FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Lucy Miller
March 18, 2014
“I wanted to have success – enough to survive. Then I wanted my family to get that. Then it became, ‘who else doesn’t have what they need?’ …
Lucy Miller prepared for the job by spending 38 years in education – going to school a lot. She claims to be ‘not confrontational’, aiming for win-win collaboration as, for example, in the case of the All In For Youth program. Her statement, “every child is different” seems to be at the core of her understanding. Her three points of focus – kids, poverty, community.
University was her first goal, St.FrancisXavierUniversity was her target – and she admits wanting the ring which she proudly wears because she remembers her teachers had one and she wanted one too. Getting in, however, was no easy task. She wrote to the Dean of Women requesting entrance and a job. Working and paying her own way was the only route she saw. The reply from Sister Joan Ryan, offered 3 part-time jobs. At 17 she took all three and studied hard – her first step on the road to a B.A., B. Ed., Masters in Administration and Doctorate in Professional Development [St. F X, Dalhousie, U of T, and U of Ottawa] took her to schools and jobs in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa; her careers in education took her to heights of running school systems in Ottawa (while also teaching at University of Ottawa and at Queens – seems to be a 3-jobs at a time theme here), and then to Calgary where she was superintendent of Calgary Catholic Schools. Then a head hunter came calling, calling, calling – bringing her to compete for the top job at Calgary’s United Way – where she leads from her deeply centered perspective.
Always a math teacher, she’s authored books on math teaching and on teaching math teachers. Teacher, mentor, leader – in many areas it seems. Her position at the United Way seems to bring all her preparation to bear on the agency’s, and the city’s, primary social problems – kids, poverty, community.
She admits to following her 2nd husband (24 years) to Calgary when he got a job transfer (he’s an executive with PCL) – which seems to be a stroke of good fortune for Calgary.
Humble beginnings, happy childhood – skating, beach, baseball, soccer, kick the can, singing with friends – poverty, in the middle of 8 siblings (3 older, 4 younger), the only one to go to university. Mom stayed home and made much out of little, dad was a superb carpenter. “We were poor”, says Lucy Miller.
She grew up with clear goals, “not being hungry, a car, an education and helping family.” She’d done all that and more. Calgary’s United Way President and CEO has made those basic aspirations her life’s work.
Her credentials deserve a big head. And she has one on her credenza – an oversized Pez dispenser with a big Lucy (from the Peanuts comic strip) head on it. No need for a sign to say, ‘the doctor is in – advice 5 cents’. Easy to talk to, there is no shortage of advice and solutions that flow from a driven person with clear goals . . .
Biggest problem facing Calgary’s United Way? .. “dealing with complexity of this growing city is far more than expected. We are a catalyst – bringing people together around an issue. Our greatest strength is maximizing dollars, leveraging the strength of everyone to eliminate duplications. Our SCORCE program – bringing together 14 agencies is a great example of this”.
Her closing comment – a challenge to me, to herself, to Calgary – “what else can we do?”
I asked Lucy how she sees United Way’s business and influence, ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… working out our funding strategies to have the greatest impact, to move the needle. Education is the great equalizer. 25% of our work/funding allocation is on collaboration projects.
And over the next 5 years?
… creating a culture – greater impact, bringing together Calgarians around ‘what are the issues?’.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… authenticity. Getting a sense someone is good. Down to earth – not pretentious. I’m not extravagant. Value for money. People care about me, the customer.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Lucy Miller, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... I’m genuine. I believe in Personal Power – and I try to help people understand how people can change a life.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I think and I plan. We don’t have any kids, but we have lots of nieces and nephews. My husband and I have a plan to support them all to get a university education. I worry if I’ll be able to influence them from a distance.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my mother. She taught me dignity, showed me that we all bring something to the table. She told me, “when you have a baby you never know how it’s going to turn out”. Moving her to Ottawa – caring for her, dealing with her dementia – my life wasn’t about me anymore. Two friends I’ve made since coming to Calgary, Linda and Mac. My faith.
Work life balance?
…work 70-80 hours a week. Balance isn’t something you have daily – you have it over a lifetime. It’s not just one year. Golfing every chance we get. Early tee-times! [she loves to talk about the thrill of her hole-in-one]. I write – always have several book projects on the go.
What do you read?
… faith based books. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Everything about Mother Teresa. Biographies – I like ‘helping people’ stories. Blindness by Jose Saramago.
… first car (self-taught driver) was a Ford Pinto. Currently a small Mercedes sedan, gift from her husband.
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