Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives


allison_barber_headshotThe following post by WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber was originally published on the WGU Indiana blog in recognition of Women’s History Month. 

The story I can weave about some amazing women took place in one day. March 11, 2015, began by sharing a donut with my great-aunt who was celebrating her 92nd birthday. She declared that eating a donut while lounging in bed was the best way to start her new year.

Nell was a school secretary for 40 years, a church musician for 55 years and the person in our family most likely to have been on the Vaudeville stage, had the timing been right.

After donuts with Nell, I visited my mom. A wonderful schoolteacher who spends her life investing in other people’s success, one person at a time. She is a believer in people and their individual ability.

From there, I jumped on a plane to Washington, D.C. I visited my dear friend, Vivian, who, at 96, is triumphantly fighting back from pneumonia and shingles. Our conversation was about her deep concern and prayers for other people and her need for an updated iPhone.

Then I headed to an AARP event where I learned about Dr. Ethel Andrus. Ethel was a teacher who became the first female principal in California and then went on to form the National Retired Teachers Association. Her goal was to promote her philosophy of productive aging. At the age of 73, she formed AARP. Dr. Andrus lived by the following guiding principles:

  • To promote independence, dignity and purpose for older persons;
  • To enhance the quality of life for older persons; and
  • To encourage older people “To serve, not to be served.”

My day was shaping up to be an amazing one filled with diverse and fascinating women, but there was still more to come.

The main purpose of the event was the presentation of the Andrus Award to Senator Elizabeth Dole for her work in establishing her foundation that addresses the issues of military caregivers.

Elizabeth has held two cabinet-level positions, served as the president of the American Red Cross, and was elected Senator from North Carolina. She has built her career through service and is a shining example of Dr. Andrus’ philosophy, “To serve and not to be served.”

Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of AARP, introduced Elizabeth. Prior to the post at AARP, Jo Ann accomplished groundbreaking work as the COO of the Library of Congress. She is the recipient of Women in Technology Leadership Award, the Library of Congress Distinguished Service Award and Nonprofit Times’ Power and Influence Top 50. In her remarks, she challenged the audience to recognize the dignity in all humans. She is focused on helping people “age without fear.”

And finally, I closed out the day (yes, this is still the same day), with my pal, Susan Davis. The CEO of her own public affairs business in D.C., Susan also serves as the chairman of the board of Vital Voices. A nonprofit organization that identifies invests and brings visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities. Susan works tirelessly to improve the lives of everyone she encounters.

What are the common threads that allow me to “weave together the story” of these women? Passion, Purpose and Priorities. The careers range from high to low visibility, and the notoriety ranges from international acclaim to a family’s favorite aunt to sit by at the dinner table. But each woman demonstrates a passion for what they believe in, a purpose for their work, and the priority of putting others before themselves.

It was a great day to encounter wonderful women and weave together their diverse but powerful stories.

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