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EWTG Founders
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EWTG Founders

In 1984, six visionary women who recognized the need for women in higher levels of state government to have an educational and networking support group founded Executive Women in Texas Government.  The 2006 EWTG Board conferred lifetime membership on our founders, in honor of their vision and mission to support professional development and advancement of women in Texas government. They are:

Evelyn Ireland, CAE is Executive Director of the National Association of Dental Plans, located in Dallas. She oversees the largest non-profit trade association that encompasses all dental benefits products, serving 132 million Americans – or 81% of the total dental benefits market.  When co- founding EWTG, Evelyn was Director of Research and Information at the State Board of Insurance, then a small commission with three gubernatorial appointees who determined rates, rules and policy with an Insurance Commissioner to handle administrative functions. (In 1992, that small board became the Texas Department of Insurance.) Evelyn was one of the four women that Claudia Stravato called to establish EWTG because Evelyn knew that Texas needed more women appointed to state boards and commissions.

Karen Johnson is President and CEO of United Ways of Texas, located in Austin, where she oversees budgetary support for more than 70 agencies statewide and ensures non-partisan coordination of resources and services for people in Texas. Karen’s history includes leadership service in both the public and private sectors.  In the 1990’s she served as Executive Director of the State Bar of Texas for four years; then she was Vice President for State Governmental Affairs at Entergy Corp/Gulf States.  At the time she helped found EWTG, Karen was “in top management” at the Comptroller of Public Accounts. (She said she could not recall whether she was Associate Deputy Comptroller or the Chief Legal Counsel for the agency in 1984.) She does remember that “networking” was a new word in 1984, and she wanted women in similar positions in state government to have a way to help one another.  The educational aspect of EWTG is one of Karen’s most treasured accomplishments, as she believes that “the person with the knowledge is the person who gets where they need to go.”

Tamra Shae-Oatman’s last state service was at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, where she served as Manager of the Small Business and Local Government Assistance program.  When co-founding EWTG, she was Director of Personnel and Staff Development at the Texas State Treasury. (A constitutional amendment in 1996 abolished the office of State Treasurer and transferred its functions to the Office of Comptroller of Public Accounts.)  Also a founding member of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus, Tamra-Shae wanted EWTG to provide an immediate forum for women working in different agencies to get to know one another, eventually promoting more women in Texas  government and raising the collective consciousness of what women can contribute. Tamra-Shae now lives and works near our nation’s capital.

Mary Polk is Vice President of Strategic Planning on the Assistance League of Austin Board and lives in the Austin area.  For the past five years she has donated upwards of 500 hours per year to the Assistance League (AL), a philanthropic, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization that raises funds for services in the Austin community.  More than 300 volunteers help provide new school clothing, senior citizen outings and care packages for trauma survivors.  (Mary was amazed to learn that EWTG has grown to more than 500 members!) Additionally, every Monday morning for the last 10 years or so, Mary has served as a group moderator for LAMP, a UT-Austin organization providing a forum for group discussion of political, societal or other topics. At the time she helped establish EWTG, Mary was the Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Human Resources (DHR); she retired from that position in 1991.  Mary brought a unique perspective to EWTG: She was the only founding member who served as an elected official – three terms as State Representative from El Paso, in the 66th, 67th and 68th Legislatures.

Nelda Wells Spears currently serves as an elected official. She is the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar. Everyone in this area knows that when making vehicle registration and property tax payments, “checks should be made payable to Nelda Wells Spears.” Not everyone knows that Nelda is owed a debt of gratitude for her service to EWTG. At the time she helped to establish EWTG as an organization to nurture women’s growth in positions of state service, Nelda was Director of Personnel at the General Land Office. Nelda Wells Spears knew  the importance of networking before she began consecutive terms as tax assessor-collector in 1992, and she understood the value of employee development. The vision statement Nelda has adopted at her current agency, which includes nurturing employee growth and well-being while focused on fiscally responsible, superior service, shows that Nelda has carried these beliefs forward in her professional service career.

Claudia Stravato recently retired as the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. In this capacity, she served as a strong voice for women’s health and the services we need to maintain good health. Claudia’s service to the State of Texas for more than 30 years includes her roles as Director of Professional Education at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Chief of Staff to Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Deputy Comptroller for Comptroller Bob Bullock, in addition to other positions. Like Tamra-Shae Oatman, Claudia was active in the Texas Women’s Political Caucus and talked with several women, including then-Secretary of State Myra McDaniel, about the need for a new networking organization. Claudia helped organize EWTG’s first meeting. Claudia also wrote the original EWTG constitution and bylaws; and she prepared and distributed the first EWTG newsletter – before our organization had a formal structure. She was honored as EWTG’s Woman of the Year in 1994. Claudia is still an active EWTG member.

Governor Ann Richards, one of the most notable women in Texas history, described the significance of EWTG in her 1994 proclamation of “Executive Women in Texas Government Week”.  She wasn’t the only Texas governor to issue this proclamation honoring EWTG, but her words stand out because of her unique ability to get to the heart of a matter and her historic appointments of women to positions of power and influence in state government. Governor Richards said, “Women now make up a substantial portion of government executives and leaders. They are the heads of state commissions and agencies, legislative leaders and judges, and they serve at every level of every branch of Texas government. Executive Women  in Texas Government is an organization designed to develop, promote and support women in state government. The opportunities it provides for women to meet, exchange ideas and support one another’s careers are invaluable.”

The six women that founded EWTG ten years earlier, in 1984, understood the need for women to nurture one another and consciously tend to our mutual growth and development as professional women. The best way to honor their foundation is to actively support, mentor, encourage and acknowledge each other for both our potential and our achievements. Governor Richards pointed out that “a diversity of points of view in government is in the best interests of the people of this state.  (EWTG) helps guarantee that this diversity will be beneficial and that excellent leadership will always be the primary goal of state government.  The people of Texas should be encouraged to recognize the valuable contributions made by this organization.”

Governor Richards was right, of course. And it’s up to us, now, to honor our founders by tending the garden they created for us:  a patch of common ground from which to recognize the value in ourselves and in one another, and taking strength from that recognition to “bloom where we’re planted” and grow into our best selves.

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