Leadership and Other Lessons Learned from a Wise Woman

Dinner With Mary HoaglandEvery once in a while, if we’re lucky, we meet truly inspiring people that leave us in awe. Mary Hoagland, is one of those people.

As a group of us recently had dinner with her earlier this week, she had a lot of wisdom to share about her 92 years in this world. As we’re inundated with sensational stories in the media and on social media, it’s refreshing to hear from someone who is so accomplished, yet humble, and happy to live in the moment.

After graduating from Smith College in 1946, then marrying and raising four children, at the age of 48, she decided she wanted to go to law school. Her husband was a successful attorney in Denver, so why couldn’t she become one? After being turned down twice from the University of Denver School of Law because of her age, on her third attempt she showed up with her tuition check in hand and told them: “You’re a business, and you need my money.” They finally relented and admitted her in 1972. She graduated and went on to run her own family law practice for 16 years, which included representing women in serious, often dangerous, family situations.

Whether you’re starting out in your career or are mid-career, some lessons she shared that fit us all:

  • Don’t take no for an answer. If you feel strongly about something, in her case going to law school and serving families because she knew she could make a difference, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.
  • Find something you’re passionate about. Mary’s two passions are women’s rights and better deaths. “I had causes that no one cared about, I just stuck with them because I cared.” She participated in women’s marches in the ’70s and ‘80s and served on the national board of the Hemlock Society.
  • Fake it until you make it. She was terrified of failing in law school, and she was most certainly the oldest person in her class. “I did some things I was completely unqualified for, but I figured it out and was soon able to contribute.”
  • Leadership is showing up and doing your part. The awards and accolades that Mary’s received for her work with the law, women’s rights, serving the underserved, etc. are too many to mention – and she would never mention them, but you can Google her – but Mary firmly believes each person can make a difference in their community.

We all wanted to know what she thought of the most recent election and the state of our country. For someone who lived through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Watergate, to name a few., things aren’t so bad: “We don’t yet know what the new normal is,” said Mary. She’s as sharp as a tack and while she doesn’t have a smartphone, she loves staying up on current event by reading the New York Times on her iPad and books on her Kindle. If we could all be so lucky to have family, health and our smarts into our ‘90s.

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