Following Bobbie – On What Our “General” Taught Us

11 - Behind the Shield

“God loves with great love the man (the woman) whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”  William Booth

In an era where even today 35% prefer male bosses over 23% who prefer women, I found the best and wisest woman boss in Roberta C. Schofield when I started working for The Salvation Army in 1982.

Bobbie, who holds a BS and MSW degree from Syracuse University, ABD there at the Maxwell school, fostered professionalism and saw to it that almost all of the leaders she hired, predominately women, also completed their “MSWs” or other advanced degrees. I finished mine in 1987.

But completing our degrees wasn’t the best part of our education, that came in watching and listening to Bobbie. B. J. Gallagher, noted writer on women in leadership, said at a conference, “Everyone in this room is a teacher.”  That was quintessentially Bobbie. She was a real leader, not only “talking the talk” but “walking the walk” and we all learned by following her path, hopefully adding our own footsteps to hers.

One of the “Bobbie stories” that was foundational for me and many others happened in connection to the Emergency Shelter. Bobbie’s office was just a short walk down the hall from it and one night, when she was working late, a shelter resident wandered down in her direction. Seeing her sitting at her desk, but not knowing who Bobbie was, the client told her toilet paper was needed in the women’s restroom. Bobbie immediately got up and got it. That became a social work lesson and standard. At Syracuse Area Services we “all carried the toilet paper” to wherever there was a need.

Bobbie loved aphorisms. When she retired, every table at her farewell dinner was decorated with Bobbieisms. “Don’t trade your brains for a ham sandwich.” “No one gets to say ‘that’s not my job.’ ” We all contributed our favorites. Probably the one standard that resonated the most for me was “That and better will do.” I tried to hold myself to it, Bobbie was a living example. There was always some unserved corner of the community to reach out to embrace:  Street kids, parenting teens, mentally ill women, kids in trouble with the law, families who needed food, or daycare, or parenting support, the elderly who needed a meal and a loving touch. If a program didn’t exist, we’d create one and figure out how to fund it. Can’t come to our office? No problem. Bobbie’s troops fanned out through the city and came to you.

By 2002 when she retired, she had built up “the Army” in Syracuse from the more typical small service organization to one of the largest, with  a multi-million dollar budget and over 300 staff serving in programs throughout the city. People have always asked me how she did it. She would no doubt say, I didn’t do it alone, and while that was certainly true, I always answered by saying that when Bobbie couldn’t do everything by herself, she collected great staff and inspired them by example, and then partnered with her Board and the community to make it happen.

Of course, once it did, she kept up the standard of that and better will do. “How can we make this more client friendly, more in keeping with the love of God?” were questions she asked herself and her staff. It didn’t matter how big or small the detail of service, continuous quality improvement prevailed. Bobbie had learned from her father William E. Chamberlain, a Salvation Army National Commander, that respect for people had to be an abiding principle.

ZoomedIn gives a great example saying that at a Salvation Army Territorial Conference Bobbie said, “Look at the signs in your place and ask yourselves, ‘What are they telling your people?’ ” she said to the delegates. “Do they say that you love them? That you’re going to serve them in a professional way that is going to be respectful and maintain their dignity?”

Not unexpectedly, Bobbie became one of the most powerful women leaders in Syracuse, and was described by one Board Member as an exec who could have led any of the Fortune 500 companies in the nation. ZoomedIn describes her as “well–versed on the socio–economics and demographics of ‘The Big Little Town’ of Syracuse.” And they credited her by noting, “During her tenure as Area Services Executive Director, she developed credibility by integrating Salvation Army services into the language and culture of the community.” Absolutely true. I would add she mentored and modeled not only at the agency she loved and grew,  but by her leadership on the “PresExs” group where she paid special attention to nurturing new women executives from other community agencies.

William Booth (1829–1912), founder of the Salv...

William Booth (1829–1912), founder of the Salvation Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most complimentary thing I can say about Bobbie is that she lived this quote by William Booth: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!”

When I went to work at The Salvation Army I was looking to live out my call and create a ministry for myself, to find a place to “Dream the Impossible Dream.” I found a similar vision in Bobbie, in the leaders she recruited, like Linda Wright, Diana Stanley, Pauline Sharp, Tom Knox, and Linda Lopez, and in those I hired who worked with me in Family Services. Together we fought the fight, and fighting together created many possibilities from the impossible.

Thank you, Bobbie, for all you taught me and so many others. You may not remember it but once I told you that you were my general and I would march anywhere you sent me. Now we march in different places, but you still inspire me every day to put “Others” before self. It has changed my life.

Want to know more about Syracuse Area Services follow this link:

About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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2 Responses to Following Bobbie – On What Our “General” Taught Us

  1. Bobbie Schofield says:

    Can’t even speak….I’m overwhelmed. Funny, things that stick with me are the times when I failed! Somehow, God takes care of those. You’ve made me think back on all the great staff we had, and you Joann, the energizer bunny in whom I had the good fortune of never having to worry about your devotion, your competence, and I had the joy of watching you supervise and mentor the next generation of “lifers” It doesn’t get any better than that!


  2. Mary Winter says:

    Joanne, what a larger than life presence she was and is. Saw Bobbi at Salvation Army Day at the Dome. She was just great. Thanks for sharing. Certainly a women to emulate.


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