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Her Motivational Message? It Doesn't Matter : Sue Kirby, who stresses humor and giving, was back in Orange County recently, decorating a stranger's home for the holidays. It beats raking shag rugs.


Sue Kirby, 55, sums up the years she spent as a duty-bound Lake Forest housewife with one comically absurd memory: that of raking the shag carpet.


Her philosophy now, which colors her speeches at service club meetings, church functions and employee workshops, is to celebrate the ordinary. Put humor first. Laugh at the often frustrating differences between men and women. Get your teen-agers' attention by acting crazier than they do.

"You should only worry about three things: pregnancy, drugs and murder," she says. "It matters far too much to some people who their home builder was, how many square feet they have and if they have a gifted child or not."

She admits she was as guilty of such shallowness as anyone until her epiphany in the late 1970s, when her marriage of 17 years crumbled.

Today, she is a motivational speaker, humorist, floral designer, author and grandmother. Kirby says she has one overriding message for women, especially for many in Orange County: Stop taking everything so seriously.

And perhaps most important: Do something for the less fortunate at least once this holiday season.

Kirby, an Orange County resident for 25 years before moving to Oregon two years ago, each year volunteers to decorate the homes of struggling single mothers.

On the day after Thanksgiving, she put her decorating skills to work in the Huntington Beach apartment of Cindy Condict, a client of Project Self-Sufficiency. The 10-year-old city-sponsored program in Huntington Beach helps single parents who have lost jobs or have suffered similar setbacks. Kirby, with the help of other volunteers, decorated Condict's home with silk garlands and wreaths of pine and spruce, ribbons and berries.

Those kinds of touches can make an unbelievable difference in a person's life, she says. "That's what a woman will look at when she walks in the door after a hard day."

On Kirby's calling card, which she distributes at her speeches, is a single phrase-- It doesn't matter-- intended as a motto for overburdened housewives to keep on their refrigerators.

Kirby, gleefully ignoring the advice of friends--and the most basic rule of marketing--refuses to add her name or phone number, saying it would dilute the card's message. Nonetheless, Kirby is sought after for nearly 100 speeches a year.

At her speeches, Kirby--armed with a glue gun, spruce branches and dried flowers--fashions wreaths while she talks. From these and other freewheeling creations Kirby extracts a metaphor for day-to-day life: Do what you will, but do it with heart.

"Sue's talks are tremendous. Everybody always asks for her to come back and speak again," says Anita Brace, president of Soroptomists International of Huntington Beach, a women's service club that has had Kirby as a speaker for its last four holiday luncheons.

"Her talks are very uplifting and fun, and everybody's reaction varies from laughter to tears. She strikes a lot of common chords with our experiences of family and life."

In her talks, Kirby draws from her experiences in Orange County, especially her recovery after the divorce from her first husband.

Her confidence at that time, she says, was at low tide.

"When he left, I couldn't believe it. Because I had done nothing but work toward that not happening," Kirby says. "I thought I'd read every right book. I had model kids, a wonderful home. But then I realized how important kids are, and how unimportant other things are, like clean floors."

She ditched the shag carpet rake and was reborn, she says, as a wacky neighborhood mom. She made wild artwork out of twigs. Teen-agers gravitated to her house.

"Kids will find the house where the adult has relaxed a bit," she says. "I would do things like put red autumn leaves near the dog's water dish, so the dog could enjoy fall, too. My kids would bring friends in to show them and say, 'See? My mom's crazy.'

"Soon, my sons, Scott and Bob, started bringing kids home to live with us [with their parents' permission]. We got to be a respite for kids who needed to be with us a while, and sometimes 'a while' was a year."

About this time she met Rod Wisehart, to whom she is now married, and became foster mother to a brother and sister from Orangewood Children's Home. As Kirby puts it, "We had rooms available."

Friends and neighbors chipped in to lend money to help Kirby start a Lake Forest crafts store and florist shop called Out of the Woods. In 1978, she began teaching her crafts skills at two community colleges.

To cover up her considerable nervousness during her first college lectures, she told jokes. "All of a sudden my sense of humor came back," she says. "I talked about my kids and the divorce. The room was laughing." Soon she realized that people were more interested in her outlook on life than in her crafting. A speaking career was born.

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