We all develop a first impression when being introduced to someone. Many times, when those initial impressions are developed, stereotypes play a major role in their formation. It is not so often in life that you meet that unique person whose sheer grit, determination, and will cause them to contradict stereotypical molds. One such lady impacts the life of each and every resident in Conway through her career, and has impacted the lives of countless others by her story of hope and survival.
Upon meeting Cheryl Harrington, it does not take long to discern she is hardworking, personable, smart, and motivated. What you might not detect when meeting Cheryl is the fact that she reigns at the pinnacle of a male-dominated profession, finished her college degree (graduating Magna Cum Laude, no less) while holding the title of Sanitation Director for the city of Conway, is in the midst of raising a house full of well-adjusted young adults, actively sits on several civic boards and organizations, and has successfully battled cancer, baffling her doctorsâ€¦not once, but twice.
This is one woman who, in all aspects of her life, truly means business.
Cheryl got her start working as a public servant through an Administrative Assistant position for the Jefferson County Road Department 13 years ago. After some time, she moved into the Director of Sanitation role for Jefferson County until she just happened to see the Conway Sanitation Director job posting in the state newspaper. Intrigued, she and her mom set out for Conway to "do a drive by" of the facility. Always eager to challenge herself, Cheryl was excited about the opportunities she had seen that Conway offered and about what she could do to expand and progress the department. Also noting that Conway was home to several higher learning institutions, Cheryl made the decision to apply for the Director position, and if selected, finish her college degree at one of the universities in town. Cheryl submitted her application, and it didn't take long for city officials to discern that Cheryl and Conway were a great fit - and the rest, they say, is history.
Cheryl is beyond proficient and enthusiastic when it comes to her work. Within her first year at Conway, the landfill grounds enjoyed a complete facelift. The staff jokingly referred to the changes as "Extreme Makeover, Landfill Edition." Old equipment no longer of service to the Department was sold for scrap metal. Trailers and trucks were refurbished to look new. Carts and bins were neatly stacked. Signs were printed and displayed for customer convenience and hundreds of flowers were planted. People constantly commented on how "clean the dump was!"
Internal changes occurred as well, including the adoption of an ordinance by Conway's City Council to allow the Sanitation Department to become an "Enterprise Fund": the only department within the city to operate essentially as a stand-alone business under Cheryl's direction.
At the apex of her career, and painfully close to the landmark "fifth year" past her initial diagnosis of breast cancer received at age 35, Cheryl was once again faced with a shocking conclusion from her doctors after a nondescript visit complaining of nagging pain in her shoulders and neck. Her cancer had returned, this time spreading to other parts of her body. In characteristic "Get 'er done" style, Cheryl absorbed the news, backed her ears and took on what would truly be the fight of her life. Months ensued full of chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation therapy, prayers, and gallons of apple cider vinegar (she still drinks it habitually to keep Cancer cells at bay - along with working out each and every day at Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center!)
Without missing a beat, down to coordinating her treatments late in the week or afternoons so as not to interfere with her work schedule, and returning to work only days following neurosurgery to remove the T1 bone from her spine which had been eaten by the Cancer (it was replaced by donor bone and fused with a Titanium plate from her C7 to T2 bones), Cheryl, now the Sanitation Department's very own "bionic woman", has managed to defy doctor's predictions and lives a healthy life to its fullest.
She is a proud survivor but refuses to be defined by it. Beating the odds of her disease twice is something that Cheryl gives God the glory for and simply shrugs off with a smile when awe is displayed at her ability to fight off the deadly disease, all while keeping up her chin and the duties for the Sanitation Department plus taking care of her husband and kids.
Fiercely devoted to her family, Cheryl prides herself more for the raising of her children than the accomplishments she has made in the business world. Married to Ross Harrington, Cheryl is Mom to Jeremy age 20; Jennifer, 17, and her children from their blended family; Amanda, 22; Jessica, 20; and Haley, 10. Cheryl also has two grandbabies, Alexis and Jaxon with a third due to arrive in February. Through all I have learned from her as a fellow female in the trash industry, and Mom, the guidance which sticks in my head most is to "always tell your kids you love them, every single day." Who can argue with that piece of advice? Judging by how well her kids have turned out, I would venture to say no one.
Cheryl is one extraordinary woman. She has seen circumstances in her life, both professional and personal, that are remarkable. From her we can learn that obstacles we face are sometimes ones we have chosen to challenge in and of ourselves, and in other instances, unrequested, dealt to us almost cruelly and unjustly. In both circumstances, Cheryl has persevered and thrived with an unfailing positive attitude, faith, and purpose; no matter the odds - and look where it has gotten her.
The next time you roll your recycling cart to the curbside, or see a big, shiny garbage truck on its collection route (one of her accomplishments this year has been to construct a truck wash bay for the Sanitation vehicles to keep them looking their finest while operating throughout the city), think of Cheryl and how her uncanny spirit and unmatched fortitude has made her not only a leader in the business world, but most importantly, a true leader in life.