Shirlee and Harold Haizlip are enormously successful by every measure. Confident and dynamic, Shirlee, the daughter of a prominent Connecticut minister, is a Wellesley College alum. Her myriad interests and connections have led her through careers as a television producer, fund-raiser, political campaign manager, corporate executive and writer.
Harold, a Washington, D.C., native whose parents never got more than a seventh grade education, graduated from Amherst College and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Courtly and silver-tongued, he glided through careers as a teacher, principal and school administrator.
Together, they hold up their nearly 40 years of marriage and the health and happiness of their two grown daughters as their proudest accomplishments. In tribute to this success, the Haizlips have collaborated on In the Garden of Our Dreams: Memoirs of a Marriage (Kodansha, $24), a book which poignantly chronicles the dark turns in their careers-and other facets of their lives-and the steps they took to keep their lives together when their careers seemed to be falling apart.
B.E.: What was the toughest period of your career?
Shirlee: It was in 1986 when I lost my job as a corporate executive with WNET in New York. In the downsizing, 150 people were let go. I’d been there almost seven years, was highly productive and believed I was immune. Instead, the layoff left me feeling ashamed and humiliated. But Harold saved me. He just kept saying that they were crazy and I was wonderful. That was just what I needed.
Harold: That was an awful time, mainly because I couldn’t help Shirlee. Then, I lost my job as a vice president at Manhattan Community College a few weeks later. That period taught me that no job is ever guaranteed and that, ultimately, I had only myself and my family to rely on.
B.E.: You were both unemployed for several months. How did you manage?
Harold: My primary goal was to manage and mask anxiety. Looking for a senior-level job was not easy. I had no income and when the girls’ college tuition hit, Shirlee and I had less than six months of reserves to get by on. For my own sanity, I volunteered with the Head Start program and the New Haven Cultural Affairs Department in Connecticut. Sometimes I rode my bicycle so that I didn’t have to spend money on gas. People thought it was quite charming and I didn’t tell them any different. That was all part of masking.
Shirlee: I didn’t want to work for anybody again. So, I opened my own public relations agency, which was extremely gratifying and boosted my sense of self.
B.E.: Despite not having a job, Harold, you both moved to Los Angeles when Shirlee became executive director of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute. Then, shortly thereafter, your careers took another turn.
Shirlee: Government cuts in [National Endowment for the Arts] funding hit the movie industry hard and my job was gone. But it was OK because I had already started on a book about