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Reinvention: From Red Sonja to High School Principal and Author

Article by Dr Mary Reid Gaudio

A life of reinvention


Reinvention is what we do as women, whether it be in our careers or at home, we constantly have to change and evolve. Dr. Mary Reid Gaudio has gone through many reinventions herself. The high school principal recently turned author while chronicling the true story of her sister Ann’s battle and survival of leukemia in her book, The Phone Rang. Below she takes us through her reinventions in love, career, family and health.

A fascinating life

Before I was 50 years old I had a fascinating life. At times, it sounds like I’m making it up, but I really did everything I’m telling you about!
After college, where I was a viola major, I actually came to LA to start a rock band. I had been singing, writing and playing my guitar across the country in the ski resorts I lived in. I really wanted to work with other musicians and record my songs. After a few years, my brother met me in LA and we put together the band Che Blammo with members of the rhythm section from Eric Burdon’s band. KROQ and KLOS played our material. This was in the 80s and I was very comfortable hiding behind a guitar; but I realized I should put the guitar down eventually and sing. So I took acting classes to help me make the transition.

Conan the Barbarian

Red Sonya in Conan reinvention
One thing led to another and I started getting acting jobs. I auditioned for the Conan the Barbarian show at Universal Studios and there where around 2000 women vying for the position of Red Sonja. I had taken fencing in college so I was a natural with a sword. It was the most amazing job I ever had and I have life-long friendships from that experience. I killed the warriors and slayed the dragon every day and always won!
During this time, I got married and I had my son, Rick. He loved going to Universal Studios with me; it was his playground. I would take him on auditions with me sometimes, too. I took him with me when I dropped off my headshot for the movie, “Clan of the Cave Bear.” The producer called the upper lot at Universal Studios where I was working and said, “Who’s the girl with the kid. I want to see her.” I did the reading, got the job and they flew me to Vancouver the next day. I was in several television shows and movies during that time in my life. What a life! That was a wonderful time but things change.

Changing my focus in life

I got divorced and my dad died from a brain tumor. My dad was my pillar of strength and that threw me. I knew I had to stand alone and strong for my son so I really needed to change my focus in my life. I wanted and needed more satisfaction and I knew that giving back to society was a positive change. I decided to commit to education and jump in with both feet. I was going to be the best I could be in my new field. I taught Students with Emotional Disturbance for 6 years. Then I was offered the Magnet Coordinator position at a Performing Arts Magnet school in Sherman Oaks, CA, which was a perfect fit for me because of my arts background. I have a BA in music. I also have a Master’s Degree in Theatre.
As I was approaching 50, I completed my doctorate degree in education from UCLA and I became a middle school and high school administrator. I love my work. It’s so rewarding helping students find their path and their passion. My mom was my inspiration. She went back to school to get her Master’s Degree when she was in her 40s and started teaching. Because of her, I believed I could do anything I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my acting/musician career and I miss it some days. It is very difficult making changes in your life. But I highly recommend it. It’s important to follow your instincts, your gut. But you need to do it strategically.

I wanted my dad to be proud of me

With my son, I couldn’t take the chance of not knowing when I would receive my next paycheck. I wanted a secure life for my son and I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted my dad to be proud of me, too, and I wish he could have seen my graduation from UCLA and my life as an educator. Thankfully, my mother was there, who was also a teacher, along with my aunts, my sister Ann and my grandmother. Teaching runs in my family, it’s in my DNA so I really didn’t have a choice. I just had to stop fighting it.
During the process of getting my doctorate, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the books and articles presented to us. I loved the dialogues we engaged in pertaining to these topics. I learned how to write efficiently and formulate my ideas quickly. I don’t take time to agonize over how to do something or what to say. I sit down and do it. I used to write when I got home from work from 7:00 PM until 2:00 AM and get up to go to work at 6:00 AM. I was determined to graduate on time and nothing was going to stop me. As you can see, I’m determined, focused and persistent. Because of this practice, I love writing and this is the new direction for me.

Becoming a writer

midlife reinvention
In 2012, another reinvention occurred when my sister, Ann, was diagnosed with leukemia. That was another shocking moment in my life. I live 3000 miles away and I didn’t know if I should go home, take a leave, stay or what. My younger sister, Chee, and I started talking on the phone daily, sometimes several times a day, so I could get updates. Chee was the lead in organizing us as a family, coordinating the times we needed to be there and filling us in on the information from the doctors. When Ann had her bone marrow transplant, she needed 24/7 care for 90 days straight. Chee was the one who created the schedule so we could be there for Ann.

Helping other families learn from our experience of my sister’s leukemia

I decided to write a book about Ann, not only to document what we were going through so other families could learn from us, but also to celebrate Ann’s life so she could see her value to us. It was my way of saying “I love you” to her so she could stay positive and get well. The book is called The Phone Rang: How Three Sisters Navigate the Destructive Path of Leukemia and that pretty much says it all. Ann is in her fourth year of remission and doing well. And portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book is going to Roswell Park Cancer Institute because they saved my sister’s life.

Biggest challenges of reinvention

As I keep reinventing myself, I find that my most difficult challenge was me, my mind. I had to wrap my brain around letting go of a dream that I thought would give me satisfaction. I didn’t know what was around the corner, but had to believe in myself and regroup. Changing careers was the best thing that could have happened to me. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and challenging myself to think and find the real me, the most unique me. Remaining open to change and growth is important. When an opportunity presents itself, I believe in opening the door, walking in and turning the light on. That’s what I did. My education has given me opportunities I could never imagine. I’m now a high school principal and I’m excited about creating similar choices for my students. And I’m an author of a book that I truly hope can be helpful to others who may be experiencing similar situations in their lives, or the lives of their loved ones.

3 steps to help you realise your dreams

I believe these three steps will help you visualize your dreams:
1. Stay relaxed by working out and eating right. Do not be desperate!
2. Discuss options with someone you trust.
3. Be patient, but at the same time keep telling the Universe what you would like. I believe in precise prayer.
Good luck and enjoy being a life-long learner!

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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