Listening for Better Understanding
Patty Goyette grew up in Arkansas and traveled much of the world through her job and with her second husband. Equipped with an industrial engineering degree, she held executive positions in telecommunications from 1976 until 2001, retiring when she was 50. Now 72, she likens her journey to that of Forrest Gump – no clear plan, always give your best, seize new opportunities, and enjoy a bit of good luck.
“I had a deep faith and still do that if you give your best, and you’re kind and considerate and respectful of other people, what they know and what they can teach you, life gets very good. It’s not always easy, but it’s good. And it’s fulfilling.”
Her parents emphasized the value of hard work and education and demonstrated the importance of personally helping others in their community. Through it all, she’s found that life is a series of possible paths – some taken, others left behind. The result for her has been a worthwhile journey, with chapters still to be written.
Finding Her Path
She grew up in Russellville, where the family lived in a bungalow before moving to an unrestored 1880s Victorian house. Patty, her sisters and brother, an assortment of pets and friends swam in the local pool and lakes, rode bikes, and frequented the library.
Patty is a third-generation college educated woman. Her grandmother and mother both taught in public school. Starting as a paper boy for the local newspaper, the Courier Democrat, her dad held almost every position there and eventually became the publisher. She recalls watching him run the press, and observing the processes and machinery required to produce the daily newspaper. That set her on a path to study math and industrial engineering.
Patty and her sisters learned early that their gender didn’t limit them. Her grandmother gave her books about science, and biographies of important women in history and science. Her older sister, Anna Grace, was a role model example of young women earning advanced degrees in science. In school, the Weekly Reader revealed a world of places and cultures she wanted to explore someday.
Wearing glasses since she was 3, introverted and studious, Patty gained confidence through Girl Scouts and public speaking at church. In high school, she was active and successful in clubs and academics.
Starting with jobs in high school — wrapping Christmas gifts at Hunt’s department store with good friend Laura, working at a local drug store, hostessing at a restaurant — she learned how to listen to and serve customers. “It’s the skill that makes or breaks you in leadership. If you listen,
then you can communicate honestly,” she said.
A Career with Purpose
Graduating high school as valedictorian and winning a National Merit Scholarship, Patty’s plan was to study engineering at Rice University. But her path changed when Rice didn’t accept her. Her second choice was Washington University in St. Louis, and she arrived with a bouffant hairdo and a Southern accent. By the fall of 1969, she’d cut her hair like Twiggy, wore black jeans and black turtlenecks, witnessed riots and firebombing on campus, pushed through sit-ins to go to engineering classes, and discovered a love for bagels. But her childhood sweetheart was at Hendrix College, and she transferred there in her sophomore year. They married after graduation.
Moving to Fayetteville, she worked briefly for Worthen Bank, then returned to school at the University of Arkansas for an industrial engineering master’s degree.
Under affirmative action orders, employers in 1976 were eager to hire qualified women into technical positions. Still, Patty encountered some issues. One interviewer asked how she would juggle having children and whether her husband would allow her to travel. At another company, it was clear she would be placed in the engineering secretarial pool.
When she interviewed with AT&T, she could tell she’d be valued there. She sought new experiences and travel, and they planned to move her around the country in a management development program. Her engineering skills would serve her well: leadership, organization, working with people.
At her first placement in Dallas, she was a mid-20s woman supervising a highly technical team of men in a switch room, where they worked with the newest computer technology that ran telephone systems. Challenged, yet undaunted, she found success “mostly because I respected the people that were allowing me to be their supervisor, allowing me to learn from them.”
Every 18 months brought a different location with new and larger responsibilities — Kansas City, New Jersey, Omaha — managing engineering teams, marketing, HR compensation administration, operations covering a four-state territory plus the Strategic Air Command national network. The frequent moves made it harder for her husband
to establish his career, and eventually, their
AT&T also sent her to Rutgers University and Harvard Business School for advanced education in business and leadership. In the dinner line at Rutgers, she met the love of her life, Bob Goyette.
Life with Bob
Bob was from New England, was smart and witty, and he also wanted to explore the world. Patty persuaded AT&T to transfer her back to New Jersey, closer to Bob in New York, where he was an executive in nuclear, hydro and fossil fuel electric power generation. In her last assignment at AT&T in the Long Lines division, Patty worked with the long distance operators, as the long distance system was being dissolved. As the first female boss for the division, she made a point to learn and experience their work, especially during the peak call times of holidays.
When AT&T wanted to start moving her again in the early 1980s, she retired from the company. For a while, she ran her own small business buying and selling antique quilts. She and Bob married and bought a 1930s Cape Cod house in Tarrytown, New York, modernizing it over
She then took an entry-level human resources position at Northern Telecom, but moved up in HR, marketing, engineering and customer service. She learned to play golf, as a retirement skill, but also found it helpful for networking as she advanced to vice president.
Early in their relationship, Bob said they would be smart to live on one salary, invest the rest, and then retire when each of them turned 50. Once Bob retired in 1994, Patty’s executive leadership career took them to North Carolina and then Florida, managing national and international engineering and service organizations. When Patty retired in 2001, they moved back to North Carolina. Over the next four years, Bob nicknamed them “frequent floaters” for their extended cruises around the world. On land, they took major road trips, exploring America’s “blue highways.”
After they returned to North Carolina, they learned that Bob had a brain tumor. They spent the last year of his life in treatment, being visited and supported by family and cherished friends. “Being able to have friends and keep friends, and being loved and supported by friends throughout your life is a treasure, and I’ve truly been blessed by that,” Patty said.
Bob’s death in 2006 was the end of Chapter 2 in her life. Widowed at 55, she’d had the perfect life and suddenly had to create a new one. It took her a while to get started on her next chapter. She converted to Catholicism, went to grief counseling, and soon moved back to Russellville, where her sister and lifelong friends lived. She continued to travel extensively, notably to China and Paris.
Always enjoying new experiences and never having lived west of the Rockies, in 2014, she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a magical place for her, filled with a different history, ancient cultures, art and spectacular landscapes.
With her career in telecommunications and all that
travel, Patty discovered that the universal wireless communication is a smile and a wave. “It doesn’t matter how distant, or what language you speak. If you can see each other, just exchange a smile and a wave, and there you are, having a conversation,” she said.
To Next Chapters
Patty signed up for the Carriage Club with BTV before she turned 60, wanting to be early in line as her peer baby boomers reached their golden years. With no children, she didn’t want the burden of her care to be put on her extended family. She sold her Albuquerque home in late 2022 and moved into her Village Home in February 2023. She immediately converted the patio to a screened porch, where she and her sweet service dog, Lulu, spend lots of time with nature.
As she’s starting Chapter 4 of her life, she thinks she’s in the perfect place. Besides Arkansas friends living in the area, she’s been surrounded by friendly, welcoming residents and staff. “Neighbors, residents and staff quickly become friends here. There are no strangers at Butterfield, and I enjoy hearing everyone else’s stories.”
The amenities impress her: ready access to quality health care and physical therapy, transportation, fitness, dining and a wide variety of activities. In Marie Kondo style, her home is filled with items that bring her joy: the rustic dining table from New Mexico, an authentic butcher block from a New England deli, as well as carvings from Alaska, baskets by native peoples from around the world, and original paintings. “Everything in here has a story.”
She stays connected to friends and family living around the country via regular Zoom gatherings. She enjoys audio books and watching historical fiction and mysteries. And she still travels with family and friends – since 2020, to England, Scotland, Norway and Switzerland. Wisconsin will be her 50th state visited.
Not frightened by new experiences or change, Patty tries to live her life without regrets, praying a daily prayer of gratitude. “Especially when chapters close and begin in life, you just have to do something, just try. Don’t sit down; keep going; find a reason to smile.”
Words by Michelle Parks | Photos by Stephen Ironside