Coffee With A Stranger Cup 101 Tammy Shaklee

Cup 101: Tammy Shaklee – Matchmaker, card player, Vespa driver.

Coffee With A Stranger Cup 101 Tammy ShakleeThe Place: Austin Java

The Cup: A cup of coffee for me, and Tammy grabbed an iced tea and salad.

The Background: Cup 17, Thom Singer thought Tammy was someone I needed to know, so a month or so ago, he made an email introduction to Tammy and I. Tammy said it sounded like fun, so she agreed to meet with me to share her story.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Tammy is the business she started in 2012 – a professional matchmaking service for gay men called He’s For Me. I was very intrigued to learn how a straight, married woman found herself starting a business for gay men. It’s a great story and we’ll get to it and all the other fun details about Tammy in a moment, but first, some:

Common Grounds:

  1. What’s your guilty pleasure? There’s two. A Tanqueray martini Friday at 5pm, and chips and salsa. We’ve tried to give up the chips, but we love them.
  2. What’s the last thing you fixed? We moved recently and during a move, things break. I have this (American Federal) mirror I bought at the former congressman Jack Hightower’s estate sale, and one of the wooden balls fell off. So I had to hot glue the ball back on. {Tammy and I decided that hot glue is the woman’s equivalent to man’s duct tape.)
  3. What is the best place to eat in Austin? My backyard. My husband has a Big Green Egg and is truly a smoking master! Everyone, including me, prefers happy hour at our house.
  4. What is the best way to unwind? My husband taught me this – we play a game of cards or dominoes. We always have cards and dominoes with us – even when we travel or go out to eat. We play cards at the table. We get a lot of looks – but it’s our favorite thing to do. It truly just calms you down.
  5. What is the best movie you’ve seen lately? We watch documentaries. This week we watched OUT in the Lineup introducing gays who are surfers.  My husband is an old-school surfer and I have an LGBT business, so it combined both of our interests. It was really thought provoking!
  6. How did you make your first buck? I hauled wheat at age 12. I drove a huge truck and hauled wheat to the grain elevator. And I never stopped. I’ve been working since I was 12. When I turned 16, and I was legally allowed to drive, my dad put me on the combine and I cut wheat. Looking back, I really can’t believe he let me drive the truck.
  7. What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten? A hope chest. My grandfather in Oklahoma had been a farmer and a carpenter, and he hand-made a hope chest for every grandchild. He used to drive his little scooter down to the mail box every day, and one day he was hit by a van and killed. I was the last one (grandchild) and the hope chest wasn’t finished. So when I was in high school, my aunt and uncle surprised me and finished it and gave it to me for Christmas. Greatest gift ever. I still have it.

Tenacious Tammy

This is the nickname Tammy was given many years ago that has stuck with her. As the layers of her story unfolded, I can say tenacious is certainly an adjective she has earned.

An “Oklahoma farm girl” is how Tammy describes how she grew up. After graduation from Oklahoma State University, she took a job in TV news in Amarillo, TX and hasn’t moved from the Lone Star State since. Her TV career was short, but led to her to politics, and when she married a man who’d go on to be a state district judge, she made the transition into the non-profit sector.

Change is in the Air

Her marriage did not last, and the break-up proved the right opportunity to move from Amarillo to Austin. Tammy was hired as the CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central & South Texas in 2002 and for six years she got to be a part of making wishes come true for roughly 250 critically ill children every year. She says the work was fulfilling, but she never had time for much other than work and her dating life was drab as a result.

That’s what led her to discover “It’s Just Lunch”, a professional matchmaking service. Tammy tells me she was a busy professional and didn’t have time to be online looking for a date. So she opted to handle her love life the same way she handled other services she didn’t have time for, she says, “I hired it done.”

30th Time’s the Charm

On her 30th match (See! Definitely tenacious!), she met Clif – who was on his 3rd match. Bing-bing-bing-bing-bing! A winner! The pair hit if off and have now been married for six years.

After several years with Make-A-Wish, Tammy was ready for something new. She took a four year career break, working all the while on a project she “married” when she married Clif – overseeing the restoration of a beautiful historic home in central Austin. After an unsuccessful attempt to refer a gay friend to “It’s Just Lunch,” Tammy saw an opportunity to offer successful gay men the same luxury matchmaking service that had made it possible for her to meet her perfect match.

Solving a Need

In 2012, Tammy founded He’s For Me, described as, “the private, offline and personal matchmaking service designed exclusively for select gay professionals seeking a long-term relationship.” In the last two and a half years, Tammy’s company has made hundreds of matches and Tammy truly loves what she does. She is currently working on the creation of another business offering matchmaking services for lesbian professionals.

I had a lot of questions and Tammy happily answered them all. One question was whether all matches she makes are between clients. Turns out, no. Everywhere Tammy goes she is scouting for matches. If she sees a good looking, well-dressed man, she has no problem approaching him and asking a few questions. How does she know they are gay, I wonder. Turns out, she doesn’t. But she’s got a great question that gets right to the answer – “Tell me about your ex.” If the gentleman says, “Oh, she was crazy…” Tammy knows he’s not what she’s looking for, and explains this to Mr. Handsome Pants. She explains what she does and says, “You are so good looking and put together, I figured I had to at least ask.” She then gives him her business card and encourages him to pass it along to anyone he may know who matches her criteria. How smart!

An Ideal Life

I ask Tammy what she considers to be the greatest issue facing society today. She tells me, “The race issues that are the headlines right now concern me the most. I run an LGBT business, so it’s really overall equality for all people – whether it’s sexual or race or economics – overall, equality issues are our greatest concern. We’re in the love business. I say it everyday, but I mean it. We just need to love people. That does not mean you agree with everything. But to lead with love – I don’t think you can go wrong. I think that’s our greatest opportunity to coexist.”

Tammy’s perfect day is described as, “Being with Clif. When we spend a full day together is when we’re happiest. We’re early risers and my husband makes me coffee and brings it to me in bed every morning. We read the news. Sometimes we’ll ride the bikes, or the Vespas (the pair have his-and-hers Vespas that they bought for each other as wedding gifts). We play cards or dominoes. We have a martini.” That does sound like a perfectly delightful day!

Choices

If she had it all to do over again, I ask Tammy what she’d change and she tells me “nothing!” She says, “I have had some very rough chapters in my life – but haven’t we all? And hasn’t it all led us to where we are today? The choices I make today are based on choices I’ve made in the past. They weren’t all perfect but they were made with careful thought. I’m supposed to be exactly where I am right now and all I’ve done has led up to this.”

I am curious about a daily practice that Tammy feels contributes to her overall success and happiness. She laughs, Besides coffee?” Then adds, “For me, its prayer. I tend to pray in my car. I sometimes listen to classical music or positive music, or no music at all. A lot of people call it meditation, but it’s the quiet peaceful time where you give thanks for everything you’ve done so far and ask for blessings on everything you’re about to try or strive to be or do.”

Connect More Talk Less

Tammy tells me her best character trait is making connections, adding, “I love to connect people. And now I do it for a living.” Her worst trait she describes this way, “I don’t apologize for having opinions. I sometimes apologize for sharing them when I should have been more reserved. I try to apply what I learned in marriage. Your spouse only wants to hear about 70% of what you want to say. So you really need to bite your tongue or find someone else to share the other 30% with – talk to your friends. I need to apply that rule  more to my personal words.” Tammy says it’s dating coaching, but is it’s really also life coaching.

What is something people might be surprised to learn about Tammy? She says, “I’m so transparent, I don’t know if there would be anything. People might be surprised to learn I am a child of divorce from age three, and that I chose to live with my father at the age of 14. Ages 3-13 with my mother were very difficult. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had stayed with her. My mother was a gypsy and a friend, but not very motherly.”

Lead With Love

If given 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, Tammy’s message is “Lead with love. It’s never failed. Even making the decision to leave my mother to go live with my father, I did that out of love. Love for my future but also love for her. Love of others, love of self. When you lead with it, you tend to do the right thing.”

Love is in the air! Tammy is certainly someone who embodies the word. Both in the way she speaks of those who are most important to her – her husband, her best friends, her family, her clients. But also in the way she speaks of strangers – the waitress she was impressed with the night before, the Austin business owners who found racial slurs posted all over their businesses, the gay men she built a business for and now the professional lesbians who will soon have a luxury matchmaking service as well.

Tammy operates from love and lets it be the guiding force in her choices, her language and every facet of her life. Her message is a convincing one – especailly when backed by her life as an example. Love yourself enough to make the right choices – even when they are hard. Love yourself and others enough to cut loose those relationships that no longer serve you. Love the people in your life enough to not judge them. To allow them to be who they are without trying to fix or change them. And love the strangers around you enough to offer a helping hand, a kind word, or simply a smile. Kindness costs nothing and yet it’s the best investment we can make. The payoffs are priceless. Tammy is onto something. Lead with love – it never fails.

If you enjoyed this interview, “Like” the Coffee With A Stranger Project Facebook page and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming interviews with new strangers and other fun stuff. If there’s someone in Austin you think I need to have coffee with, let me know and I’ll do my best to sweet talk them into having coffee with a stranger.

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