Submitted by: Colette Herrick and Kim Grob
As we continue to celebrate 30 years of Utah Women’s Forum, we are delighted to share interviews with founding members, Genevieve Atwood and Mary Kay Lazarus. We know you will be as inspired reading their stories, as we were by our conversations with these champions of women.
Genevieve Atwood: Wisdom in being part of a tribe As a scientist, leader and trailblazer, Genevieve Atwood holds a deep curiosity of our collective human affinity for tribalism. For her, Utah Women’s Forum is a tribe that has endured and enriched her life and one she remains proud to hold membership. From the formative days of gathering in member’s living rooms, to her hopes for the future of our organization, Genevieve shares her heart and wisdom.What were your initial enthusiasms, excitements when you joined UWF thirty years ago?
It seems such a long time ago, half my life, and a couple of different careers ago. At the time UWF formed, I was State Geologist and the head of the Utah Geological Survey. I had been appointed by Governor Matheson and was the first woman in the country, or probably the world, to hold the position. In this role, I brought many strengths as well as weaknesses.
At the same time, Karen Shepherd and I were buddies. We ran long distances together with our dogs and we recognized we needed each other. We knew women needed women to succeed. It was such an exciting time, but there were just so few of us.
We were feeling this need, when Mary Kay Lazarus contacted me. She knew the leader of the women’s forum in DC and their mission to foster women’s forums in diverse cities around the country. Karen Shepherd suggested we have a few people over and I volunteered my house. We did. I think there were eight of us that evening.
We sat around, recognizing how sincerely we were committed to each other’s success simply because each of us was relatively “lonely at the top.” That became the basis for our group. The structure from DC encouraged a forum for powerful women to connect. At some point, Ilene Fisher who was such a wonderful conscience for the group suggested we have a forum strong on social conscience and not necessarily power. Our criteria for membership became (a) a women tops in her field clearly (b) committed to the idea that when one women succeeds, all succeed.
In those early years we learned a lot about each other. Life was not as polarized as it is now. We really needed each other!
You have no doubt had many experiences with this organization over three decades, for now tell me about a time that stands out, a highpoint time when your relationship with the women of UWF had a significant positive impact on you and others? Tell me a story about that time. I can remember there was a situation that I just did not know how to handle, something verging on discrimination. I sat with Jinnah Kelson, and Karen Shepherd. Their reaction was, “you’re in real trouble on this one!” They each pitched in to help me problem solve. We were hanging out. Essentially, they saved me from being blind-sided by the obvious. I’m still grateful even though the details fade. Recognizing a problem is an important first step. I had thought things were the way I wanted them to be. For that evening five or six Forum members were my “partners in wisdom.” I knew I was safe sharing my dilemma.
And it wasn’t just problems. We could knock out stuff together to help each other succeed. For example, when I was working on a big conference for Governor Matheson on natural hazards, I met with Peggy Battin, who specializes in ethics. A couple week's later, Matheson gave a rip-snorting speech taking on greed, ignorance and who knows what else!The early Forum had a very real sense of people caring about each other’s success, perhaps because we were new to “success” and vulnerable to the unforeseen. Or at least it seemed that way to me. I loved hearing each others’ problems and the tradeoffs we faced. It’s a different organization now. Forum members today appear confident with success, not so vulnerable. Today’s Forum can accomplish as a group of successful women who as individuals have achieved sufficient power to bring about change as a group. We are able each month to celebrate outward visible signs of success from recognition in the news to national and local awards. Much has changed to the benefit of women, while some things have not. How can we be most effective?
What do you value about being a UWF member today? How has UWF enriched your life? I am fascinated by tribalism. I value being part of the Utah Women’s Forum tribe. It seems tribal is hard-wired in humans, how to tell “others” from ourselves. Healthy tribes see their commonalities and also recognize differences in others. I like the identity of being part of a group that shares a common social conscience…a group of women working with women can provide that sense of higher purpose and identity. While I am not as active as I used to be I love having common values and working towards a common purpose. When I walk into a UWF event and put on my name badge, I value how UWF gives me a lovely identity as a champion of women.
What three wishes do you have for UWF going forward? Wish #1. Hmm, I wish we understood our tribalism better. I feel kind of fringe at present, as it seems UWF has become so strongly political and so much of our politics today is negative. In the early years our common challenge was white male chauvinists. Now it seems the enemy is Republicans! And some folks assume I’m one of “them” rather than one of “us” just because I identify with the Republican party of long ago.
Wish #2. Perhaps it’s wistful… I wish I knew members well enough to be able to contribute to their success, and happiness. But that being said, it brings considerable happiness to attend meetings and cheer for each other. So that wish doesn’t really count.
Wish #3. I wish for the Forum to continue to make a difference and not rest on past accomplishments. We can as individuals, as we share with individuals of our Forum. We also can by group effort. For example, I hope the Forum will make a difference on women and education. It’s the only hope for the world. It can unite the Forum with purpose. I love it when we see ways we can accomplish something together.
Postscript. It’s no change from the early days to the present. We probably can’t help ourselves from supporting each other individually. This past year has been a tough one for me. I didn’t miss a single stage of grief as I lost Don to dementia and then in October to death. Forum members were there for me, even not knowing it. So Wish #1 for the Forum really is, that I wish for every member to tap the reservoir of Forum women’s heartbeat wisdom! We have so much wisdom and caring amongst us!