Willie Mae Irving and Diane Hughes are the first people you see when you walk through the doors at Ernest headquarters in LA. They’re the first voices you hear when you call us up on the phone. And they’re the first and last name (well, names) in kindness. So how long has this dynamic duo been at the helm with the hands-free headsets? Let’s put it this way. They both remember a potluck party a while back celebrating the birth of a coworker’s twin babies.
Those babies are now in college.
Willie Mae started with Ernest 21 years ago and after her first 12 months, she got employee of the year. Talk about a sign of what’s to come. When Diane joined the ranks a mere 19 years ago, the two began what would be the most celebrated partnership in the history of our company (Sorry, Cornflake and Porterhouse). Sure, it took some time getting used to one another’s quirks. But once they clicked, their bond was unbreakable. In fact, when asked about one of the highlights of her career, Diane remembered one particular Administrative Professionals Day when the VP at the time took the pair to lunch. He said “You two are the best in the industry.” Eight words worth roughly one thousand.
They’re the same age. They love the same songs to send them down memory lane. They drink the same amount of coffee per day: 1 cup. Although Diane likes to sweeten hers up with flavoring, while Willie Mae takes hers black. Diane describes Willie Mae as courteous, friendly and funny. Willie Mae describes Diane as thoughtful, kind and helpful. But the best definition we’ve heard so far is Lucy and Ethel from the comedy classic I Love Lucy. When people walk through the lobby, they sometimes only hear half of the joke or better yet, just find the two laughing, which just adds to the joy of coming to work every day. So who’s Lucy and who’s Ethel? It doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s a hit.
This probably goes without saying, but their ratings are through the roof.
Like many have described, Diane and Willie Mae refer to Ernest as one big family. Which has a whole lot to do with our patriarch, Mr. Charles Wilson. The two women hold him in the highest regard because, well, he feels exactly the same way in return. In fact, one of our most famous on-film moments came about almost entirely by accident. One morning, Willie Mae and Diane happened to say good morning to our CEO at exactly the same time and it came out sounding like a song. This tickled Chuck so much, they made it a regular thing. To date, he’s even known to do a little soft-shoe when they sing their A.M. tune.
He’s also known for the soft spot he has in his heart. Diane remembers the kind words he gave her when her parents passed away, “I promise you’ll get through this, even though you think you can’t.”
Willie Mae remembers his similar kind words when her mother passed away. Diane summed it up in a sentence, “When he gives you words of wisdom, you really pay attention, because he’s been through it all.” Charles’ words meant the world to both Willie Mae and Diane, adding yet another reason why it feels like family within our walls.
These two women are on the front lines. They see clients they’ve greeted for decades and greet new ones they’ve never seen before. They welcome entire teams from sales to the warehouse on a day-to-day and a first-name basis. But just like any great duo, it’s their individual strengths that add the real power to their partnership.
Let’s take Diane. She describe her superpower as making people feel welcome. She takes the extra steps to get to know all the new hires and to make sure they’re doing OK from Day O-N-E. There’s always something new going on and there’s no need to take those bad days home. “You get to start fresh,” she says. That’s what this she loves about her career here: the freshness of the work and the friendliness of her coworkers. When it is time to call it a day, you can find Diane headed home to work on remodeling her house. Or watching HGTV to get more IDEAS about remodeling her house.
As for Willie Mae, her superpower is slightly different: always be helpful. Whether she’s assisting Diane in designing the holiday winter wonderland in the lobby or helping organize an employee party, Willie Mae is all in. Outside of work, Willie Mae is a self-described homebody. She’s an avid reader and an accomplished home chef. So instead of taking out the hand-sander or the SKILSAW, she prefers to do her constructing in the kitchen. There, you can find her making recipes passed down from her family, making for one very lucky husband.
Although this duo’s strengths may differ, there’s one subject where they’re absolutely on the same page. When asked who’s the quirkiest at Ernest HQ, they responded in unison: Brian Porter. You always know when he’s in the building. You count on him to keep you laughing. And you can also always ask him a question, because he always takes the time to listen.
It’s different at Ernest. As we’ve said before, it’s like a big family. That’s what makes it so special, both to Willie Mae and to Diane. So with 40 years of combined experience, how would they sum up the whole journey in just one word? Diane took a nod from Chuck for hers, “Terrific.” While Willie May settled on, “Fun.”
We needed two words, though, to describe their dedication and unparalleled kindness.
The first one is “Thank. The second one is “You.”