If you haven’t met the tornado that is Sue Smith, you’re missing out.
Sue’s a Colorado native, born and raised. She was the middle child in a household that had 2 boys and a girl older, and 2 boys and a girl younger.
In a household with that many kids, it could have been chaos, but it was a well-oiled machine. “From the very beginning, my parents instilled in us the belief that as a team we could accomplish much, but that we had to work together. Through the years that has stayed with me. As a result, I learned to work well with others, how to delegate, and the importance of a strong work ethic. Those traits are an important part of who I am, and what I’ve tried to pass on to the kids I’ve mentored too.”
As a Puebloan, I was always mindful of that fact that I lived in a town known as the “Home of Heroes.” Because that blue-collar, steel mill town produced more Medal of Honor recipients than any other city in the country, President Dwight D. Eisenhower when presenting Raymond G. “Jerry” Murphy with his Medal in 1953 commented, “What is it…something in the water out there in Pueblo? All you guys turn out to be heroes!” Hearing that at an early age, and having living legends like Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix come to your school to speak about the importance of character and service-before-self, inspired me to not only be the hero in my own story, but to find a way to give back. Even as a kid, I knew that each of us has something to offer!
My earliest memory of volunteerism was my mother’s annual ritual of taking my brothers, sisters and I to the Geriatric Ward at the Colorado State Hospital every Christmas to distribute small gifts and spread a little holiday cheer. It wasn’t much, but my mom’s intent was to help the forgotten feel loved, and to teach her children the importance of kindness. I’m not going to lie, a couple of those outings were frightening – like when an elderly women thought I was her daughter, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. We were both crying by the time it was over. My wise-cracking younger brother says that’s why he won’t go caroling at Christmas anymore! What mattered though was that those people knew that someone cared. And as the middle children in a large family, I learned that no matter how modest your circumstances, you could still make a difference. Over the years, we kids participated in Jerry Lewis Telethons and a variety of service projects, had paper routes, and even got the neighborhood kids together to create a little variety show that became my first official fundraiser! The important lesson from all of that was that hard work, combined with a spirit of giving, provides opportunity and affords us the freedom to do what you want to do in life. Understanding and embracing that was key to becoming the person I am today.
Often people ask where I find the time and energy to volunteer, but there is such a terrific “return” on my simple investment that I can’t imagine NOT doing it. I’ll let you in on a little secret though – I’m really quite selfish! I like the feeling I get from helping others, and I want more of that in my life. That’s the beautiful thing about volunteerism. You end up just as happy as those you’re trying to help when it’s all said and done. “Career volunteers” understand that.
Because I was primed for service from the beginning, it helped that I was very outgoing. Especially in high school. I was involved in a number of clubs and was socially active, whereas my little sister was painfully shy. Being a confident, pragmatic teenage, I tried to help her be more like me, which was actually quite painful for both of us! Finally, I realized that we don’t have to be the same to add value. We each have something to give, and for it to be beautiful it has to be authentic. I’m not sure my little sister ever knew what an important lesson she taught me…just by being herself. I’m so thankful for that, and for the blessing that she was in my life.
Fast forward and I’m working my way through school and venturing out into the world, but continually interacting with people and causes. I quickly realized that combining passion with purpose provided true meaning in my life. And while I found that working with like-minded people often removed stumbling blocks that delay progress, that wasn’t always conducive to personal growth. If you want a real challenge, and perhaps even a chance to test what you truly believe, serve on a board or committee where differing opinions prevail. If you can find a way to work through the personal differences, and sometimes even deeply held biases, and still accomplish the goals of the organization you promised to support, you just might be ready for a pair of big kid pants!
Other than paper routes and babysitting, my first job was as a secretary for a real estate company. I was only a senior in high school, but after graduating my boss promoted me to office manager. He also invited me to move to Arizona ahead of the forecasted real estate boom in that state. I don’t believe in regrets, always vowing to live purposefully, but I do occasionally wonder how my life might have changed if I’d chosen that path. However, I decided to stay near my family and began a journey that included opportunities in travel and tourism, business and industry, higher education, politics and ultimately within the philanthropic community.
From running a rental car business to implementing an international quality control system at a manufacturing company, to managing the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Grant at a state college; to working for Congressman McInnis in Washington, D.C., serving as Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director for former Lt. Governor Jane Norton, or as the current Grant Manager for the Christian P. Anschutz Foundation, there was always one primary goal – bloom where you are planted! Corny, right…but I am a child of the 70s!
Still, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some truly remarkable people, most of the time serving them best from the shadows. If I’m doing my job right, which includes promoting the candidate, the cause, the mission or message, I am generally invisible. My fingerprints will be there, but I never forget that it’s not about me. While opposite from the middle child stereotype of yearning for attention, I avoid the spotlight. That gives me the freedom to create programs or bring ideas to life without worrying about who gets credit. I love to sit back and watch something you’ve poured your heart into just take off, and then for others to carry it forward and eventually make it their own – that is so rewarding! You can’t do that living under a microscope.
For that reason, I’m happy being behind the curtain. Working with members of congress, state leaders, and titans of industry, I love being at the center of progress, but am content to help others shine. Especially our Medal of Honor recipients, who certainly don’t need my help to shine but graciously allow me to be part of their efforts to impact our youth. One of the most humbling moments and greatest honors of my life was when 82 Medal of Honor recipients gave me a standing ovation at the Paramount Theater at the close of the 2008 Denver Medal of Honor Convention, where I served as Convention Planner. As usual, Denver set the bar for years to come, but the friendships and youth outreach that continue as a result of that experience is something I truly treasure. I’m excited to serve on the Executive Convention Committee for the 2017 Convention in Pueblo too! If interested, be sure to visit: http://pueblomoh2017.org/
So, what’s next? Well, there’s only two things left on my original Bucket List, so I suppose I could write a new one. My perspective has changed a lot since writing the first one at 15 years old…but a Windstar Cruise is at the top of the list now! Until then, I’ll work with the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association to heighten awareness and support prevention of human trafficking, and to address the opiate and heroin epidemic sweeping our nation. Also help combat teen suicide and depression by supporting the Happy Campaign at 1 Liquid House, continue offering Fraud Prevention Training for non-profits, and work to promote the core values of Honor, Integrity and Patriotism at the Center for American Values. Beyond that - family, friends and fun…oh, and maybe a nap!”
When asked if she is going to slow down, the response was: “Are you kidding”?”
Hands down, it’s To the Wind Bistro on Colfax!
What is one of your favorite social events?
Denver Police Foundation’s annual Honoring Our Heroes Luncheon
What are your volunteer activities?
I'm a founding board member of the Center for American Values and the Denver Police Law Enforcement Museum, and actively involved in the Denver FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association and a volunteer for the Medal of Honor Society.
Who is the most interesting celebrity you ever met?
Wow – I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some really cool people, but I’d have to say Gary Sinise because he uses his fame for good. He's a great man and has really helped a lot of veterans.
If your life were a movie, who would play your part?
Anne Hathaway. She has moxie, she's smart and a little goofy (like me!)
Saturday night at midnight is most likely to find you?
Out and about. (as her Facebook page can attest to)
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner about you?
Sue who? I'm not there that often, but I when I am I do like to entertain.
What word describes you best?
What word would you like others to use to describe you?
What word or expression do you use too much?
Maybe LOL when texting?
What is your greatest indulgence?
I love reading. I usually have 3 or 4 books going at a time. I enjoy CS Lewis and Mitch Albom, Nora Ephron and biogrpahy or political books.
What talent you would you most like to have?
To compose and play the piano well. I’m self-taught, but would love to play like Vladimir Horowitz or even Liberace!
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
It may not be considered a virtue, but there is too much emphasis on being liked. I’ve never bought into that!
What are your favorite movies?
Fiddler on the Roof, Blazing Saddles (so not PC!) and Dr. Zhivago
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Someone I admired said, "In a world where you can be anything.... be kind!"
*I'm active in these organizations:
The Center for American Values
1 Liquid House – You Matter/Happy Campaign
Denver Police Law Enforcement Museum
FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association – Opioid/Heroin Addiction Epidemic
I have been fortunate enough to know Sue, and she may just be a tornado. A smiling, laughing tornado that touches down not-so-randomly and leaves a miles wide path of construction wherever she goes!
Hands down, Sue Smith is the best project manager around!