Former first lady balances work, family, giving back

Life is the craziest it has ever been for Mona Locke, even more so than her eight years serving as Washington’s first lady.

Life is the craziest it has ever been for Mona Locke, even more so than her eight years serving as Washington’s first lady.

“I think it’s a bit daunting, when you think about what we do,” Locke told a room of 200, mostly women, during a Women in Business event at the Meydenbauer Center Thursday. “And yet for so many of us, it’s like our mantra every day.”

The high-powered half-day networking event sponsored by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce featured several breakout sessions in which women professionals spoke about challenges and trends in today’s marketplace. Locke was one of the keynote speakers and talked about the challenges many women face as they try to balance their daily lives with work, family and giving back to their communities.

For Locke, it’s getting things done for her family, including husband and former governor, Gary, and three children: Emily, 11, Dylan, 9, and Madeleine, 3.

“I’m juggling being a wife, mom, chauffeur, cook, tutor, friend and boss,” Locke said.

Her latest undertaking: executive director of Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Puget Sound affiliate. Running a non-profit business, she said, has come with its own set of challenges.

“My life, like many of yours, is made up of a series of chapters that shape our lives,” she said.

One story took place in a chapter when she and Gary went to China for their first time during his first year as governor in 1997.

Gary’s parents come from a small rural town with a population of 150, right outside a city of 1 million people, she said.

“The thing I remember the most was the fact that everyone in that village took care of each other,” she said.

From the visit, she realized that Gary’s parents and her own, who also are from China, had instilled in them those village values.

She rewound several years earlier to another chapter during her college graduate days at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she received her master’s degree.

While there, she worked at her first job as a Washington, D.C., correspondent for a station in Kansas. On her first day she did an on-camera stand-up that took her 10 times of stumbling over words to finally get it right. When she was done, the school photographer told her she might as well give it up.

“I was humiliated,” she recalled. “I was literally crushed.”

Soon after, she turned to a seasoned reporter who gave her advice. She would go to his news bureau after work and he would help her write and rewrite her news stories.

By taking an interest in her dreams, the reporter helped her believe in herself, she said. She later landed her first broadcast journalism position in Wisconsin, and then ended up in Seattle working at KING-TV.

“So I believe that I owe much of that success to my mentor, Jim,” Locke said. “He not only helped launch my career, but he taught me something more important – the value of reaching out and helping someone in need.”

Years later, she tries to do the same.

After public office and years of championing early learning and launching a multi-million dollar public awareness campaign to support early childhood development, Locke is in what she refers to as the “back to normal” chapter of her life.

She had gone back to journalism and taken a job at KIRO-TV when she realized something was missing.

“That’s when I decided to abandon my career and start the most recent chapter in my life. Crazy Mona is overwhelmed with balancing life, work and giving back.”

She has found her calling working for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. During the event, she used her platform to advocate for the foundation, noting that Washington state has the third highest incidence of breast cancer in the country.

Breast cancer will strike one out of every eight women, she added. In Washington this year, officials estimate that more than 4,000 women will get breast cancer and 770 women will die.

Locke said though the circumstances of her life are not the same as other women, she feels her story is not that different.

Each woman, she said, has the capacity to change lives of the next generation. Each business professional has the opportunity to help support and shape the workforce of the future, while taking care of today’s workforce.

Most important, she said, is to make the effort to practice the simple ethic of giving time and supporting others.

It can be “incredibly difficult, expensive and emotionally exhausting to do,” she said, however, “As business owners, as colleagues, as friends, as moms and as human beings, we are all together in this balancing act of life.”

Carrie Wood can be reached at or 425-453-4290.