The following essay is part of a series in which dozens of women will reveal what women they most admire. The series is part of “Women Rule,” a unique effort this fall by POLITICO, Google and The Tory Burch Foundation exploring how women are leading change in politics, policy and their communities. See more essays here.
I started my professional career as a bond trader at Goldman Sachs, and for a decade and a half, my world was finance. During this time, I was very fortunate to have been mentored and supported by some incredible women partners of the firm. And when I left Goldman Sachs in 2002, I actively sought the community and the friendship of other such women who were trailblazers in their own industries. All roads led to one truly incredible woman: Pat Mitchell.
Pat is the truest definition of a trailblazer, and through her long career in media, she has proved to be an unfailing champion for the power of media to enact social change, while being a steadfast advocate for the advancement of women and girls. She has masterfully blended the two, and in doing so, she has changed the world for all of us.
Her life is not compartmentalized but rather it is integrated and fluid, and she defines for me how purpose and passion can come together to create a higher purpose for one’s life; one that releases an abundance of energy that magically touches anyone in her orbit. At the core of what makes her so superhuman, a superhero if you will, is her generosity. Her immediate instinct is to do, to give and to connect. She shares so abundantly that it leaves anyone who has benefited from her generosity wanting to do and be the same.
Pat began her career as a college instructor after earning a master’s in English from the University of Georgia, but it was not long before a career in media beckoned. After three years of academia, Look magazine offered Pat her first job in publishing and Pat moved to New York City to take up a weekly position. When Look closed its operations shortly thereafter, Pat moved on to work as a freelance reporter for NBC News, reporting on U.S. politics and the hostilities in the Middle East.
It was during this time that Pat began what would become a lifetime of breaking down barriers as she found success in numerous positions that at the time were traditionally dominated by men. She eventually became a producer, and in 1983, Pat became the first woman to produce a nationally syndicated talk show, titled “Woman to Woman,” which Pat also hosted.
In 1992, Pat was persuaded by Ted Turner to come and run the documentary division at Turner Cable Networks, a position that became the president of Turner Original Programming, and ultimately saw Pat become the president of Time Inc. television and CNN Productions when the Turner Broadcasting Co. merged with Time Warner in 1996. During this time, Pat was responsible for producing more than 100 hours of original content every year, and this programming was rewarded with 44 Emmy Awards, five Peabody Awards and two Academy Award nominations over eight years.
In 2000, Pat joined PBS as its president and CEO, becoming the first woman and journalist to hold this position. By 2006, she was recruited to lead the Museum of Television & Radio as its president and CEO, a position she holds to this day.
Beyond her remarkable success in her career, Pat continues to give immeasurable time and energy to be an outspoken and articulate advocate for the rights of women and girls, and has continued to find new ways for media to be used to create positive change. In 2010, Pat was instrumental in the creation of TEDxWomen, an annual extension of the TED Conferences that has grown in four short years from a single event in Washington, to an annual worldwide initiative, with participants in countries all over the world and in nearly every time zone, all streamed live online.
As you can imagine, Pat has been honored for her work with numerous awards, all of which are accolades well deserved. These include the Woman of the Year in Cable and Telecommunications, the CINE Golden Eagle for Lifetime Achievement, the PROMAX Century Award for contributions to the television industry, and in 2012, the Women’s Media Center awarded Pat its first Annual Lifetime Achievement Award, which going forward is now known as the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award. And somewhere in there, Pat and her husband, Scott, managed to raise six children and nurture 10 grandchildren.
My purpose in life is to be a champion for the funding of women and girls, so that we can all know, in our lifetime, what women’s full participation and leadership really looks like. Long before it was my purpose, it was Pat’s, and in all that she has done, and continues to do, she is a constant source of inspiration and power to me, and countless others.
Jacquelyn Zehner is president of The Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation, and CEO of Women Moving Millions, a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing resources for women and girls.