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September | October 2018
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There are too many stories in life where brilliance was cut short, where people who should have had a chance never got it, and the rest of us are poorer for the result.
I experienced this when I took a break from World of Coffee in Amsterdam to tour the Anne Frank house with my family. As a mother, I was brought to tears, but also, as a journalist, I was deeply moved by the record she left of her experience and the quality of her writing. The best should always get their chance.
This is why, when the best get their chance, or in many cases the world gets out of the way just enough so the best can make their own chance, we must celebrate it in every way. I know I join many, many others in celebrating the wonderful life of Erna Knudsen, who passed this summer at the age of 96. In our world of coffee, Erna Knudsen was one of the best who made her chance and made it count every day. Just the right mix of bold, intelligent and graceful, Erna’s greatness endures for all she came into contact with in the specialty coffee world (literally, her world), and particularly to every woman who sources, prepares, cups, roasts or runs a coffee business.
For myself, I aspire to keep her grace in mind as I remember the times we interacted personally, times when she made me feel important as I was searching for my own voice in coffee. Her joy in her work was something that served as a touchstone for my own work. When day-to-day challenges feel daunting and I want to run away to a tropical island, I try to remember the people like Erna who always seem to have a reserve of happiness that’s never dimmed by outside events.
The second inspiration I gained from Erna’s life is to constantly remove barriers in front of others. Whether it’s employees, customers, colleagues or young people trying to find their way in our business, I have to continue to strive to recognize the potential in people. Just because we have never done something a certain way (remember, women weren’t allowed in the cupping room in Erna’s day), that doesn’t mean it can’t change. I know I must always challenge my own assumptions.
Achieving greatness is difficult. Even when someone is given every opportunity, the potential is not always realized. Events, some random, some structural and some self-inflicted, often keep people from realizing or even discovering their talents. We must always strive to see the best in others. As Erna has showed us, in the end, we are the ones who benefit most. The best should always get their chance.