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The secret of my success: well-aimed missives

Over my long lifetime, I've written two letters that changed my life.

I wrote the first when I was 18, after I received a rejection letter from Albany State College for Teachers, now the State University of New York at Albany.

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We lived in Troy, N.Y., then. I was the oldest of six children. My father had a hardware store that provided well for us, but there wasn't much extra to send me to college. Russell Sage College, a few blocks away, was too expensive to even consider.

It was a desperate time. If I couldn't go to college, I'd have to work in the store and continue helping to care for my brothers and sister. So I wrote the first letter that changed my life to the dean of the college. I explained my circumstances and promised to work hard as a student and a teacher. And I did.

At Albany I met my future husband. After graduating from an accelerated course, I began teaching at a nearby high school and then continued teaching for three years after I married. Once we started a family, I stayed home to raise four children. I worked as a substitute teacher when it was convenient.

Many years later, after serving as a district justice in the small Pennsylvania town where we lived, I lost an election for that office. The new district justice retired four years later. It was up to the chairman of the local Democratic Party to nominate a person to complete the unexpired term.

I went to him to apply, but he assured me that he already had a list of seven candidates, with his girlfriend's name at the top. I was sure that I had no chance, until a former party chairman suggested I write to the lieutenant governor about my experience and qualifications. It must have been a great letter, because I was appointed to that office and then won the subsequent election. That gave me a six-year term serving in the most rewarding job I could ever imagine.

If it hadn't been for that first letter, I probably would've moved to Miami Beach when my father opened a store there - and gotten rich like the rest of my siblings.