As our family at VisionFirst celebrates the start of a new year, we also reflect on what transpired in 2020 including the anniversary of the unexpected death of co-founder, mother, friend and marketing ninja – Melissa Medley on January 17th.

Yes, 2020 for VisionFirst started off poorly. We were still reeling from the shock of her death when the coronavirus pandemic shook our daily lives. Clients hit pause, businesses closed and travel halted. In a matter of weeks, we went from a small growing firm building off a record year, to one questioning will our practice survive in the face of both of a pandemic and the loss of one of our founders.

Following Melissa’s death and prior to business shutdowns, our team came together in Tallahassee. We cried, we laughed and celebrated her life through stories and our cherished memories. And no occasion involving her would be appropriate without wine. Melissa had picked out, of course she did, a bottle of 2012 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon from the Russian River Valley to celebrate our record fiscal year.

I vividly remember walking in our office the next day for a team discussion and reality set in upon seeing her empty desk and like your pew at church, her “assigned” seat in the conference room unoccupied. I thought to myself, “How are we going to do this?”

Melissa was a great teacher. Her self-discipline, determined attitude, intelligent planning and ability to act always provided a path forward during adversity. And it did once again. The VisionFirst team drew upon these lessons and experiences and that day set a new path forward. That plan has served us well through the pandemic and as we start 2021, we are adding new members to the team.

As we reflect on this day and Melissa’s life, what lessons can be learned. Three things come to mind.

Not why, what? So many questions. Why did this happen? Why so soon? Why so unexpected? Why, why, why? In searching for answers, I was looking through some of my devotionals and found one from Rick Warren discussing the death of his son. The question should not be why, but rather, what. Okay, so what is next? How can we make something good come from this?

Never promised tomorrow. We all have a defined period on this earth. What we do with it, is a matter of choice. Melissa called this the power of choice. My word for 2021 is deliberate. If we want to continue to grow our business, it will be through deliberate actions to implement the plan. If you want to make changes in your life, it is making the choice to do say and taking deliberate action. The VisionFirst mantra is that strategy starts with a vision and results achieved from action taken. Strategy. Action. Results.

Change lives. Everyday decisions in economic development and site selection have the potential to positively impact one’s life. New private investment in a community can provide revenue for education and services while a new job can change the prosperity for a family. As my friend Ron Kitchens often states, “The greatest force for change is a job.”

All three of these things were made clear by Melissa’s last day on earth. She and Nancy were in Valdosta, Georgia working with a broad-based set of community leaders. An engagement that VisionFirst had completed a year earlier; however, Melissa’s compassion and passion lead her there to help facilitate one more session for the team to come together. The meeting started that day, with her saying, “We are not going to leave this room today until we are all working together, hand-in-hand for this community.” At the first break, mid-morning, she suffered a catastrophic cardiac event and went to her heavenly home that evening.

That event changed lives forever in Valdosta and Lowndes County. It brought people together in ways never seen before. Those in that room stayed and prayed together, hand-in-hand, all afternoon. There is no way to adequately thank those people for their outpouring of love and care. VisionFirst has a bond with that community and its leaders that will last a lifetime.

As 2021 begins and we reflect on the one-year anniversary of Melissa’s death, the VisionFirst family is forever grateful for the lessons she taught us. This was not the path we had envisioned, but we learned from it and have moved forward together as a team that is even stronger.

What’s next? First, we are grateful to all our valued clients in 2020 for their trust and partnership through these challenges including the pandemic. As we move forward, the future is bright for VisionFirst and its continued growth.

Personally, I will strive to live each day, making deliberate choices to achieve my life goals and purpose. In addition, and in Melissa’s own words from her 2020 goals, “I will be thankful every day of my life.”  


*An often-used phrase by Melissa Medley when she was not happy with doing something