some go to grief groups.
Pat says he does what he is best at: he talks. Specifically, he talks to his friends, so many of whom are a close knit group of T-Mobile tech reps.
‘When I called Lyla, one of my coches, that morning and told her that Joyce had passed away, she didn’t ask me anything about when am I coming back or anything. She says, ‘Pat, you take as much time as you need. We’ll see you when you get back here. We will take care of everything.’”
And they did.
While Pat was out, his colleagues went through all the pictures from the last seven years of banquets.
Each banquet had professional photographers there taking picture after picture. There must have been several thousand for the team to look through.
“When I got back to work, I opened by credenza to get one of my test phones out and here’s this package. I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’ So, I opened the package.”
“My manager and team had gone ahead and gone through all the pictures that the photographers had taken from all the different events and years, and had them built into a book. They sent those photos away and they put a book together, a little hardback book filled with pictures of me and Joyce.”
On each page, his colleagues went through and added little notes of their memories of those nights, little vignettes to accompany the photos.
One colleague, a young man training to be a coach (a supervisor essentially at the T-Mobile call center), has known Pat for years, even before their T-Mobile days. At a former company, Pat used to be the young man’s coach. You can hear how proud Pat is of this man as he recalls their younger days. “I just love him to death.”
“Anyway, he came up to me and said, ‘Hey Pat! How’d you like the book?’ I say, “I’m just hoping I don’t get a call right now! I can’t do this!’ And he just smiles and says, ‘Well, we got something else coming for you.’
About a month later, Pat was heading home with his grandkids in the car and this young man gives him a call.
When Pat pulled up in his driveway, there was this young man with something in the back of his truck. His manager and coaches had all put in together for this big, heavy, wooden memorial bench with a picture of Joyce engraved on it. They place the bench in Pat’s backyard near his fire pit near that koi pond.
“T-Mobile’s kind of a different company to work for. They don’t get into your family life, but they’re still part of your family life.”
“I’ve been there for 12 years, and I’ll tell you, the hardest thing about going back to work was facing all these people. They all just truly felt so bad for my loss. It was just amazing. It’s a really, really close knit group. If something happens to one of us in the community, no matter the situation, everybody is supportive.”
The grief itself comes in waves.
Joyce was larger than life. Every little action she did, she put thought into it.
“Joyce’s Grandma always had a saying, ‘If somebody shows up at your door and wants food or water or something like that, you never turn them away because you don’t know if you’re turning away an angel.’
Joyce really internalized that. That’s who she became. She never turned anyone away.”
Sometimes, Pat’s manager will walk by and notice he’s having a hard day. They always offer support and allow him head home early if he needs.
“They take care of everything. My managers and directors, they’ve related with me personally about my loss. They gave me 10 days of bereavement, and I took 8. I wanted to get back. But things come up, and when I tell my managers I need a day off to go take care of this legal thing or that, it’s never an issue. It is always, ‘You go Pat. Take care of what you need to. Come back when you can. We’ll take care of everything.’ And they do. They really do.”
“It’s the same mentality we all use to talk to T-Mobile customers. Empathize. Let people talk it out. Connect. It matters. I’ve seen it matter. We have the lowest churn of any mobile carrier in the U.S. I’m proud of that. I’m a part of that.”
Pat is nearly 66, and knows retirement isn’t far behind. But he’s a workaholic. A “Doozer” as Joyce used to call him. He’s already started remodeling his house. He’s landscaped a back portion of his yard, and has a new fire pit, too.
He and Joyce had plans to go back to Hawaii when he retired. He still plans to and even though Joyce will not be with him, the memories of Joyce and how much she enjoyed the trips that T-Mobile sent them on will be with him forever.
“I enjoy working on stuff. Usually, the only times that I really have a bad time with the loss and grief is when I’m by myself and reflecting on things. That’s when I have a bad time. But I mean those memories are going to come and go. It comes in waves and you’ve just got to deal with it.”
For now, Pat is going through the memorial diamond journey with Eterneva. He’ll be getting two red diamonds –– her birthstone color –– for their two kids. It was something the two of them decided on years ago.
“When we heard about memorial diamonds, we decided that when we pass away, we’ll have our ashes made into two diamonds and give one to each one of our kids.
Give one to Dusty and one to Nikki. That’s something they could pass on to their kids.”
And so the legacy continues.
One couple, loyal to each other, to their kids, and to their work, passing on the charmed parts of life they were able to experience –– the memorial diamonds, a crystal Pineapple given to them by T-Mobile in Maui, their home and their T-Mobile family.
It all adds up.
It is all something Joyce never thought they’d be able to have. It all showed up at their door just like those angels –– as gifts ready for the taking if they were ready.
And they always were.
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