My mom passed away 28 years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and miss her. But she left a mark on everything I’ve done and do.
Helen Webb was amazing. After college, she started off as a science teacher, but during World War II, she was one of the first women to work on a special science project involving warplane paint. She excelled in that role and did so well, she worked in industry jobs, including at General Motors, until she got married to my Father and left the workforce to raise their children.
Days before my seventh birthday, my dad unexpectedly passed away, and my mom was left with five children and my father’s senile mother. She went back to teaching, as we had no insurance, but there were no open jobs, so she substituted as a boy’s gym teacher (talk about doing what is necessary!) She was incredibly industrious, always driven to improve herself and to take the opportunities available to her (and to us).
She went back to graduate school, taking classes on nights and weekends, and moved all of us to Gainesville for a year to finish her degree. At that time, most people didn’t imagine a widow in her late 40s, with small children, would go to graduate school and raise the kids concurrently. But she believed that people were capable of more than they thought.
She continued to grow in her career — and was recognized for her contributions. She was named the Teacher of the Year for the State of Florida. She also served as a leader in her field — and developed it. She was a founding director of the Jupiter Marine Science Institute and was a president of the Florida Association of Science Teachers.
My mom taught me that it was up to me to make my way in the world. She would wake me up at 5 a.m. to do my paper route in the morning before going to school. She taught me how to save, to invest in what I wanted. She taught me several crucial values that have been the foundation of my entrepreneurial endeavors.
She always said “We have high expectations for you.” That inspired me to dream big. As a kid, that meant a career as a Major League Baseball player. That didn’t happen, but I think the encouragement did give me the confidence that allowed me another unlikely journey from a security guard to an executive to an entrepreneur and investor.
“No complaints, no whining, just do your job and do it well,” mom said. I tried. When I was 10, I secured a route selling TV guides. (It was small: I had three customers.) By the time I was 12, I took on a paper route. I worked through high school — at a gas station, cleaning toilets at a Mister Donut, bussing tables at the Pancake House, working at an outdoor store, and working the night shift at a mattress factory — while playing sports. This taught me that I could work and pursue other passions.
I was pretty good at sports, and after I was awarded MVP in Little League, my mom thought I was getting too big for my britches. She and my older brother started calling me “The Hero,” instead of Maynard. The next year, I made the Babe Ruth All Star team, but during one of the key games en route to the state championship, I struck out and was angry. I went out to third base and threw the ball as hard as I could to first base.
“Too bad you can’t hit as hard as you throw, Webb,” someone screamed from the stands.
The shortstop came over and said, “Why don’t you tell that lady to shut up?”
“I can’t,” I said. “That’s my mother.”