Dee Willard Ruffin, Creating a Fortune in Life Through Positivity
She’d never get the job, they told her. And although they didn’t come right out and say so the clear undertone was that she just wasn’t the right color for this prestigious position. But Deitrice “Dee” Willard-Ruffin wasn’t about to make it easy for them to turn her down.
With the same determination she applies to every obstacle in her path, Dee set her sights on that Postmaster position, and became the first African-American female Postmaster in Bethesda Maryland -one of many extraordinary accomplishments in her life.
Dee Willard-Ruffin certainly earned it.
Dee began her career with the Postal Service as a Letter Carrier. It’s a grueling job, and she lost 35 lbs in her first two weeks, but she knew it was her path to something bigger. “It was never my desire to stay as a Letter Carrier,” Dee says. “I always had the desire to move up.”
The head-strong young wife and mother put one foot in front of the other every day on the beat, striding toward her future. Her path seemed clear until the day a devastating accident changed everything.
One moment Dee was walking her beat, delivering the mail just like she always did. The next, she was fighting for her life. She hadn’t had a chance to avoid the car careening at her on the snowy road, and she sustained serious injuries when it hit her.
“You’ll never walk again,” the doctors told her with absolute certainty.
Dee broke into tears with this pronouncement, as did everyone else in her hospital room- except for her mother.
“Dee Dee,” her mother said, after kicking everyone else out of the room, “You will walk again.”
Overcome with fear and hopelessness, Dee made the decision to ignore the doctors’ grim prognosis and focus instead on the positivity coming from her mother.
With the support of the rest of her family and then her church community, Dee dove into the power of positivity, surrounding herself with a strong circle of influence from which she drew the strength to fight back against the circumstances that tried to destroy her will.
It was not easy. Dee spent months in therapy and her mother went full Drill Sergeant on her whenever Dee needed to be pushed. Eventually, Dee and her army of supporters proved the doctors wrong, and she baby-stepped her way back into the rest of her life.
With one battle behind her, Dee Willard – Ruffin turned her sights on the next.
The post office powers-that-be wanted her to retire on disability. But three years after her accident, with her mother’s battle cry ringing in her ears, Dee walked into work and told them she wanted to try her hand at management.
This was a man’s world she was striding into. It was also predominately White. The odds were against her, but Dee had become accustomed to that. She was undaunted by a challenge and unimpressed by negative mindsets.
The next day she reported for duty in Preston Kings Station, training as an acting supervisor. She gained a mentor – the only other female, African American in management- who told Dee to keep her head on straight and never use her skirt as an excuse for anything.
“Keep your mind in it,” her mentor told her, “and you’ll go far.”
Dee took the advice to heart. Working twice as hard as others, she crushed any notions that she was not fit for the challenges before her. In time, she developed a reputation as a problem solver in difficult post offices. She was deployed to a host of these offices in trouble, and applied her own Drill Sergeant techniques to fixing those problems.
When the Postmaster in her own office left, Dee served as the acting Postmaster for two years. The official position was offered to a man who declined the opportunity to oversee this large, troubled post office. Dee rose to the occasion and went up against five men applying for the position.
Everyone knew she’d never get the job. It was a politically sensitive position that entailed interacting with congressional leaders, and everyone knew it would go to a white male.
Everyone was wrong.
Dee went on to excel as the first female African American Postmaster in Bethesda Maryland. She’d made it. She had a prestigious position, a loving husband and three healthy children she adored. Life couldn’t get any better – and then it all came crashing down when her husband died.
Blindsided by the death of her beloved husband, Dee withdrew from life. For 13 months, she stayed in the hole she’d crawled into, hiding from life and ensnared by her pain.
Once again, it was her mother her who pushed her forward.
Her mother, Dee knew, would not relent until she at least appeared to be trying. So, with half a heart, she returned to her Postmaster job, faking her way through her new existence. Her mother was no fool, and knew her daughter needed a new purpose.
When Dee made the difficult decision to accept early retirement from the Post Office, her mother was ready. Dee had always been interested in real estate, so she didn’t put up a fight when her mother nudged her to a Fortune Builders seminar.
Dee was hooked.
“It changed me completely at that moment. I felt it on the inside, that this could be for me.”
With the same determination and commitment Dee carries into every other challenge in life, she built her own successful real estate investment business. Envisage Management Solutions, Inc., has handled over 33 million dollars in transactions in 5 ½ years, buying and restoring distressed homes.
Dee is proud of her company and her reputation speaks for itself. She’s widely known for her integrity and graciousness, and her phone regularly rings with people pitching opportunities to her.
At age 55, Dee is just getting started on the rest of her life. Her company is expanding to other areas, including Jamaica and she is launching her own mentor program. “You can do what your mind says you can, regardless of age,” she tells others.
With each challenge introduced to her, Dee absorbed the lessons learned. She never takes little things for granted and she is a firm believer in the powers of visualization and affirmation. The American Dream, to her, means she can live the life she desires to live, rather than what someone else decides for her.
Listen in to Dee’s interview above or on iTunes to hear her tell her incredible stories of survival, overcoming racial barriers, rebuilding life after loss, and how one particular act of graciousness came back to her ten-fold.
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