Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh moms and daughters find ways to work together

Phyllis and Margaret Garriss are more than just mother and daughter – as professional violinists, they’re Meredith College co-workers, freelance musical business partners and twin den mothers of a kids’ chamber music supper club.

Their faces light up in the same way when discussing their pupils’ progress and the joy of creating beauty through music. They teach in separate classrooms at Meredith, but work side by side each summer at the school’s two-week music camp that Phyllis, 88, founded more than three decades ago.

“I feel really fortunate,” said Margaret, 51. “I get to learn from my mom’s experience. I think it’s her heart – she loves people, she loves teaching, she loves music ...”

“... and you see how she builds me up all the time, and who is this person she’s talking about? Nobody we know,” Phyllis said.

Both women laughed.

“It’s a really special thing,” Margaret said.

Sometimes tender, occasionally maddening and always important, the bond between mother and daughter is one of the closest there is. For this Mother’s Day, we’re taking a look at mothers and daughters who took that complex relationship one step further – and became coworkers as well.

It’s a truism in the music world that related performers often play together differently. Their reflexes are more attuned to each other, which brings a strong sense of cohesion in the music they create.

“Then again, when you’re having a tiff, you hear it in each other’s tone,” Phyllis said, laughing.

Ask Margaret and Phyllis how they make it work, and they shrug and smile. To an outsider, it looks like they do it with a mix of respect, friendship and affirmation.

Neither will say much about themselves, but both are quick to praise the other’s talent – Phyllis loves Margaret’s “beautiful sensitivity” to the music, while Margaret expresses awe of Phyllis’ ability to switch instruments.

It wasn’t all easy, of course. Phyllis had to learn to let Margaret practice without correcting her, for example, to let Margaret make her own mistakes.

Working in the same field (not to mention the same office) can turn up the volume on some of the usual tensions of growing up and establishing identity – but sometimes the experience helps mothers and daughters find a new way to resolve those things as well, adding richness to their lives, their careers and their relationship in the process.

Mary Ann and Sydney Scherr

As the daughter of an iconic jewelry designer, Sydney Scherr began twisting wire into shapes under her mother’s workbench at age 4.

“It only seemed unique when I was at the home of my friends,” Sydney said. “They were not allowed to walk on the furniture, didn’t have a pet squirrel, and can you believe they didn’t have tattooed nude mannequins in the living room?”

Sydney is now Jewellery Design Programme Director at Raffles College of Higher Education in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. An instructor at N.C. State University, Mary Ann has seen her innovative jewelry designs collected by institutions from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The two video-chat online every other day.

The mother and daughter will show their work side by side at the Roundabout Art Collective on Oberlin Road June 7-24.

Their relationship is mostly harmonious, and the two have worked to keep it that way despite the pressures of working in similar fields.

Early on, they made an agreement to avoid unhealthy mother-daughter competition by leaving each other artistic breathing room, Mary Ann said. She avoids Sydney’s specialty, enameling, and Sydney keeps clear of Mary Ann’s focus on etching.

“Competition is always a serious regret if it comes up,” Mary Ann said. “I think our conflicts are pretty much the same as for most mothers and daughters.”

Janice Laurore Clinton and Jessika Laurore

Jessika Laurore recalls vividly the day her mom brought a big block of fat into her fifth-grade classroom for an educational talk; she and her classmates were fascinated, because it looked exactly like cheese.

Jessika was immersed in the health care world growing up as Janice worked her way up from nurse to manager at Rex Hospital.

“She always came home looking happy, even if it was a stressful day,” Jessika said.

Jessika, now 26, works as a staff assistant in Women’s, Children and Specialty Services, while Janice, 48, is clinical manager of a Rex wing that cares for heart patients.

Jessika says she’s following her mom’s advice: “Just find a job that makes you happy and that you love doing every day.” Janice says she’s proud to hear regular praise for her daughter in the hospital hallways: “Oh, you’re Jessika’s mom? We couldn’t manage without her.”

“She’s Miss Organized,” Janice said.

And sharing a profession adds a special dimension to their relationship.

“It allows you to combine worlds,” Jessika said. “It’s more fulfilling to tell a story, because it’s like, I know she gets it.”

Jessika learned empathy and compassion from her mom, she says, and does her best each day to pass that on to others.

Like her Mother’s Day surprise for Janice this year: a daylong trip to the spa with friends.

Rebecca Schmorr and Toby Windham

After 10 years working together at Schmorr’s dental practice on Glenwood Avenue, Windham, 67, and Schmorr, 47, still carpool to and from work every day.

“We have time to chat and get our heads straight, bounce things off each other,” Windham said. “She doesn’t hold back and I don’t hold back, but we are courteous and respect each other’s opinion.”

Those rules are the key to working in the same office, both agree, which is why mother and daughter say they rarely argue. Windham sticks to her domain behind the front desk, while Schmorr tends teeth in the exam room.

Windham said she’s enjoyed seeing a more fun-loving side of her daughter at work, as Schmorr tells jokes and sings to calm her patients. And for Schmorr, having her mother in the office has been a relief.

“Having your mom run your books gives you peace of mind like nothing else,” Schmorr said.