UWRA: In what roles have you served during your United Way years?
Marian: I began my 30-year United Way career in 1974 as the childcare coordinator for United Way of Eastern Fairfield County (UWEFC) in Bridgeport, CT. With UWEFC, I served as the Associate Executive Director, Executive Director, President, and Chief Executive Officer. The title of President and Chief Executive Officer was rare in those days! In 1992, I joined the United Way of Massachusetts Bay in Boston (UWMB) as the President and CEO. I also served as CEO of the United Ways of New England. I retired from United Way in July 2004.
UWRA: What were some of your early successes?
Marian: UWEFC was chosen as the best United Way program in America and featured in the annual Presidential Message delivered by President George H.W. Bush. We were honored for our "Regional Youth Substance Abuse Prevention'' initiative. I was blessed with a great staff, a very involved board, and a fantastic group of volunteers, which allowed us to earn this type of recognition.
Another successful venture was our Alexis de Tocqueville efforts. I had my broker buy 1-5 shares of stock of every public company in our area, and I would take the annual reports with me when meeting CEOs and “encourage” them to increase their giving, host dinners, or help by recruiting others. Also, whenever a local couple was featured in Architectural Digest or another national magazine, I personally made cold calls to confirm their willingness to host a United Way dinner—and, they all said yes!
UWRA: You have worked with several U.S. presidents. Can you elaborate on some of those experiences?Marian: Early in my tenure, Bill Aramony suggested I represent United Way with President George H.W. Bush's "Thousand Points of Light." I agreed to meet with philanthropic giant Raymond G. Chambers, the chairman of this newly formed foundation. We discussed our thoughts about childcare in America, youth development, and the importance of volunteers. The following week, I was invited to the White House to talk about being the founding President and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation.
I accepted a three-month position, which turned into almost a year. During this hectic time, UWEFC surpassed campaign goals and received six awards for community leadership and programming. We were invited by President George H.W. Bush to meet him in Westchester as he arrived on Air Force One. My husband, the board chair, the incoming board chair, and the campaign chair attended this meeting. This meeting led to a long-standing relationship with the Points of Light Foundation.
I have now worked with six United States presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. With board support, I took a leave of absence to serve as the President and CEO of the Presidents' Summit for America's future. Presidents Bush and Clinton were the co-chairs, and retired General Colin Powell was the honorary chair. First Lady Hillary Clinton also played a prominent role.
UWRA: Who were your mentors?
Marian: My mentors included George Wilkinson. He demonstrated how critical it was to focus on research and data analysis as a part of our reports and presentations. That served me well!
One of our innovative programs was the Ambassador's Circle. The first Chairman was Oz Nelson, the CEO of UPS. Our first speaker was Jack Welch, CEO of GE. That was a fateful meeting, because Jack became my mentor. From Jack I learned the concept of wild-card planning and "how to plan" for success. Jack continued to be my mentor when he moved GE's world headquarters to Boston. I could write another book about Jack's words.
During 2018, we lost my great friend and long-term supporter, President George H.W. Bush. During 2020, both Jack Welch and Ed Ansin, another mentor, passed away. I feel blessed to have had these and many, many others in my life.
UWRA:Tell us about your time in Boston.
Marian: In 1992, I was asked to take over at the United Way of Massachusetts Bay in Boston (UWMB). Bill Aramony has just resigned amid an internal investigation and unfavorable news reports about the misuse of funds. To help reset the trajectory of the situation, Ray Chambers, a tremendous supporter and friend of mine, asked me the amount of the largest gift in Boston’s history. I confirmed it had been $35,000. Ever generous, Ray sent a check for $50,000 and asked me to tell the Boston United Way Board that someone they didn't know believed in me and offered this gift as a vote of confidence. From there, we simply got down to business!
After the deluge of media stories with brutal headlines, we lost donors left and right. I invited one critical media reporter to visit two childcare sites and one senior program funded through UWMB. That trip turned the tide. The reporter and I met regularly, and the tone of the stories changed because he witnessed the powerful impact United Way was making in the community.
During my time in Boston, we also had great legislative success. Our leadership resulted in the passage of bills to support childcare for those in job training programs and license plates to support children. We also passed bills on healthcare for over 165,000 children. I fondly remember walking with 165 children through the state house halls and into the chamber to make our point. Each child carried a cut-out representing one thousand children.
In Boston, our first million-dollar donor was Martha Crowninshield. Her gift sparked our efforts and led to other major contributions. We completed an endowment campaign in record time, building reserves of over $30M to see us through tough times. The Boston United Way moved from #87 to the #1 position in America in the Tocqueville Society.
UWRA: What keeps you busy these days?
Marian: My husband and I have been married for 58 years. We enjoy traveling and spending time with our children and grandchildren.
I stay busy as the President and CEO of Oxen Hill Partners, a company focused on strategic initiatives and corporate and personal services. We represent prominent companies, including law firms and the hospitality industry. I have served on many corporate and nonprofit boards, stayed active at our church, and continue writing music for charity. Also, I have become an abstract artist, with a studio near the Boston Common.
I spent several years touring the country with Bishop T. D. Jakes of Dallas, speaking about leadership and goal achievement. I have written two books and have delivered many commencement addresses for colleges.
UWRA: Your list of honors and awards is deservedly long. What are some that stand out to you?
Marian: I have been honored with 116 awards and citations, including 21 honorary doctorate degrees. I am currently serving as chair of my eleventh corporate board and have been inducted into the National Association of Corporate Directors' Hall of Fame.
In both Connecticut and Massachusetts, I was the first woman and first African American to be named President and CEO. These appointments generated a lot of press and high expectations for me. I am happy to say, with my team, we exceeded each goal and expectation. I am most proud to have had candid conversations about "race and place" with United Way leadership. I often say, "it is an honor to be the first. However, I vow to work hard not to be the last."