Today I’d like to share a story with you of someone who is a contemporary of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and who broke ground and cracked class ceilings in her own way.
Also born in 1933, S. G. P. was born in Oklahoma and spent her high school years on the family farm outside of Guthrie, Oklahoma. She loved to worry her ‘town’ friends by making them think they would have to use an outhouse if they came to visit. Fifty-one weeks younger than her older brother, their competitiveness led them to fisticuffs, broomstick fights, and once kitchen knives en garde – luckily for them, they were stopped by their parents before they engaged. Luckily for everyone they moved that competition to chess boards and backgammon games in their adult years.
S. G. P. went first to Oklahoma State University and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. She entered law school, but decided it wasn’t worth the grief she got from the professors and fellow students and left. While serving as a counselor (RA) in a “girl’s dorm” her residents set her up on a blind date. And in 1956, S. G. P. and her date embarked on what would become a sixty-two year marriage that began breaking gender norms early on. As the story goes, when it became apparent that S. G. P. was not going to a world-class cook, her new husband said, “I didn’t marry you to cook and clean.” He went on to be not only an award-winning baker and a gourmet chef, he cooked the family meals every night after work as well as spectacular holiday feasts.
S. G. P. began her career in the personnel office of Kerr-McGee oil company in Oklahoma, eventually becoming the Director of Personnel at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and traveling the state speaking to audiences on a variety of personnel-related topics. After the family moved to San Antonio, she began working at the main office of Church’s Fried Chicken. At the time it was still locally owned and growing rapidly. By the time she left the company ten years later, it was multi-national. In the early 1970’s, she was promoted to Vice President for Personnel and Training, the only woman in what would now be called the C-suite and the only woman sitting on the Board. She traveled the country extensively visiting regional offices and stores, usually the only woman in any meeting. (When I travel now, it is still clear that more men travel for business than women, can you imagine what it was like in the 1970s and early 80s?)
It was an adjustment having a woman executive. The senior staff trips to president’s hunting cabin for the weekend didn’t work so well any more. During the big annual meeting trip, they weren’t quite sure what to do with her husband during the events for ‘the wives.’ Her presence forced them to rethink old habits and common practices. And in that small way, the world began to change.
After taking early retirement, they moved to a small place outside of Blanco, Texas and S. G. P. started volunteering at the local library. It was a small two-room affair behind a store on the main square. She eventually became the librarian. In partnership with another amazing woman on the board, she wrote grants, raised money, and worked to create a library district to support the continued health of the library which now has a beautiful building and a collection of more than 24,000 volumes. And again, the world was changed for the people of Blanco.
As should be obvious, S. G. P. is Sandra Galloway Paine, my mom and role model. While her story is not as ‘notorious’ as that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she changed the world and showed me how it could be done. Not everyone has the chance to change the world in large ways as R. B. G. did, but as S. G. P. taught me, we are all able to make a difference wherever we are. How are you changing the world in some small way?