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Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, in English, defines the noun mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide”, adding “tutor and coach” as synonyms. Webster’s New Edition Thesaurus defines the word mentor as follows: “to give advice and instruction to someone regarding the course or process to be followed.
If I were the author of a dictionary of any kind, in any language, I would place a picture of Judi Ann Mason beside the word “mentor.” I met Judi in the spring of 1975, at the annual NADSA convention. NADSA is the National Association of Dramatic Speech Arts. Judi was a young 20-year-old Grambling University Theater student in Louisiana, and I was a 40-year-old wife, mother, want-to-be actress, Kennedy-King Community College Theater student, in Chicago.
One of the main reasons Judi and I hit it off so well was, we were both crazy. But unlike most other crazy people, we knew we were crazy. She decided to adopt me as her play-mother and I decided since God had given me three sons, I would adopt Judi as the daughter I always wanted.
At the convention, it was announced that Judi had won the Norman Lear playwriting award. Now I was really glad I had adopted her. During the next year, we talked by telephone at least once a month. I didn’t know it then, but Judi was on a mission. She had asked me what my major was, and I had lied and told her it was Journalism. I wasn’t exactly a professional liar; I just didn’t want people to laugh at me if I told them theater was my major because all my life I had wanted to be an actress.
Now Judi was calling me prodding me to write a play so I could enter it into the Norman Lear contest. Since I had never written a play nor did I aspire to become a writer, I told Judi another lie. As I said, I wasn’t trying to make a career of lying, I just wanted to get Judi off my back.
It was the summer of 1976 when I really learned what Judi was up to. She must have doubted my truthfulness when she called and asked me if I was almost finished with my play. Of course, I told her yes. You can’t imagine my surprise when she called a few days later to say her car had broken down and she was having it towed the rest of the way.
I said, “The rest of what way?” Judi calmly replied, “I am forty miles outside of Chicago. “You drove all the way from Louisiana?” I spoke. “You bet your sweet bippie” she said.
It was during that surprise visit that I knew I couldn’t lie to Judi anymore, but I also learned that she was not only my friend and my daughter, but she had now become my mentor. Yes, a 22-year-old young lady became a mentor to a 42-year-old woman.
My oldest son, who was the same age as Judi, marveled at the fact that I was allowing a younger person to teach me something. I had to remind him that when I chose to go back to school, all of my professors as well as most of my classmates were younger than me.
That summer, Judi taught me a lot. She showed me how to create a scene and how to develop characters. She was determined to make me a playwright. When I had finished writing my play, Judi suggested, no Judi made me enter it into the NADSA playwriting contest and when I won she said, “Now you’re ready for the Norman Lear.
Because of Judi Ann Mason, in 1978, my play, TWO TWENTY SEVEN, won the Norman Lear and the Lorrain Hansberry playwriting awards. In 1985, my play was adapted to television and became an NBC hit TV series.
Because of personal family health issues, I had to relocate back to Chicago, but I always kept in touch with Judi’s career moves.
While visiting L.A. last summer I had the privilege of staying in her home for two weeks. When I showed her a movie script I had written, “it was on”. Yes we laughed and we talked, and we told each other jokes and yes, you guessed it, Judi mentored me. Judi also thought it was time for her children to call me “granny.”
So, Mason and Austin, although Granny is not with you right now, I will keep you in my prayers and in my heart.
As a writer, I like to create my own dialogue but right now I have to borrow a line from a favorite song: “If anyone should ever write my life story, Judi Ann Mason will be between each line of fame and glory”. Love always, Christine Houston.
Written by Christine Houston
Posted by Cathy Milne-Ware
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Hirmichi Torihara’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of oatsy40’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License