Living Legacy: A Talk with Trudy and Mary Ellen Bourgeois
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Just before the NEW 2012 Executive Leaders Forum, July 31 to Aug. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, we spoke to past NEW Board member and Forum designer Trudy Bourgeois and her daughter Mary Ellen about "Creating -- and Living Your Legacy,” the event’s theme.
Trudy is CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence, a workforce performance strategist and author of Her Corner Office: A Guide to Help Women Find a Place and Voice in Corporate America and The Hybrid Leader: Blending the Best of the Male and Female Leadership Styles. A former senior sales and marketing executive the consumer goods industry, Trudy broke the glass ceiling to become one of her company's first African-American female vice presidents. Her daughter, Mary Ellen Bourgeois, is a first grade teacher and 2008 graduate of Louisiana State University.
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Q. Trudy, what does "leaving a legacy” to your daughter mean to you?
Trudy Bourgeois: I think about serving as a role model for my daughter as a key part of my life vision. Leaving a legacy to her has and continues to shape the choices and decisions I make every day. I want my legacy to empower her to create a happy and fulfilling life. I have learned so much from my daughter. She is helping to shape the legacy that I leave by the conversations and experiences we have together. I want her to be able to say that my mother was a loving mother and wife, full of life, a follower of Jesus Christ who used her gifts and talents to help others improve their lives.
Mary Ellen, what lessons have you learned from the way your mother approaches her life and career?
Mary Ellen Bourgeois: I have learned to live with intention and to give everything my best 100 percent of the time. I have always seen my mom so eagerly and passionately devote herself to what she cares for in life and in her career. I know from her that if I want something, I need to work hard for it and not stop until the dream is a reality.
Are you living a legacy today that was passed on to you by an important woman in your life?
Trudy: I am indeed empowered by the legacies of women who came before me. My grandmothers and my mother were and are strong women. My father’s mother left me the legacy of a walk with Jesus Christ. My mother’s mother left me a legacy that transformed my life at a young age; my grandmother Mary Elizabeth was the product of a slave and a slave master. She worked as a maid. As a young child I was one of the first to advance the desegregation movement in a Catholic school in Mobile, Ala. I was excited about the opportunity. Unfortunately the world wasn’t ready. I remember playing on the playground and being called a very nasty word and being spat on. My mother came to the school to get me and took me home where my grandmother Mary was waiting. I was quite upset needless to say. When I shared my anger with my grandmother she said, "Let go of the anger. There will be many times in your life that you will go places and be the only person who looks like you, but you must remember that it is not what you are called, it is what you answer to.” My own mother’s legacy and the impact she has had on me is connected to one phrase, "There is no such word as can’t.” Whenever I would say, "I can’t do that,” she would say, "Get that out of your mind; you can do whatever you set your mind to.” The other component all three of these women’s legacies have as a foundation is service to others. Despite not having a lot in terms of education, finances and world status, each of them had a passion for helping others. I am eternally grateful for these legacies and for the empowerment I have received because of the choices they made.
Mary Ellen: I feel I am living the legacy of confidence and positivity. My mom has always held her head high no matter what the situation may be. Because of this, I strive to face every day with an optimistic and strong face, ready to take on whatever successes or challenges life may bring.
What type of legacy do you hope to leave professionally?
Mary Ellen: I hope to leave a legacy of passion. I want future generations to know it is not only possible to use your gifts and passions in your career, it is absolutely essential.
Trudy: I want to leave a legacy professionally that is rooted in a belief that everyone has something to offer and it is a leader’s responsibility to bring that out. I also want to serve as a model of a women who wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and drive the change that is needed for every person, regardless of skin color, background or gender, to have a seat at the table and to be respected and valued.
What women -- other than each other -- have served as inspirations to you?
Mary Ellen: Rosa Parks is a huge inspiration to me. Despite what was going on in our country and what others would think or say, she stood up for what she believed in. She nonviolently represented a huge motion of change and our world is forever impacted because of her. She is a reminder that one person can make a difference.
Trudy: Harriet Tubman left a legacy that is extremely inspiring to me. She was fearless. She was strategic. She wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo. She led change that unleashed the greatest potential in others. And, she found a way to build allies with people who didn’t look like her or act like her to get it done. She was a pioneer.
Mary Ellen Bourgeois