It's easy to have fun at the expense of "The Real Housewives of Orange County," but their lives go on when the cameras are off, and for Vicki Gunvalson, the last of the original cast, that involves the day-to-day operation of her insurance business and dealing not only with the needs of customers but also of employees such as Stefanie Ford, whose husband Keith Ford serves in the U.S. Air National Guard.
Gunvalson and Ford talked this week about their working relationship in light of an honor Gunvalson recently received for helping Ford manage her personal and professional lives through the challenges military families often face. The Service Member Patriot Award is given by the U.S. Department of Defense's Employer Support of Guard and Reserve program to recognize employers who make extra effort to help employees with family on active duty deployment.
"The good thing about insurance is that you can kind of control your own hours," says Gunvalson, who will return to the Bravo network for a 13th season on July 16. "With Stefanie's situation, having her husband deployed, it takes a flexible career."
Gunvalson called Ford "a picture-perfect employee" as director of the property and casualty division of Coto Financial and Insurance Services, and Ford offers praise for Gunvalson as a business owner and boss.
"With Vicki, she has always made sure I can work remotely," says Ford, who nominated Gunvalson for the award. "If I need coverage for my clients she's always made sure things were taken care of. She's always provided words of encouragement."
Keith Ford, who served six months overseas four years ago, will soon depart for another six-month deployment, his wife says.
Gunvalson says she's understood what military families face not just through the experiences of Ford and others she's worked with in the insurance field, but at home, too. Her daughter Briana is married to Ryan Culberson, whose service in the Marine Corps ended last year.
"People think our country just survives the way it does," Gunvalson says. "I think we're just totally naive to it, what Stefanie and her husband go through. It's a very interesting mechanism that people go through to think we're free because of a magic wand, and we're not."
Ford says it's important that employers recognize the sacrifices service members make, and said she's grateful that Gunvalson has.
"With the people she works with she really takes on responsibility," Ford says. "She has a really big heart and is compassionate, and that's sometimes not seen on the show." ___
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