Paula Pugh has a way of bringing meaning and joy into people’s lives, be it through music, entertaining, equestrianship or teaching others how to be a friend.
“I thought the only way to keep out more pain and rejection in my life was to create walls around my heart and keep relationships superficial,” said South Whidbey resident Sally Newman. “I figured if someone really cared about me they would climb over my walls or take them down.
“Then many years ago I went to one of Paula’s workshops. I realized from Paula that my walls were blocking joy, love and life’s opportunities for me, and that no one could take down my walls but me. So I began slowly taking risks, little by little I created connections with others and found meaning in my life!”
Pugh says she feels people have a deep yearning for a purpose and meaningful connections. “Even if I go to a party, I feel empty if I don’t get to know someone at a deeper level,” she said. “When we feel a need to build barriers it’s a poverty of spirit. It’s not easy to open up especially right after we have been rejected, betrayed or hurt in some way. It can take time. Instead of hardening our heart into depression and nastiness, let our heart break open slowly and move into worthy action. Gradually we can take small risks with people we feel safe with. I remember when I went on a trip with some relatives. We didn’t get along at all.
“Afterwards I never wanted to see them again — but time healed and we both reopened our hearts.” Pugh is in her living room, with her old dog Tabor while husband Jim is helping a neighbor. Many photos and remembrances grace the walls and shelves. A giant world map papers one of the walls.
Pugh is passionate about helping others open up to people and celebrating special occasions. After her and husband Jim’s girls moved out, the empty nest started her searching for four years for what to do next. Then a friend gave her a book by Dr. Christine Northrup.
“This book shook my world.” Pugh said. “I was fascinated with the scientific information as well as the rich intuitive courage to take personal power for ourselves. At this same time friends encouraged me to take facilitation training by local trainers Christine Baldwin and Ann Linnea.” Pugh said she found her purpose and a calling and began facilitating groups, workshops, retreats and later wrote a book to help others enrich and deepen their lives.
“Paula always seems sort of surprised that people are so drawn to her,” said Greenbank horse enthusiast, Yvonne Billera. “That is part of her charm. People are drawn to her because she’s deeply interested in others and extending herself is the process that details her life.”
Pugh, Linda Good and Linda Morris founded Island Strings, still going strong today, back in 1974. Island Strings has taught thousands of Whidbey children music and self-confidence.
Good writes of Pugh, “Paula has volunteered so much in our community as a musician, bookkeeper, treasurer, public relations person, advisory committees, counselor for families having problems, this is just a few. She was comforting for us when my brother and then mother died. I have always valued her insights and know she is there if I need someone to talk with.”
Pugh remarks that we are all learners and teachers. She had just returned two days prior from volunteering in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, at a school for children. “They have material poverty, but not poverty of spirit that I could see,” she said. “For instance they all hug one another, even strangers; to them a handshake is too formal. I got so much more than I gave. This was a very worthwhile experience. I felt useful the entire time.”
When she speaks she looks into the visitor’s eyes, as if touching through sight.
She notes, “Not all ventures we get ourselves into feel that way. I have spent time on a project where it didn’t come to fruition. I could look at these as failures, but I really see them as opportunities. I don’t believe in failures. There is that acronym AFGO: ‘Another friggin’ growth opportunity’.”
She laughs and says AFGO helps to lighten the situation. “Seriously though our culture has a tendency to look at failure rather than what we accomplish,” she said. “We focus on the three words misspelled rather than the 17 correct ones.”
She says this doesn’t mean she wouldn’t change some things or that she doesn’t have any regrets. “While my children were small I wish I had been more present and had better patience. When they were little, I wanted to be the best mother, but I had to work at nurturing. It didn’t come naturally to me. I suppose most of us, not all, try our best at the skills we have at the time, and I am so fortunate that we are best of friends with both our grown girls. They inspire me.”
It is Pugh who inspires many on South Whidbey. Jenny Gochanour, a teacher, enthused, “Paula is an inspiration to me in so many ways! She is a fine musician, writer, artist, friend, mother, horsewoman and Ping-Pong player. I admire her grace, gracious hospitality and sense of gratitude. When she sees a need, she doesn’t sit around complaining or waiting for someone else to fill it — she finds the people or resources to get the ball rolling or takes the job upon herself.
“Whether it is a church care group needing an organizer, a high school orchestra needing a conductor, a group of friends needing ideas for more healthful living, a book in her heart needing to be shared, or a retiring conductor deserving a magnificent send-off, Paula never shies away from taking on a challenge,” Gochanour said.
She recalls that once, as a young woman facing an important life decision, Pugh took the time to write her a note — not suggesting what she should do, but instead sharing her own life experience and asking key questions that she might consider to help her reach a decision.
Pugh said helping someone adds meaning to one’s own life, and helping them find their purpose is the most fulfilling thing we can do, if only we can remain open to life.
“I remember a time I was in a workshop and the moderator asked us to do something, that inside I was poo-pooing and thought silly. I reluctantly did the exercise and to my surprise I got an important experience from it. I almost missed that opportunity by not being open at first, Pugh said.
“If I could give advice it would be to open your heart. If you are not sure what your place is in life at this time, remember there is a place for you.
“No one has your gifts or talents; no one else has your unique set of skills or life experience. Unlocking them may take time, but you will find it. I beg each of you to remain open, and not to hide your light, but let it shine so that all of us will benefit from your contribution.”
South Whidbey knows of Paula Pugh because her light has shined on so many.