Finding Joy Through Giving Back
"Columbia prepared me with a great education, and now I feel blessed to be able to give back."
As a child growing up in Bronxville, New York, Cindy Graham Tether ’80BUS knew she loved to write. Pretty soon she was submitting stories and verses for publication. Whenever one was published, she would use the earnings to take her parents out for a fancy dinner in New York City. Cindy later learned that her grandfather loved to compose verses as well. It seems writing verse was "in her blood."
So it made sense that, after college, Cindy would gravitate toward publishing. While working in the adult trade division at Harper and Row, now Harper Collins, she heard about an opening at Random House in the company's children's book division. The editor was impressed with Cindy's writing and invited her to submit a manuscript for potential publication in Random House's popular "body part" early-reader book series, several of which had been written by Dr. Seuss.
Commuting on the train between Bronxville and Manhattan, Cindy wrote The Hair Book. "Hair! Hair! It's everywhere!" the story goes. "Some have a little (a baby), some have lots (a gorilla). Plain hair (a lion), striped hair (a zebra), polka dots (a leopard) …"
The editor accepted the manuscript and, in 1979, published it under Cindy's pen name, Graham Tether. "I was so excited when I learned it had been accepted that I raced back to my office through the streets of New York City, as if on wings, to tell my friends."
Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) himself wrote Cindy to say that he hoped it would sell a million copies. In print since its original publication, The Hair Book has recently been reissued in a newly illustrated 40th anniversary edition.
Her next chapter: Columbia
After working for four years in publishing, Cindy decided that the next chapter of her life would be a career in business. Her father and brother had both graduated from Columbia Business School—her mother, from Teachers College. So she had a good idea of what a Columbia education would mean for her personally and professionally.
"I knew that a Columbia Business School degree would provide some additional gravitas," she says, "both as a woman and as someone coming from publishing, which many companies did not consider to be a typical business background."
Cindy credits her Columbia degree with getting her in the door at IBM, where she spent more than 27 years working across the organization in revenue planning, marketing, customer education, and contracts.
"Graduating from Columbia gave me the confidence to meet the world head on and to know I was prepared for anything," she says. "Whenever l negotiated a raise or a promotion, I felt the clout of Columbia Business School right there in the room with me."
Discovering stories in the windows
Meanwhile, Cindy was becoming more involved in the church that she grew up attending. Today her passion for storytelling shines through in the tours she leads of the Reformed Church of Bronxville's stained-glass windows.
The exquisite windows were created by renowned artist Charles Jay Connick, whose other works include the rose window of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (Morningside Heights) and several windows in Saint Patrick's Cathedral (Midtown Manhattan) as well as the windows in the Princeton University Chapel.
"For 50 years I sat in the pews knowing the windows were beautiful but not knowing their history and their stories," Cindy admits. But when the minister who had been leading the tours eventually left, Cindy studied up and volunteered to take on the role.
"During the medieval ages stained-glass windows were a way to keep biblical stories alive among the people, most of whom were illiterate," says Cindy. "In our church, Connick arranged the windows to tell the biblical stories in narrative order and at eye level. The glass was made in huge copper pots, which gives it a jewel-like quality. I think these windows are truly exquisite—among the best in the world."
Blessed to give back
While Cindy volunteers a great deal in her community, she has been generous to both of her alma maters as well. At Columbia she established a charitable gift annuity that will pay her income for life starting at a future date of her choice, with the remainder going to unrestricted support at Columbia Business School.
"I wanted to give back and diversify my retirement income at the same time," explains Cindy. "The gift annuity offered me a tax benefit right away and a secure income stream when I retire."
Cindy also formally documented a gift through her will to support the business school. Both gifts are in memory of her parents, Doris ’36TC and Willard Tether ’32BUS, ’33GSAS and have earned Cindy membership in the prestigious 1754 Society.
"You want to be a good steward of your talent and treasure and put it where it can be of best use. Columbia fits that description for me," Cindy says. "Making these gifts unrestricted was important to me as well because I know how important that is to the business school. It lets them use the funds where they have the greatest need."
As Cindy reflects on her own life's story, it is clear that her Columbia education has played a leading role. "Education is something no one can ever take away from you," she says. "It expands one's horizons and is truly a lifelong gift."
"I feel 'blessed to be a blessing,' " she continues. "Columbia blessed me with a great education, and now I feel blessed to be able to give back. There's great joy in giving back, in creating a legacy for what one considers important, and in helping to make the world a better place."
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