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Originally published October 3, 2011
Amy Beavers is surrounded by most of the things that are important to her when she’s at work at Maritime Professional Training Institute in Ft. Lauderdale.
From behind her desk in a wide-open office space, she can see her sister and her best friend from high school. Often her husband and brother walk through as well as students and instructors. And behind her is a binder with a neon pink label, “Amy Kidney”.
As vice president of student administration at MPT, Beavers, 42, has spent more than half her life working at the school founded by her parents in 1983. Beavers is the round, smiling face behind the counter that people come to for answers about licensing, U.S. Coast Guard requirements and the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs).
“She’s the go-to-encyclopedia,” Eng. Don Clark, a close friend and former student, said. “I would say she’ s touched nine out of 10 lives in the industry.”
“She was around when there was no other place to go for answers,” Capt. Les Annan said.
Now captain on the 172-foot Feadship M/Y Rasselas, Annan credits Beavers’ guidance with many of his good career decisions.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here now, on a 52m, if it weren’t for her,” he said.
Fondness like Annan’s abounds, framed in letters near the front door to the school on South Andrews Avenue and, on one recent day this summer, left on Beavers’ desk in the form of a thank-you note with an iTunes gift card tucked inside.
After opening it, Beavers’ dropped her trademark smile as she wondered how students remember her.
“It makes you introspective,” she said. “Who should I be doing this for? I didn’t even realize I did anything special.”
But she does, at least to the students she’s touched.
Capt. Annan remembered a time Beavers told him to do a specific procedure when processing papers at the coast guard office. The coast guard officer said it wasn’t necessary.
“So I called Amy and told her what they said,” Annan said. “She said ‘let me talk to them’, they talked for a minute, the guy hands the phone back and says, ‘yeah, she’s right’.
“I don’t think the Coast Guard knows the Coast Guard as well as Amy,” he said.
She excels in deciphering government legislation and volumes of CFRs, said Julie Liberatore, manager of student administration and regulatory liaison at MPT. Beavers learned them because they were the laws regulating yachting and because no one else seemed to know them, Liberatore said.
“Yachting has been very misunderstood by the coast guard,” Liberatore said. “I can’t think of one person who has championed for yachts like Amy.”
“CFRs became my life at that time,” Beavers said.
She wears bright jewelry, a brilliant wedding ring from her second husband, Todd, and she loves the rich colors decorating her home. But she’s no-frills at work. She sits behind a plain desk facing an unadorned room jammed with course descriptions and government paperwork.
She’s just as no-nonsense when explaining her life-threatening kidney illness.
Beavers was diagnosed 20 months ago with end-stage renal disease, a permanent condition in which the kidneys no longer function. Her treatment is dialysis three days a week; the cure is a kidney transplant.
Beavers does not deny the severity of her illness, but she said it doesn’t help to think about it.
So she doesn’t think about covering the large bandage over the medical port in her chest with a more modest sundress. She doesn’t think about wearing sleeves to hide the purple bruise on her arm from dialysis needles. She doesn’t think about crying when that’s what she feels like doing.
Beavers tilts her head back to see through thick, dark-rimmed glasses. She’s worn them since she was 2 years old. They create an image of studiousness, but she said she hated school when she was young.
“I didn’t enjoy math, but since my dad was an engineer I was required to take high levels,” she said.
By 17, Beavers found herself working alongside her parents, Elmer and Bev Morley.
“Dad always loved education; he thought it was the key to success,” said Beaver’s younger brother, Capt. Ted Morley, chief operations officer at MPT.
As Beaver’s interests expanded from boys and her 1978 Grand Am, it turned out that she did want to embrace school — her parent’s school.
“When I started, I directed people to mom and dad,” Beavers said. “But I have a competitive spirit. I wanted to help people, not send them off.”
Beavers studied with the other students and got her 100-ton U.S. masters ticket in 1991. It is framed and placed high on a file cabinet in her office. She considers it one of the major accomplishments of her life.
As it turned out, she could teach well, said former student Capt. Scott Sanders. He took his first three classes with Beavers at one of MPT’s original small offices on Southeast 17th Street back in 1992.
“Amy knew precisely what to teach, how to teach it and how to do it fast,” Sanders said. “Elmer is the true teacher, but she learned from him.”
At that time, Sanders was a mate on a Feadship when Beavers asked him if he could plot a course.
“Sure, I’ve been around the world,” he told her.
Beavers showed Sanders the regulation way and he couldn’t do it.
“The Coast Guard doesn’t teach reality, but she explained it well,” Sanders said. “We all still have to pass the tests.”
Navigation was Beavers’ favorite course as instructor, but she taught OUPV, 100-ton master, radar observer unlimited, stability, deck general, celestial navigation and more.
“I love to teach; I love hearing myself talk,” she laughed. “Some people make things more complicated so they sound smart. After a long explanation I feel like saying ‘Is that all there was to it?’ My favorite thing is to take something complicated and make it simple.”
The instructor resource center desks are across the room from Beavers and one is staffed by co-worker and friend Tony Soto. They have known each other since high school and he said they are “two peas in a pod.”
“We’ve been there for each other through good times and bad,” Soto said.
A long-time fan of geeky shows such as “Star Trek,” Beavers said she likes the characters’ use of intelligence to solve problems. MPT is her opportunity to encourage others to exercise their intellect.
Intellectual battles are common in the Morley clan and Beavers and her 15 -year-old son, Matthew, are ruthless armchair competitors of the television quiz show Jeopardy.
“I’m convinced Amy and my brother inherited a photographic memory,” big sister Lisa Morley, vice president of sales and marketing, said. “They can read and recite back, down to the fact. Not just the concept, but the details. They’re sick that way. Her intelligence defines her.”
“Our smarts, that came from mom,” Beavers said, smiling at her sister whose desk shares her office. “But still, every day, someone e-mails a question that I have no idea the answer to.”
Two computer monitors rise above binders and folders on Beavers’ desk. She schedules instructors, classes and locations on one screen while on the other researches passport information for a student who has stopped in. While the computer processes, she picks up a pen to sign a pile of certificates of proficiency for each class graduate. Beavers and her siblings were raised to always be working.
The origin of the family work-ethic stems back to a time they lived on a schooner beginning in 1969. Beavers was 6-months-old and Lisa was 6-years-old. Ted was next to be born and then another brother, who died at age 3. They lived in yards and marinas in New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia until they settled in Florida 30 years ago.
“We weren’t just a family, we were a crew,” Beavers said. “If one of us was working, then everybody was working. Work has always been a necessity.”
In the mid-1990s when Beavers was married to her first husband, another instructor at MPT, she brought their infant son to the office.
“That front counter is everything in Amy’s school and Matt was raised 12 feet from that counter,” Eng. Clark said. “Bev had a nursery behind there since he was born because Amy had to be there to answer phones and to train.”
These days, however, Beavers misses a lot of work. Since her kidneys stopped working in 2009, she spends three days each week undergoing kidney dialysis to remove toxins from her blood.
Most people are not able to continue working in Beavers’ condition; legally disabled, she’s had more than 20 surgeries. But on those dialysis-free days, she’s there.
“She’s resilient, a fighter, and is not defined by her illness,” Lisa Morley said.
“In Amy’s mind, she doesn’t have time to be sick,” Clark said.
Boating, living and working together make for tight Morley family bonds. The expanding group of spouses and children are counted among the Morley group.
“We’re an inordinately close family,” Lisa Morley said. “Even now, three of us live on the same street.”
And they have some similar family traits.
“We fight like cats and dogs,” she said. “Every person in the family is strong, so there is a lot of talking and yelling. There is nothing we don’t talk about.”
“They’re very hard on each other, but supportive,” family friend Clark said. “They are all very driven.”
“But there is a five-Morley limit,” Ted Morley said, laughing. “If there is more than that in a room, then one has to leave. And I count for two.”
Above all, Beavers, her family and co-workers come together to help crew in yachting. Beavers became MPT’s vice president of regulatory compliance for U.S. Coast Guard regulations and in September 1995, MPT wrote the first master-level course that was approved by the USCG to use for testing.
“The coast guard wanted some input from the schools and that’s what we did,” Beavers said. “They used it as their model course.”
Good attitudes and inspirational messages keep Beavers motivated. She calls herself a devoted Oprah Winfrey fan.
“Not everybody gets to go to the blood spa,” she said putting a positive spin on dialysis. But, her smile wanes for a moment. “I’ve been pretending not to be sick, basically going through life as if this is not an issue. But I’m tired all the time.”
Then her smile reappears, spread as broad as her face.
“No pun intended but dialysis is draining.”
At her desk, surrounded by work to be done, Beavers is exhausted from several recent surgeries during two weeks in the hospital. She is supposed to be at an inter-sessional meeting, an in-between-meetings meeting with the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C. Those are the meetings where things get done for the meetings, she said. She’s too sick to go this time.
“I like to go to those when I can,” Beavers said. “What drives me nuts is there’s is so much to do.”
Her friend points out the hard truth.
“She is still with us for a reason,” Clark said. “She still has more to share.”
So she keeps on working.
Amy Beavers’ time on a kidney transplant waiting list recently expired. She is working to get on another list. When offered help, she recommends friends visit several Web sites on end-stage renal disease and organ donation, including www.kidney.org, www.nih.gov (search for kidney) and www.organdonor.gov.