A Point of Personal Privilege

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

Blogs are not supposed to be of great length, but this topic merits a suspension of the “rules”.

The treatment of women in government service, and in other professional settings, is receiving long overdue national attention. So, when I reflect about the women I have had the privilege of working with throughout my long career, and how they have shaped my reputation as my career evolved, I’d like to name names despite the considerable risk that I may inadvertently omit some.

To be clear, Linda Goodrich’s acceptance of my proposal of marriage in 1968 must lead any such discussion.

As a young, technologically clueless (not much has changed) financial aid director at a small private college in Illinois, I was blessed to have as a secretary a woman who taught me how to use a Dicta belt without making off color remarks into a” hot” microphone. She had three sons older than I and she kindly (laughing at my embarrassment) showed me how to turn it off!

In the Governor’s Office of Western Illinois, my two supervisors, Barbara O’ Connor and her deputy Mary Ellen Gornick were principled political actors in an unprincipled political environment. And the women I hired on my Governor’s Office staff (some themselves from Public Aid rolls) and my Assistant Manager, Sandy Watson, were relentless in facing down insensitive public bureaucrats who put families and individuals in jeopardy through arrogance or neglect. As a result, my ombudsman’s office won many battles on behalf of our clients.

In Seattle City Government, when the director in the City’s Office of Policy Planning Office tried to make me quit in retaliation for my refusal to lie to the City Council, a supervisor (not mine), Rona Zevin, intervened. Later, Rona took the time as my boss in the Budget Office to redo my resume, showing me how to make a competitive case for myself in future job opportunities. She didn’t have to do that. She did.

As Director of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Ines Pearce, LuAn Johnson, Erica Lund all added to my professional reputation with their diligence, their intelligence, their professionalism. The national accomplishments attributed to my tenure were in no small part because of them. Special mention must be made of Seattle OEM Office Manager Denise Croysdill, who in addition to managing the Seattle OEM’s internal office operations also saved the lives of at least 6 people who staggered to our EOC front door on 4th Avenue in Seattle presenting serious medical issues.

At the State of Washington, my Administrative Assistants Sheila Roberson and Lee Root never missed a beat (and yes, Jaye you were excellent, too, but this is about women!). My excellent roster of managers included Diane Offord, Sheryl Jardine, Charma Anderson, Maillian Uphaus, Wendy Freitag. Significant accomplishments accrued from our ability to acquire the services of Wendy and Linda Crerar, and yes, LuAn Johnson, once again. Among professional staff that exuded excellence were Jennifer Schaal, and Sandy Bigelow. While not on my staff, the loyalty and intellectual honesty and willingness to debate fiercely in search of the best possible outcome was typified by Nancy Bickford of the Adjutant General’s staff.

I would never have become a successful City EM Director, or a state EM director or a member of the National Emergency Association (NEMA) or NEMA’S president (for 21 months) were it not for these people. And that means the opportunity to work with NEMA’s excellent Executive Director Trina Sheets, Events Coordinator (and much more) Karen Cobuluis, DC Legislative staff Kristen Robinson, Alexa Noruk, or Rachel Mauser would not have presented itself, and that would have been my loss.

Each of these women were accomplished before I encountered them, and I’m certain their excellence has been indispensable to everyone with whom they have worked.

Finally, Kellie Hale at the Homeland Security/Emergency Management Center of Excellence deserves my gratitude for advocating that I still might have something worthwhile to contribute to my profession, through this blog, and kept after me to produce it on a monthly basis. In doing so, she has helped to delay my descent into obscurity!

I’m also grateful for the men that influenced me, taught me, supported me and disciplined me when I needed it. But, guys still usually get the praise, the promotions and too much of the glory. Readers of this series of blogs which began in September 2015 can find evidence of my respect and affection for all the professionals that toil in the relative obscurity (until something happens, anyway) of emergency management. The national dialogue is finally highlighting the challenges women face in the workplace, but it really boils down to whether we can learn to value equally all the people that contribute to our professional and personal success. I have not forgotten how much I owe to them all.

To them and so many others, thanks.

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