The Best Advice My Mother Ever Gave Me


The Best Advice My Mother Ever Gave Me


Bettye Reece, grandmother of Ali McGhee

People often tell me, “You look so much like your mom.” And they’ll never know how much that means to me.

On the surface, my mom is a first-generation German immigrant with blonde hair and blue eyes, but to me she is so much more. Through those blue eyes, my mom views every single person she encounters like they are worthy of love; like they are worthy of their dreams and their goals. Through those eyes, my mom pays attention. She notices things others don’t. And through those eyes, my mom watched me grow up.

She raised me to be a woman who never criticizes her body, but rather celebrates its immense capabilities. She raised me to be a woman who knows that the world expects me to be quiet and small, but it’s my decision if I want to be. I get to decide if I want to be loud and irreverent. She raised me to be a woman who treats animals with compassion and respect. And she raised me to be a woman who owns her mistakes, no matter how big or small.

So, when people tell me, “You look so much like your mom,” all I hear is, “You see love in everyone.” And that is the greatest compliment I could ever receive.

So, in the spirit of motherhood and Mother’s Day, I’ve asked some of my favorite Asheville locals to share the best advice their mother ever gave them, and here is the beauty that unfolded.


My mother said many good things to me but the most impactful was, “If you are happy alone, by yourself…you are ready to be a partner and love someone. You can not complete any one else but yourself. What can you contribute in a relationship if you are not happy with yourself?” 

The image of reading poetry to her while she in bed was sipping her morning coffee and looking into rarified air around us. That is the memory that holds me steadfast in my life. 

Emöke B'Rácz, Founder and Owner of Malaprop's and Downtown Books and News


My mother has given me lots of great advice but if I had to narrow it down I'd say the best she gave was: Keep God first, show gratitude to increase your blessings, and the key to happiness is contentment.

 SIYAH, Local Hip-Hop Artist 


My momma was born in the autumn. On my drive up North I-81 through Virginia yesterday, while the burning bushes smoldered impossible crimson in late-day sun, the asters nodded lacy heads on the highway shoulder and the busting milkweed pods sent out their little flaxen parachutes against the sky, I heard her voice pronouncing their names to my little wide-eyed self for the first time. Introducing those plants to me like dear friends. Pressing seeds into my tiny palms like they were gems or keys to a loved home and teaching me the biggest lesson in that little gesture: beauty and wonder are right at my fingertips and I can always have a home in them. I just need to look with more than my eyes. My momma taught me how to sing and more than that, how to feel music in my bones and be soft and open and permeable enough to let it move me and travel through me, and brave enough to share that enormity of feeling. Brave enough to leave the melody and trust my ear to find a harmony. Now that my sister and I are grown, our momma loves to marvel out loud at the things we create—from salads to babies to songs—and say 'I can't believe you amazing girls came from me' as if the beautiful spark that makes us live fully and make things is separate from her. It is not separate. We are because she is. We know this. She's in the fierce magnet of love in my sister's eyes when she looks at her own children and in my hands when I pick up the guitar to write.Today my momma turns 70 years young and I get to be here to watch her laugh and hear her hum in the kitchen and sing to her grand babies. I would make the 479 mile drive 500 times just to hear that.

How lucky are we who have splinters of her heart of gold sparkling inside us? All the milkweed seed parachutes and all the stars and all the pebbles in the ocean lucky.

Jane Kramer, Singer and Songwriter



My mother recently passed away so she has been on my mind a lot as Mother's Day approaches. The best advice she ever gave me was, "Don't settle." As a dancer, I have taken this to mean keep moving. It has served me well.

Constance Humphries, choreographer, dancer and educator


The best my mother, a public school teacher of 30 years, gave to both my brother & I is to be respectful, find common ground and allow the chance to learn from everyone. Prejudices are learned and we learned the exact opposite from her. With this, we've been able to find inspiration within anyone we meet. 

Arieh Samson - Co-Founder and Director of All Go West Music Festival

“This, too, shall pass." My mom says this literally EVERY time I call her complaining about something. She’s my sounding board for anything going on in my life, good or bad, and she always reminds me that in about a week’s span of time, whatever was bothering me will be forgotten... which ends up being true more often than not.

Hannah Chillag, Editor of High Country Wedding Guide

My mom’s best advice to me was very simple:  “You don’t have to settle.”  It was in the context of a relationship I was struggling to figure out, but it could apply to many, many situations. 

Julie Mayfield, Asheville City Councilwoman


She's always said, "You have a choice each day when you wake up... you can have a good day or a bad day—it's up to you!" Sometimes this advice was directly followed by the remark, "Stephanie Lee, you can do anything you set your mind to!" Insert my mothers southern drawl, and you've got two strong mantras to live by...or at least I have! From the mouth of the woman I've watched make lemonade from lemons more times than I can count, it's safe to say this advice has really stuck with me my entire life. A mother's support and encouragement can make you feel like you can achieve anything 'if you set your mind to it,' and this dreamer has been lucky enough to have my number one fan cheer me on through all life's ups and downs! Including this wild & wonderful adventure with Lindsay! Duncan and York really is a dream come true!!! 

Stephanie Duncan, Co-Owner of Duncan & York

My mother always made sure that I wrote thank you notes to anyone and everyone. At the time I found it supremely annoying but as an adult I can see the value of a handwritten message and still enjoy doing it today. Stationery is now a passion of mine...thanks Mama!  

Lindsay Woodruff, Co-Owner of Duncan and York 


My mom still says to this day (all the time): "Pull the rag out of your ass and do it." This is basically her way of telling me to just go for something and stop procrastinating. One of the things that I really appreciate about my mom is that she really instilled a mentality of "you can do anything you put your mind to" in me. It didn't matter where I came, or how little money or experience I had. If I worked hard enough I could be anything I wanted to be.  Except a singer. She said I "couldn't carry a tune in a bucket" and she was right. That's okay though, I've achieved many other things in life that make up for that one.  

Jessica Tomasin, Echo Mountain Recording Studio Manager

I was the kid who outwardly rebelled later in life. Like starting in spring semester of high school through college. I mean I was horrible and secluded myself. My mom constantly told me, "You're never to old for home or too old to ask for help"


Stephanie Ferguson, Blogger at 30 Shades of Stephanie!

"It’s easy to spend money. It’s hard to make money.” It would have been good if I’d listened to that advice when I was young and shopping too much.

Gay W. Lam, Founder and Creative Director at Seltzer Goods

Always have your own money. Even if you get married, keep your own bank account. Never allow yourself to become financially reliant on another person because it complicates the relationship and compromises your independence. Her advice strikes me as a bit extreme now, but she was a single mother raising four kids. When I became an adult, her advice kept me financially solvent no matter the situation. I also wasn't forced to stay in bad relationships because I kept my own finances and insisted on being able to hold my own when it came to expenses. 

Amanda Rodriguez, Marketing Manager of Dogwood Alliance

My Mom was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1930 and sent to England before WWII broke out at 9 years old without her parents. Her advice was tough, practical, and continues to serve me well. There are 3 pieces of advice that always stand out:

1. Wenn Schon Dann Schon (German)—If Already, Then Already: If you're going to do something — do it right!  Big or little things—If something spills in the fridge, you might as well clean the whole fridge. If you're going to work out, you might as well try your hardest. If you're going to do any job, make sure it's done right!

2. You Attack!  This is not as aggressive as it sounds (but can be). It means if there's something that's eating at you—an email you haven't returned, a friend you need to call, saying Hello to someone you have a rift with, whatever it is—Do It! Don't wait for the other person to write you or call you—you do it first. This is not always easy to follow, and I don't always follow it, but I never regret it when I do, and I always wish I had when I don't.

3. You do what's right! You may not like this person, you may not want to go to the event, you may not want to do whatever it is, but do the thing that isn't easy or pleasant because it is the right thing to do.

Davida Horwitz, Co-Owner Grail Moviehouse


Growing up in the 1970s with a single mom was something of an oddity at the time. Especially in Mills River. I played football at Rugby and West Henderson, and on "Father/Son" night—when players and their fathers would be introduced and sprint down the sidelines in a friendly "competition" to the cheers of the crowd—I was not sure what to do. My mom said, "No worries, I will go with you."  And sure enough, when before the game fathers and sons started lining up, my mom was there to accompany me. I watched as my teammates and their fathers were announced and "sprinted" off.  When it was our turn to go, my mom looked over at me and whispered, "I might be your mother, but in about 5 seconds I am gonna run like your father; see you at the sideline." Kinda prepared me for several situations...

Colby Caldwell, Artist + Program Director at REVOLVE  


Growing up, the best advice my mother ever gave me was to make my education a priority. She taught me that it was one of the best ways I could honor myself, and that it was something that could never be taken from me. I vividly remember seeing her model this behavior by balancing the demands of motherhood and working full-time as a nurse, while also pursuing her master's degree. Seeing her accomplish her goals with hard work, dedication, and focus gave me the confidence that I could achieve my own.

Laura Coppelman, Family and commercial photographer at

When I think about good advice from my mother, it was to save my money and not to waste it on things I don't really need.  Like all kids, whenever we went to a store I'd ask for things I wanted, but she would ask me, and I quote...'What do you need that for?' Even if I had a good excuse, it made me think, 'Do really need it or do I just want it at this moment?' I still practice this, and most of the time it keeps me from making impulse buys. I'll walk away, and think it over for a day or two, and if it's something I really want, I go back and buy it. Most of the time it's on sale by then anyway.

Frank Mandaro, Manager of Beer City Bicycles

"It's okay to be a generalist in a specialist world," my mom told me during college. I've taken that with me as permission to get involved in things that I'm passionate about, even if it isn't directly related to my actual job. It has led me to so many great places!

Sarah McCoy, Musician in Asheville-based band, Whym

My mother's best advice was about family. My middle brother and I were adopted from Bogota, Colombia, and my youngest brother was birthed by my parents. None of us are biologically related. My mother taught me that family has nothing to do with being related by blood and is all about the love. She showed that we can have many brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles in this life experience. Giving me this perspective has allowed me to connect deeply with so many wonderful humans and have many friends that I consider true family.

P.S. My second favorite piece of advice from my Ma, 

"Nobody f*cks with your family!" 

Rob Gray, music producer and 1/2 of BomBassic

In an alternate reality, my mother would be a professional party planner. For now, it's just a lifelong hobby. My mom has always led by example: Be the best host possible and make every detail a personable one. It might seem like common sense, but my mom goes above and beyond expectations to make even the most ordinary of occasions seem (amazingly) both extravagant and homey. It's the kind of personal attention to details that you want to share every day to make the people in your life feel loved. And then, of course, say it was no trouble at all, even if it was a little. ;)

Sally C. Garner, Multidisciplinary Artist


Just before my wonderful grandma passed away from leukemia in 2001, she wrote me a beautiful letter. In it, she outlined what she called her "Grandma Rules." Here they are:

"Grandma Rules:

1. Speak to at least 1 stranger daily.

2. Help build someone's self esteem, often, with a compliment.

3. Be kind to those less fortunate than you.

4. Choose your friends carefully—you're known for the company you keep!

5. Work on becoming more spiritual!

Love, Grandma"

Ali McGhee, Editorial Director of Asheville Grit