Profiles In Courage

They faced illness, public humiliation, and even death. Their stories are lessons on how to triumph in the face of crisis.

my children, and I was amazed at how much they knew about the business. They’d just absorbed it over the years.”

One recommendation she did take proved critical. “I was advised not to make any major decisions for a year,” she says. Luckily, the business was sound and Donna continued to create new merchandise so there were no urgent decisions to be made. “Taking my time, going through all of Al’s files helped bring me closer to him and to see my business in a whole new light.”

But she still faced some black holes. Most notably, she soon learned that during a time when they were strapped for cash, Al’s life insurance policy had lapsed. “Financially, things were hard, but how could I be mad? He did whatever he had to do to make us OK. Now, it was my turn.”

Today Donna, 55, is more than OK. Last year, she moved her shop to a space in downtown Detroit’s new Compuworld headquarters.

Donna D has also regained its footing, thanks to a loyal and growing clientele. Donna is currently looking for investors to help launch stores in Las Vegas and Florida.

Unafraid to make mistakes, to step out on faith, or go it alone, Donna says she is fueled by the goals she’s always had, as well as by a desire to honor her husband’s memory. “I don’t know if Al achieved all his dreams, because he was always busy helping me try to achieve mine,” she says. “But I know he would be really thrilled and proud of me. And he’s still with me, guiding me. I feel him all the time.”

From the 17,000 women who sell her company’s richly scented potions to the broad network of friends she has cultivated throughout her journey from social worker to CEO, Nadine Thompson seems to draw in folks with her generosity, intelligent grace, and kindness.

Warm Spirit is not merely the name of the $14 million bath-and-body products company she runs from her Exeter, New Hampshire, home base; it’s also an apt description of Thompson herself.

But on a clear June morning in 2003, when a Southwest Airlines employee boarded her Chicago-bound plane and asked to speak with her in the Jetway, Thompson, 44, was stumped by his suggestion that for her “comfort and safety” she’d have to purchase another ticket. It was only once she refused and returned to her seat that it dawned on her.

Months earlier, Thompson had read an article about Southwest’s policy requiring obese people who cannot comfortably occupy one seat to purchase two, but she took little notice of it. Now, even as she buckled her seatbelt and put her armrest down, her resolve was melting into uncertainty and fear. “I’m thinking, that policy’s not about me. I fly all the time. I’m fat, but I’m not that fat. This can’t be happening.” Anxiety made her gather her things and get off the plane.

What ensued will no doubt be hotly debated in a New

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