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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

The Soul of the Industry

The world is a far more vacant and hollow place without Tee Hamilton

“She’s in a better place.”

“She fought the good fight.”

“She was brave and valiant in her struggle against cancer.”

“She is finally resting and is at peace.”

Regardless of age, these are the things we say when someone dies from cancer, and we say them because those words are somehow supposed to make us feel better. I know I have – especially in the past few days after the passing of industry icon and dear friend, Tee Hamilton. Frankly, those words are as hollow and vacant as my soul.

As many wrote over the weekend – and will do so in the coming days – Tee was a creative force of nature. They will share that she was the soul of Promo Kitchen, how she viewed the world differently for the benefit of all, and how she elevated the entire promotional products industry because she simply would never settle for “good enough.” All of that – and so much more – is true. Today, I’m not going to write about the Tee was that standard-bearer of creativity in the industry because, candidly, others will be much more eloquent at sharing that. Today, I’m going to write about my friend.

Many knew Tee only for her creative prowess: the design work she did for numerous industry companies, her brilliant work with Jeff Anderton on Video Farm, or being a founding chef of Promo Kitchen. I first became connected with Tee in 2012 when she was working with an upstart software company based out of Toronto named commonsku. The company wanted to inject some personality and asked Tee to design something just for them, and she did exactly that. She drew a robot that represented both business efficiency and approachable joy. They needed a name for this little fellow, so they asked the community for suggestions and, as fate would have it, the name I submitted was chosen, and skubot was born.

To be even slightly associated with Tee’s creativity – especially at a point in my career where I was finally discovering my creative voice – was incredibly validating for me. Even further, Tee went out of her way to contact me to tell me that the name was perfect for her creation and that she wanted to work together. I was floored, and our friendship was born. We would often go back and forth about creating a presentation to teach people in the industry how to push their creative boundaries from the perspectives of both the artist (Tee) and the marketer (me). Sadly, we never completed any of those presentations because we both allowed the busyness of life get in the way. That's something I'll regret for the rest of my life.

We bonded over music as well, and we would meet annually at the Band Together Big Event in Raleigh, NC. She knew my crazy infatuation with Van Halen, and she not only tolerated it, but she also embraced it. I would often get an email from her with a little Van Halen design or a photoshopped picture of me with some sort of Van Halen reference. She also shared that she had a massive crush on Eddie Van Halen growing up because of his smile. Little did Tee know that her smile made all of us fall in love with her.

Every time I saw Tee, she would smile, give me a giant hug, and ask, “Do you think everyone is ready for Bill & Tee’s Excellent Adventure?” Tee viewed everything as an adventure, which is something I always admired. She had a wicked sense of humor and a charming streak of mischievousness – even as cancer treatments wore her down. Tee and I would text almost every week; sometimes it was me merely checking up on her while other times we would just chat about things: the industry, a new Star Wars movie, her professional challenges, or firing back up her company, Creative Alchemy.

Near the onset of Tee’s cancer diagnosis in 2016, my wife suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in our home, and I had to administer CPR for over six minutes. Sandy had a less than 6% chance of survival, but after 11 days in the hospital, a hypothermic coma, and the implantation of an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator), she not only survived but flourished. Tee always – and I mean ALWAYS – asked about Sandy, how she was doing, how she was healing, and how she felt. In many ways, Tee used Sandy's recovery to fuel her during cancer treatments. Despite what she was going through – and her treatments were incredibly hard on her – she insisted on putting others first. I will miss her asking about Sandy.

Due to those increasingly painful cancer treatments, Tee was unable to go to Expo in January 2017. I came up with the idea that I would take a picture of Tee with me everywhere, have her friends take photos with “Tee,” and send them to her to make her feel part of that week at Expo. I’m sure I annoyed people more than usual by asking everyone who knew Tee to take a snapshot with her picture, but everyone did it with a huge smile. Each time I texted a photo to Tee, she would write back that she was in tears because she was shocked by how much and how many people cared. Tee, if you could have only known how much and how deeply people cared about you.

I have a million things I could write about Tee, but I know Tee wouldn’t want me to blather on. However, for those of you who only knew her from a distance, I hope you see she was much more than a creative lioness – she was a tremendous human and friend. A few other things about the Tee I knew:

  • She was, as many have stated, a creative force of nature

  • She always pushed for better

  • She loved her Volkswagen Beetle

  • She craved TimTam bars daily

  • She was a Star Wars nerd

  • She loved live music

  • The magic of Walt Disney stirred her soul

  • She had a smile that brightened any room

  • She wasn’t scared to ask for help from those closest to her

  • She was brave to the very end

Earlier, I mentioned that Tee and I had texted weekly for years, and she always asked about Sandy’s health. Tee did that up to the last time we texted on November 7th of this year. I texted her on November 13th and never received a response, which put a pit in my stomach because…..I knew. I didn't want to know, but I knew it was getting close.

Tee is gone and, despite what I wrote above, she’s not in a better place; a better place would be alive and here, nibbling on a TimTam bar, and embarking on a most excellent adventure. However, that’s not to be, and my tears continue to be bitter.

The world was a far more vacant and hollow place without you, Tee. You were loved, and you will be missed.

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