This post was originally published on April 30 on LinkedIn.
Today is the last day of my amazing journey with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute over the past 15 years. This chapter of my life has been brought by the letter “P.” “P” is for philanthropy, of course, but also “P” sums up my phavorite parts of the job: programs, places, and people.
I’ve presented programs with all sorts of themes including comparing women’s philanthropy to Watty Piper’s children’s book, The Little Engine That Could. Programs and places were often intertwined. In 2012, I had the privilege to speak at a Tiffany Circle conference in the breathtakingly gorgeous Governors Hall at the American Red Cross building in Washington, D.C.
The Governors Hall houses the largest suite of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows created for a secular building. The windows’ origins are a wonderful example of women’s philanthropy at work, one of many remarkable stories I learned through WPI. Philanthropist Mabel Boardman, who served as ARC secretary for many years, suggested the idea of the windows to the Women’s Relief Corps of the North and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, two organizations of Civil War women that agreed to pay for the windows with contributions of $5,000 each.
Four pillars grace the top of the stairs of the magnificent headquarters of the American Red Cross, supporting the portico where the universally recognized logo is emblazoned. In my presentation, I stated that these four pillars represent promise, power, potential, and plan. The letter “P” featured prominently in many presentations.
In a presentation in Wyoming, I compared philanthropy to an Oreo cookie. What is the link between the Oreo cookie and philanthropy? They are both good. Each is a staple of our society. The Oreo is consumed in a variety of ways, and philanthropy is practiced in a variety of ways. For this presentation I also learned that in 1890 Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote. Why did they do that? Well, the frontiersmen were lonely. At that time in Wyoming there were 6,000 men and 1,000 women; the men thought more women would move to the state if they had the right to vote.
It seems that for the past 15 years everywhere I went, everywhere I turned, and often whenever I wasn’t looking, a women’s philanthropy story popped up and caught my attention. Before I saw the musical Hamilton, I had no idea Eliza Hamilton was a philanthropist. The orphanage she started in 1806 in memory of her beloved husband is still operating today as Graham Windham. Virtually every vacation turned into a busman’s holiday as I wrote in this LinkedIn post about a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And, as I move into retirement, I know this pattern will continue.
Yet, it’s the people who made this job with WPI the best ever. From my colleagues at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to the amazing women and men I have met on this journey, each of you has nourished and enriched me in multiple ways. Professor Dwight Burlingame has been steadfast in his support and friendship from the time he admitted me to the master’s program in July 2001 and hired me to work a part-time job later that year.
The people who work in women’s philanthropy are passionate, proud, and persistent. Dr. Debra Mesch, my colleague (and supervisor) for 12 years, has been incredibly patient, almost always willing to let me pursue wild dreams. The volunteer leaders of the WPI Council have provided strategic guidance, been helpful sounding boards, and always led with conviction. The more than 100 people who have spoken at WPI symposia since 2005 have informed and inspired us. Thank you all for your commitment to women’s philanthropy and WPI.
OK, one more story. I love this one, and I have to share it. In 2017 Kim Jung, co-founder of Rumi Spice, spoke at the WPI symposium about her entrepreneurial work with Afghani farmers to bring saffron to the U.S. Kim, a West Point grad, Army vet, and Harvard MBA, told me that near the end of the MBA program, students are asked this question from the Mary Oliver poem, The Summer Day, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” Kim impressed me – a lot. One day earlier this year, I met a guy who was out encouraging people to vote. I learned he had gone to West Point and served in the Army. It seemed that he and Kim might have been about the same age. So, I asked him if he knew Kim Jung.
I know very few people who went to West Point, so it was a long shot. He responded, “Kim Jung? I dated her at West Point!” Had it not been for women’s philanthropy and my time at WPI, I would not have been able to get such joy from this encounter. And, it was only one of many that brought joy over the years.
During good times and challenging times, it was always the people who brought energy, vitality, and purpose to my work with WPI. I will be forever grateful. It has been such phun! Thank you.
P.S. Hard as it is to believe, today really is my last day at WPI. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay in touch. I’d love to learn what you are doing with your one wild and precious life and how you are advancing women’s philanthropy.
P.P.S. To stay in touch with WPI, please follow Jeannie Sager, WPI’s wonderful new director. She’s a perfect fit for this position.