A feeling of inspiration is at the heart of Judy and Larry Stuart’s story. Not only is Judy a three-time cancer survivor, but together, their partnership and love for each other serve as a master class in weathering life’s challenges with grace and dedication while celebrating life’s joys with an abundance of fun and adventure.
There’s also a strong element of humility. “I never think of myself as inspiring,” Judy said, when asked about the fortitude that has sustained her. “I just think of myself as a survivor. I’d rather create a conversation to hear about others, and what is important to them.”
Fortunately, we were able to coax Judy and Larry into talking about what is important to them, with the help of CWM President Shilo Lockett, who has known the pair since her teens, when Judy began her tenure as the founding office manager of the firm.
How did you begin working with Comprehensive Wealth Management?
Judy: I was a paralegal for 40 years and starting to get burned out. I loved what I did but I worked with clients who were navigating personal injury, probate, estate planning, and other challenging situations. It’s very stressful when you’re dealing with people who are going through life experiences that are not pleasant.
I wanted to end my career in a place where people were happy to come see me – and fortunately, I was offered the opportunity to come and work for CWM.
What was that like, to change industries and positions at that stage in your career?
Judy: I thought my skills would translate and I felt confident about myself, and still I had to learn a lot on the fly. Ultimately, I liked it because at CWM, people are happy to come see you. They’re at a good place in their life and want to make it even better.
In fact, we delayed our retirement so I could go to work for CWM. It was a leap of faith. We had planned on retiring within three years and I was asked for a commitment of five years. It ended up being six – and it was all positive, other than it delayed us having a bit more fun.
Larry, how did you approach those conversations, considering this would affect retirement plans for you, too?
Larry: I noticed that each Sunday, Judy would look in the classifieds section at job opportunities. We had talked about some of the disappointments that she had and continued to have working in the law firm. It wouldn’t represent a risk to us financially, so we thought, “What the heck?”
Probably the hardest part was pushing out retirement because I was pretty sure that I was going to retire after 40 years at Boeing. I was a manager in the aerospace side of the company – I’d done everything I wanted to do, accomplished everything I was going to accomplish, and it was time to have fun.
What ultimately happened is that I retired a year before Judy did, and so it was a good year for me to learn how to retire and welcome her into retirement.
A couple of my Boeing friends knew that I had long ago played golf and in fact worked at a golf course. They got me into it, and now I play more than 100 rounds a year. It’s my passion – and fortunately Judy has found that she loves it. It’s been a major part of our vacation plans in recent years.
Judy, once you made it to retirement, did you go through a similar transition of finding new interests?
Judy: Yes – you know, there’s a lot of discipline when you’re working. You get up at a certain time, go to work, get off, follow the structure of your kids’ school and activities. You know you may have only 30 or 40 minutes to take care of this certain thing.
Then when you retire, every day is Saturday. You have to learn how to structure yourself and find ways to do more than just exist. Those first few months when we retired, I thoroughly enjoyed doing nothing. People would call and ask to go to dinner on a Wednesday, and it’s okay because you don’t have to get up early the next morning.
You can spend the time exploring and developing new passions – for me, I love golf, sewing, photography, and travel. Larry got me interested in golf, and then he proceeded to play with his friends a lot, so I joined two women’s golf groups. I really enjoy getting out in the fresh air and sunshine, exercising, and meeting new people.
Larry: She joined the Lynnwood ladies golf club, which opened up a whole new group of people and places to play, and Judy ultimately spent at least one year as the co-captain of the club. In her second group at Nile Shrine Golf Course, at least once a year, all the women would climb on a bus to an unknown destination. They’d bring their clubs and play wherever the bus took them.
Judy: Yes, we went to Bellingham and played at Semiahmoo, we’ve been to Alderbrook, and Druid’s Glen. We would board the bus and they would greet us with a glass of champagne or mimosas, fruit trays, water for the trip, everything. They treated us royally.
It’s clear that you have fun and work well together as a team. How long have you been married, and how did you meet?
Judy: Larry and I met in the mid-1970s, when both of our families moved into the same neighborhood. We raised our families together, and then both became single within a couple months of each other. We relied on each other and supported each other, and eventually we got married.
Larry: Yes, we were neighbors – there was one house in between my house and her house – and we were family friends. I went fishing with Judy’s husband. We each had two boys each about the same age. When we became single people about the same time, we helped each other through tough situations and had a lot of conversations around, “What does a person do now, in mid-life?” Somewhere along the way, a little flirting took place and we “discovered” each other. It was really a cool thing – one of the neatest things that has ever happened to either of us. And so, we got married in 1992.
Judy: We were friends, and that helped us bridge the gap. When you’re friends with someone, you really know them and their qualities. And frankly neither of us wanted to go out and join the dating game in that stage in life.
Shilo: Larry and Judy, you are such a fun couple. I’ve always admired what wonderful friends you are, and your ability to enjoy each other’s strengths, as well as each other’s foibles. You also gave me great advice on my wedding day.
Of course, now we’re curious to know what advice you gave, Judy. Will you repeat it?
Judy: I don’t specifically remember what I said! But the advice I would give today is to always make time for yourselves. You’ll have family pressures, career pressures, raising kids and more, but you can’t lose each other. Because all of that’s going to be gone one day and you’ll wake up and say, “Who is this person I’m married to?” You have to develop your relationship on a continuing basis and grow together.
Shilo: That’s exactly what you said. You have to continue to date each other and not get lost in raising kids and work and make sure you still know that person. When the kids grow up and move away, you’ll still have a relationship and care about each other.
It sounds like that approach to being thoughtful and purposeful, and building a solid foundation has helped you weather some of your own challenges in life too – is that right?
Judy: Yes, I’ve battled cancer several times. It started in 2002, when I was working with CWM and then in 2012 and then again in 2017. This last bout was probably the worst, with three years of treatment.
It’s been an interesting process going through retirement and dealing with health challenges at the same time. If it wasn’t for Larry… he’s been my rock through all this.
Larry: I have the good fortune of living with a happy girl. She has a very positive attitude – always happy, always positive. It’s taught me a lot about how to live.
Judy: What else can you do? You have to be positive. People would come to visit, when I was going through treatment, and they would bring me my favorite latte. Even if the visit was only a half-hour because that’s all I could tolerate, it was so uplifting because we wouldn’t talk about my situation – we would laugh and chuckle and those endorphins would start to flow.
Those kinds of things were what kept me going. I also had the perspective that my issues were minor… someone else might say they weren’t, but there were still people who were a lot worse off than I was. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. Occasionally it happened, but I would get up, do what I needed to do, be glad that I’m alive and surviving, and be thankful that the medicine has developed so much that I am here today.
How are you feeling now?
Judy: The treatment and medicine affects your body and really doesn’t go away. You learn to deal with it. But I’m healthy, I feel good, and am getting good reports from my doctors. We are looking forward to getting out and playing more golf and travelling.
When you first went to work at CWM, that coincided with your initial cancer diagnosis. How did you navigate that?
Shilo: Yes, I didn’t know until later that you had had cancer already, when you were working. I remember when I found out, I thought, “this woman is amazing,” because you didn’t miss a beat. You came to work every day, and you were just as tough and with it. So many people would just curl up in their shell and retire right away. What made you decide to keep working through that?
Judy: First and foremost, I had made that commitment to CWM. What else did I have to do except work until 4:30 and have radiation treatment, and then come back to work the next day? It gave me a sense of purpose, because sitting around feeling sorry for myself would not have cut it. I have never taken that approach with anything. When somebody’s depending on you, you’ll feel better being active, being needed, and knowing that you have value that you can give.
Larry: I got fooled a bit in the beginning, in the early treatments, because she would go have treatments and then go to work. I had no idea how hard those treatments were on her in the early days. I understood certainly after we went through the second bout and the third bout. People of our generation make commitments and we live through our commitments. That’s what she did – but I didn’t realize how hard that was on her.
Judy: That was the goal – not to make anybody feel any worse about my situation. Because there’s always somebody worse off than you are. I’ve never thought of myself as one of those people who was in bad shape.
Larry: At one point, we’re in the doctor’s office and she’s getting the news that she’s going to have this treatment and lose her hair. The doctor left. And she just reached over and put her hand on my hand and said “Give me just a minute.” There was maybe a whimper and a sniff and then she said “Okay. I’m okay. We know what we have to do and we’re going to do that.”
On social media, I would post pictures of her in the treatment chair, bald, with the biggest smile every time. At the end of my post, I wrote, “Still Smiling.” That was my happy, strong girl… she did what she had to do. And I love her for it.
To fight through that three times shows remarkable strength. But as women, we so often protect others when we’re in trouble. Was there a moment where you should have asked for help? Where you should have said to somebody, I need a hug.
Judy: Yes, absolutely. But my goal was to make as light of it as possible for those around me because I didn’t want them to be in despair and to worry.
I’m a planner, so I was always getting my spreadsheet out, and doing research. I think I drove my doctor crazy because I would ask all sorts of questions – but being actively involved in your healthcare is empowering and it’s freeing. Because if you just go along without being involved, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
There were times when I probably should have asked for more help, absolutely. But I didn’t want to bother anybody. I thought, “I can get through this.” And I had the best helper in the world right next to me. We worked the plan and the process together. Larry was my rock.
Larry: When she first went through this – she puts on such a good front and does what she has to do, that I kinda got fooled. When the third time came along, I got scared I was going to lose my partner. As a result, I became much more involved. There isn’t a doctor’s appointment that she goes to that I’m not by her side, so I can understand and appreciate what’s going on. In the process, we have learned to share the stuff that we previously might have kept to ourselves.
[To Judy:] It’s so important that you share with me what you feel so I understand what’s going on, how things are affecting you and potentially how they are affecting the two of us.
Judy: In my defense, I wasn’t sharing as much as I should have because I was protecting him, just like I tried to protect everyone else. Then we sat down and talked about it and he made me aware of how he was feeling and that he felt left out, really. I sat back and thought, “Oh I have been doing him a disservice by trying to protect him and not worry him.” Larry’s involvement has been a godsend – he knows what I’m dealing with. It has made him more of a rock, more supportive, more of a caregiver. I didn’t have to ask for things, because he instinctively knew it.
So now that the pandemic has eased a bit and you are more than ready to get out into the world, what are you planning?
Larry: Yes, so much of our conversation has focused on the challenging times but life has not always been a challenge. We have so much fun!
In fact, I think we’ve been able to get over the obstacles we have faced because we have so many fun memories to look back on. We’ve gone ziplining in Maui, snorkeling and raft riding in the Sea of Cortez, hang gliding on the island of Hawaii, kayaking in Alaska, and we’re excited for our next adventures.
Judy: Yes, we’re still being as safe as possible, but we plan to go pick up apples, visit Leavenworth, and still go golfing. During the pandemic, I really got into doing my own custom digitizing for embroidery. I took online courses and learned how to create the designs and embroider them and stitch them out.
Plus, we love to work on our back yard, and Larry, God bless him, has made it immaculate. When we bought the house, we spent a lot of time planning the gardens. When I sit on my deck, it feels like a park.
With all of our interests, we have enough to do – sometimes it’s a matter of having enough time to do it.
For you two, who have been through so much together, and clearly enjoy a rich life, what is your vision of Living Richly? How do you define success?
Judy: Success is not a “what,” or a monetary or material goal to be strived for. It is a journey through life. It’s how you handle yourself in a variety of situations and with the many people who cross your path along the way.
Success is how you define your life and relationship with others – loyalty, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion and empathy, and toss in a good deal of common sense and a sense of humor.
Success is a “who.” It is feeling good about who you are, how you conduct your life and how you’ve impacted others. When your days are over, if the people you’ve left behind can say, “She was a good person,” then you have achieved success.
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