Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Patricia Diaz Dennis: The Cowgirl (and Girl Scout) Way

Patricia Diaz Dennis: The Character of Our Community

She spoke today, September 28, 2010, to the annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was at the Albuquerque Hyatt.

Dennis chaired the Girl Scouts of USA from 2005 until 2008 and was a board member starting in 1999. As Girl Scout chair, she was responsible for a massive reorganization. The local result was folding the Santa Fe council into the Albuquerque council.

Professionally, she is an attorney who retired in 2008 as corporate counsel for AT&T in charge of a host of important matters including corporate litigation. Before joining AT&T Dennis, a Republican, was in government as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Communications Commission and as an assistant secretary of state. Her government appointments were by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Dennis was born in Santa Rita, NM, and has family in southern New Mexico and in Rio Rancho. She lives in San Antonio (Texas).

Dennis gave what might be called her Girl Scout leadership speech. She could have talked about immigration, which she told me we just have to fix, or Mexico or telecommunications. In addition to her insights, she was funny and articulate. My transcribed notes follow. Her topic for the day was to “talk about what we need to do for our communities.”

“Girl Scouts has always been about creating leaders.”

“It has become very clear to me” that the values in the Girl Scout law serve our country better than anything else. “The most important life lessons” can be boiled down to essentials. Cowboys and cowgirls know that there are “lines between right and wrong.” Dennis has adapted Girl Scout law to five points she calls “The Cowgirl Way.”

“Lasting change has to come from inside us.” Thus,

(1) “Lead your life with intentionality and purpose,” making purposeful decisions.

“We’re each the product of all the choices we’ve made” throughout our lives.

“Leaders… take control.”

“Genuine leadership requires character.” All great leaders have in common a set of principles like those in the Girl Scout law.

(2) Blazing your own trail. “It takes a great deal of courage” to remain true to your values when there is no one like you. Dennis said Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, “is the ultimate trail blazer for me.” Dennis listed a number of characteristics including Low’s focus.

“The barriers still exist today” that Dennis faced, just in different forms and degrees. She told several stories starting with getting her first attorney position in the early 1970s after being interviewed by all 34 lawyers at the firm. The two men hired with her were only interviewed by the five-lawyer hiring committee.

Then there were all sorts of complications starting in the mid-1970s with working and executing her commitment to breast feed her children.

(3) “Some things are never for sale.”

Girls today have it much tougher than Dennis did in the 1960s. “We cannot surrender our girls” to the pressures pushing them to become sexual objects.

“Girls and boys need safe places,” away from these pressures.

Letting people such as bosses know that these family issues are important to you is very liberating to men and women.

(4) Be tough but fair.

(5) Pay it forward. Short on time, Dennis didn’t elaborate. But she said afterward that the idea comes from the 2000 novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde and the movie with Kevin Spacey and others.

There is even a Pay It Forward Foundation (www.payitforwardfoundation.org) with the mission “to educate and inspire students to realize that they can change the world, and provide them with opportunities to do so.”

One action within this sphere is to attack the fact that one in six Latina girls attempts suicide. Girl Scouts can help, Dennis said.

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