It’s All One Big Life

Women Activating, Advocating and Leading in their Communities and Industries

by Katie McFarlane Thompson

Link to the original article here.

I have the best leadership mentor; she is Mayor of Raleigh and she is my mom.

I’m Nancy’s oldest daughter, Katie, but you have probably come to know me as “Madison’s Mom”.  My new title got me thinking that there was probably a time when my mother introduced herself more frequently as “Katie’s Mom” than as “Nancy”.

Why would she do that? Because for a long time that was her primary connection to the community, as a parent. It was how she got to know Raleigh

OBL Blog 2
Mom and my younger sister Emily near Leadmine Elementary back in the day…

and the people in it.  My own child is young and it’s becoming clear to me how the experience of seeking out and building community on behalf of my daughter parallels the political process.  Both are about networking to build a stronger community that supports families.  When my parents moved to Raleigh 30 years ago they hardly knew anyone in town, and now my mom is mayor of this growing City!


It’s about passion and perseverance

When I started the 2nd grade at Leadmine Elementary it was a brand new school; my mom volunteered to be Grounds Chair, tapping into her passion for gardening and her care for the environment.  She got plants donated and raised the money for a playground. Seven year old me thought it was the coolest thing to flip through catalogs and help pick out the playground equipment.  When playing at recess I secretly delighted in my knowledge of how the playground came to be – my mom did that and I helped!  Now, 25 years later, my mom has secured a 325 acre park of open green space which will forever serve the people of our city and our state!  Who knows what kind of gardens,  playgrounds and programs will take root there? This time around, I will openly delight in telling my daughter of how the park came to be.  Her grandma worked tirelessly, and it was an incredible process to bear witness to. I couldn’t be more proud.

It’s all for the baby!

Nancy and her granddaughter at Dix Park.
Nancy and her granddaughter at Dix Park.

Let me just be clear y’all – being Mayor is a hard job! But my mom is absolutely amazing at her  Mayor / Grandma (#grandmayor) gig!  She watches Madison one day a week while I work as a nurse.  She brings Maddie to the Mayor’s office, press conferences, meetings and Maddie has even ridden in a parade and held the City Council gavel!  Nancy has nicknamed Maddie her “Deputy Mayor”.  My mom continues to inspire me, showing me how balance is possible and I am thrilled that she is passing on lessons of leadership to my daughter.  When asked how she balances it all, she says “It’s just all kind of one big life!”

In all of the conversations around Dix Park, Nancy constantly gave Maddie a shout out. She says, “This is why I do what I do – for future generations!”  What women often share is the desire for a healthy, vibrant, collaborative and inclusive community that carries forward for the next generation. We want a Raleigh that inspires people to care. Nancy believes it should be a place that anyone raised here wants to stay, live and invest in. I came home after years of being away and found Raleigh to be a thriving city that I want to be part of.  Now I am never leaving!


Women change conversations

Nancy McFarlane Women Leaders Breakfast at Irregardless Cafe.
Nancy McFarlane Women Leaders Breakfast at Irregardless Cafe.

There is a national (a worldwide) dialogue happening around the benefits of having women at the decision-making table.  Women are natural

networkers, connectors and leaders.  Research shows that when women are at the table conversations tend to be more inclusive and infused with congeniality, cooperation and participation.  You can read more in a recent report by Dr. David McLennan of Meredith College on the Status of Women in NC Politics.

Nancy recently hosted a Women Leaders Breakfast at Irregardless Cafe in Raleigh.  The room was filled with a diverse group of women from a wide cross-section of businesses, arts, health-care, real estate, fashion, technology, farming and sustainability.

The next week Nancy also shared her personal journey to public service at the UNC School of Government’s “Engage Women in Public Service” Workshop along with UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.  Both rooms were filled with women who already lead their communities and industries, but are looking for ways to have a bigger impact.  Let’s work together to involve more women in representation at the local decision-making tables – both elected and appointed.

You just have to care about something

Are you interested in public service? Do you know someone who is primed and ready to serve? Please refer to the Action Steps and Resources on Nancy’s website to help you and others move towards your leadership goals.

My mom always tells people that all you really need to “get involved” is to have a passion.  She started building her networks as a parent, and she still does that as “Maddie’s Grandma”.  She is knocking it out of the park as Mayor, or as we call her “Grandmayor!”