Inside The Life of Emery’s Jag of All Trades – Tammy Feldstein

Inside+The+Life+of+Emery%27s+Jag+of+All+Trades+-+Tammy+Feldstein

Miles Goldstein

“I call myself Jack here because I’ve become a little bit of a jack of all trades, ” Ms. Tammy Feldstein said to me. “Perhaps Jackie or Jacquelyn.”

Down deep in the Administrative wing, shuttered next to the office of Emery CFO Dave Meyers, is TammyFeldstein’s unassuming door, identical to those of Communications Director Tavia Lee-Goldstein, and Admissions Director Caroline Sarnoff. One step inside Feldstein’s office, however, and you’ll instantly see her office is like no other on campus. 

On the left is a giant whiteboard wall, listing Feldstein’s portfolio of responsibilities, from the EWS newsletter The Kotarot to the school’s new Title IX certification initiative. To the right, a desk with shelves towering a good head or two over me, filled with directories, Jagbills, a “Best Multi-Tasker” Award from Dessert Gallery, and some surprisingly undisturbed stress balls. 

I had come to chat with Ms. Feldstein, the EWS Covid Response Coordinator. My intention was to write With barely 6 feet between us in the cramped office, my back against the box of spare PPE equipment, I began to ask her about her critical job, but it quickly became apparent her job entailed much so more than responding to Covid in our community and that Ms. Feldstein was so much more than her job.

Ms. Feldstein left her undergraduate years at UT-Austin an aspiring journalist and worked as a television reporter and writer in the local Rio Grande Valley news station. “[The valley] had a lovely Jewish community,” she told me. “They welcomed me in, I never spent a holiday by myself.” 

“I occasionally had to shoot my own stories, and I was always editing my own stories,” she recounted of the short-staffed Rio Grande news team, recalling fond memories over an electric typewriter and doing weekend weather reports. “After 4 years, though, I was ready to move on, and I was having trouble moving on, moving on to a bigger television market,” a sentiment I can relate to, having written for the 9825 for years with little to no network attention.

So Ms. Feldstein returned home to Houston, she went on a trip to Israel, and then began to search for a new job in earnest, finding one at the local Houston Fox station, Channel 26, for a number of years hosting a children’s variety show called the Fox Kid’s Club. She then worked for the Houston Parks department as a press liaison, did freelance work, so much that I nearly forgot she had 2 kids in the same period. She said she only spent about 6 months on maternity leave, the rest of the time was spent balancing working and being a mother.

Many years would pass, and Ms. Feldstein would make a return to the newsroom. “After a 20-year hiatus from television news, I had a chance to work with CW39. They had a program called Newsfix. It was an anchorless newscast.” She worked this job from 2015 to 2018, incidentally, the years I watched CW39, much to her delight, while displaced from the Memorial Day flood. “You watched some of the stories I wrote,” she told me.

Our conversation soon turned to Emery, and these were the years that Ms. Feldstein found herself gravitating closer to work at the school. “After 20 years of not being in the business, I was back in it, and I loved it. I forgot how fun a news environment was. Unfortunately, it was not making a lot of money.” Feldstein found various other work, including a  secretarial position three days a week at Emery. 

“I just sort of fell into this job,” she said, having volunteered closely with the school writing Jagbills. She sent her son Aaron here for two years. “The child graduated, and I did not,” she said.” 

By keeping herself around and being reliable, she landed a job in the Advancement Department. “When the position became available, I was given the opportunity to work in the advancement department, but it didn’t mean I had to abandon the things I enjoyed,” she said, describing the process in which her responsibilities grew in size. When the time came, she found herself tasked with this new position we now call the Covid Response Coordinator.

“…We did not anticipate we’d be facing a global pandemic…. When the senior leadership team started working toward reopening the campus, they realized it might be helpful to have one central figure,” she explained. “The SLT, in their infinite wisdom, decided to approach me and asked if I would like to take on that job. I was flattered and happy to help.”

She was quick to explain that there was no rulebook for what she was doing. While the term “unprecedented” has worn out its welcome as of late, there are indeed no precedents for pandemic response coordinators at schools, so Feldstein had to turn to a variety of sources to help. She named the Medical Advisory Panel (MAP) as a major source of information and help to her, and noted particularly her relationship with the MAP’s lead physician Dr. Ed Septimus.  

She was quick to remark that she does not make decisions in her position. “I may advise certain decisions,” she told me, but never does she call shots. “Look, I’m a parent. I know what it’s like when you’re a little anxious, worried, or concerned, and you reach out to someone, an authority, and you’re waiting to hear back. My job as Covid Response Coordinator is to be the voice of calm and information for those families who are directly affected by a positive case, in their own family or outside.”

Feldstein is on call every weekend and checks her email constantly, and received a number of them during our interview. The punctuality of her responses is only half of what she does, the other all-important half is the content and messaging of her response.

“It’s important for me to make people know that there is no stigma for catching Covid-19, no judgement for how they have or may have been exposed.” Ms. Feldstein agreed with me when I offered that some of her skill at this job comes from being a Jewish mother, and more broadly, her love for helping people. She continued, “I love talking to people, and it’s very gratifying to know that I’ve made them feel better about what’s going on.”

“I feel very fortunate that I have this opportunity, but I also feel very valued, and that’s a nice combination,” she told me. “I wanted to give back to a community I felt gave my son so much. Why have I stayed? Because I really enjoy what I do. I really enjoy the people that I work with.”

Whether it’s journalism, her work at Emery, or her private life, Ms. Feldstein is much more than her job as Covid Response Coordinator might suggest. She flies, self-admittedly, by the seat of her pants, but she is trusted immensely when it comes to handling the logistical and ethical challenges that come with her job. She may not make the decisions, but she has a significant hand in them. The way Ms. Feldstein described it, “I had no hand in drafting the framework for reopening. Did I proofread the framework for re-opening? I did.”