Articles: Wall Street Journal

  The Healey's



(Click for pictures of the journey)


wallstreet-headline.jpg (15048 bytes)


Couple Unites Career And Family
With Help From a Motor Home

The 10-Ton Motor Home rolls like a battleship through the night and, plows to a stop before me outside the Kansas City, Mo., airport terminal. Entry steps unfold from its 34 foot side and a door opens, spilling a rectangle of light on the pavement. Curious, I climb the stairs. Inside is Joe Healey's life.

Not just his vacation home, mind you, but his whole life: his full-time office, his home, his wife's home, their three kids and the kids' home school, down to their damp P.E. garb hanging in the cramped bath-room.

For Mr. Healey has achieved perhaps the ultimate integration of work and family. Instead of leaving his family behind when he travels for his work as a professional speaker, he takes them along in the RV. The Healey's have trekked 34,000 miles through 39 states in the past 13 months, with Mr. Healey making 10 speeches a month and his wife Jill home-schooling Joseph, 11 years old; Jennifer, eight; and Josh, seven, in the RV's 320-square-foot interior.

It seems impossible. Wouldn't anyone go crazy?

Yet this family, I learn during my visit and subsequent interviews, is anything but frazzled. The children are cohesive and charming. Ms. Healey is pleased with the fruits of their lifestyle. And Mr. Healey, who posted 1996 income of more than $100,000--a record for him--says the sense of life balance he has gained enriches his work. 'That's the part that has been amazing to us," he says. Living like nomads "hasn't been the challenge that people think."

Navigating the RV to Mr. Healey's clients isn't easy. En route to Long Island, fellow travelers misdirected them straight into a Manhattan traffic jam. With the RV stranded like a beached whale amid incredulous, honking New Yorkers, Mr. Healey jumped out at a stoplight and found one kind soul who led them out of the mess.

The logistics can be trying. After the family had planned a day at the beach, a snafu in the RV's wiring forced Mr. Healey to spend two hours fixing it. Then, the kids locked the bathroom from the inside; finally, the RV steps caught and bent on a highway guardrail. After pounding a counter in frustration, Mr. Healey spent two more hours on repairs. Exhausted, the family retreated to an RV park.

Shortly after that, Mr. and Ms. Healey discussed returning home. But the children, led by Joseph, staged a presentation on why they should continue, citing the "great education" they were getting from exposure to new people and places, from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to the Grand Canyon. In a letter, Joseph wrote, - 'I do not know of any other parents that . . . support [their children] like you do." The Healeys hung in.

IN ENSUING weeks, benefits blossomed for the adults. Ms. Healey says she loves the family time and watching her children learn. Mr. Healey, instead of rushing through airports, spends evenings talking with Joseph about Abraham Lincoln, a shared interest discovered on a Springfield, Ill., visit, or reading Garrison Keillor aloud. "One of the great things," Ms. Healey says, "is just laughing together before we go to bed."

Previously, as an entrepreneur running a dry-cleaning chain, then a self-employed speaker traveling heavily, Mr. Healey saw far too little of his family to suit any of them. Still, when he floated the idea of traveling together, Ms. Healey reacted at first as any normal person might: "You're nuts," she said.

BUT UPON reflection, she says, the potential benefits, including family time together and "field trips" for the kids, changed her mind. They bought and equipped the RV with a desk in the shotgun seat, where Mr. Healey can work on the road; the couple share the driving. A wall desk and a fold-out table provide school space. A section of the side wall slides out to expand the interior. The RV also has enough printing, computer and communications gear to command battalions on the march.

To ease cabin fever, Mr. and Ms. Healey spell each other with the kids; when Ms. Healey needs a break, she takes an evening alone at a book-store. The kids use their in-line skates, and the family uses pools and exercise rooms in hotels where Mr. Healey appears. He addresses corporate, government and public audiences.

Always successful as a speaker, Mr. Healey began leavening his talks by revealing more of himself, including family stories; audiences respond warmly. The rock-tumbler of family life also has helped him cultivate inner peace. When more mishaps (a windstorm, a plumbing leak and another accident with the RV steps) fouled their day recently, the children looked at Mr. Healey wide-eyed, expecting him to explode and pound the counter. But Mr. Healey took it in stride. "Let's just go on," he said calmly. His children cried, "Daddy, that's really good'."

The Healeys' odyssey will end this summer, when the family will settle in Pittsburgh near family and enroll the children in school. In some ways, Mr. Healey is a little sad. Sprinting through the Kansas City airport with me as I catch a plane home he says, "You know, this reminds me. Running through airports is something I haven't missed. Not at all."

To discuss work-life issues on my weekly radio program, "Work & Family,"call 800-WSJ-TALK or fax me at 503-636-6951.

(Return to top)

Return to keynote titles page