Former first lady balances work, family and giving back

Life is the craziest it has ever been for Mona Locke, even more so than her eight years serving as Washington’s first lady.

Life is the craziest it has ever been for Mona Locke, even more so than her eight years serving as Washington’s first lady.

“I think its a bit daunting, when you think about what we do, “Locke told a room of 200, mostly women, during a recent Women in Business event at the Meydenbauer Center. “And yet for so many of us, it’s like our mantra every day.”

The high-powered half-day networking event sponsored by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce featured several breakout sessions in which women professionals spoke about challenges and trends in today’s marketplace. Locke was one of the keynote speakers, and talked about the challenges many women face as they try to balance their daily lives with work, family and giving back to their communities.

For Locke, it’s getting things done for her family, including her husband, former Governor Gary Locke, and three children: Emily, 11, Dylan, 9, and Madeleine, 3.

“I’m juggling being a wife, mom, chauffeur, cook, tutor, friend and boss,” Locke said.

Her latest undertaking: executive director of Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Puget Sound affiliate. Running a non-profit business, she said, has come with its own set of challenges.

“My life, like many of yours, is made up of a series of chapters that shape our lives,” she said.

She spoke about different chapters in her life that have helped her realize something important: It’s hard to do it alone.

One story took place in a chapter when she and Gary went to China for their first time during his first year as governor in 1997.

Gary’s family come from a small rural town with a population of 150, right outside a city of 1 million people, she said. The village had no running water, no electricity and his family had installed a temporary toilet just for their visit. Gary’s uncle was the elder of the village.

“The thing I remember the most was the fact that everyone in that village took care of each other,” she said.

As a result of the visit, she realized that Gary’s parents and her own, who also are from China, had instilled in them village values of taking care of each other.

She rewound several years earlier to another chapter during her college graduate days at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where she received her masters degree.

While there, she worked her first job as a Washington D.C. correspondent for a station in Kansas. On her first day she did an on-camera stand-up that took 10 times of stumbling over words to finally get it right. When she was done, the school photographer told her she might as well give it up. “I was humiliated,” she recalled. “I was literally crushed.”

Soon after, she turned to a seasoned reporter who gave her advice. She would go to his news bureau after work and he would help her write and rewrite her news stories.

By taking an interest in her dreams, the reporter helped her believe in herself, she said. She later landed her first broadcast journalism position in Wisconsin, and then ended up in Seattle working at KING-TV.

“So I believe that I owe much of that success to my mentor, Jim,” Locke said. He not only helped launch my career, but he taught me something more important: the value of reaching out and helping someone in need.”

Years later, she tries to do the same.

After public office and years of championing early learning and launching a multi-million dollar public awareness campaign to support early childhood development, Locke is in what she refers to as the “back to normal” chapter of her life. In the rush of daily life, it’s most important, she said, to practice the simple ethic of giving time and supporting others.