HOTSEAT- Worlds traveler: Friedman connects her causes

Sue Friedman

Sue Friedman is resplendent in turquoise at Shenandoah Joe's, where she seems to know many of the customers. There's Ned Michie from her School Board world– he's on the Charlottesville board while Friedman chairs Albemarle's. She stops to chat with a friend from her League of Women Voters world. And she's just come from a lunch in the Alzheimer's Association world, where she's president and CEO for western and central Virginia. 

Before taking that job earlier this year, she worked in economic development with the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development. And through her husband, Frank Friedman, president of PVCC, she also has connections in academia.

But now Friedman's worlds are in transition. She's not running for reelection to the School Board when her first term expires at the end of this year.

"I would have considered it if I hadn't changed jobs," she says, "but I need to devote all my attention to the Alzheimer's Association. It's such a huge project."

Indeed. Friedman rattles off alarming numbers about the horrific disease: While 1 in 8 people over age 65 have Alzheimer's, 1 in 2 over 85 years do. And as baby boomers age– and live longer– the 5 million victims today is likely to spike to 20 million.

"I have an opportunity to add value," says Friedman of the looming public health crisis.

In Friedman's world of working with nonprofits, it all comes down to education. While she was growing up in Indiana, her father held three jobs to support his five kids. She was the only one in her family who went to college, and the only one who left the Indianapolis area. "I knew if I didn't want to stay where I was, education gave me options," she says.

She put herself through Purdue in three-and-a-half years by taking 18 to 21 hours a semester, stopping for nine months in the middle of her junior year to work at a brokerage firm to earn money to finish.

While at Purdue, she met Frank, and his career took the family all over the country. She ran a Chamber of Commerce, worked for a nonprofit for emotionally disturbed adolescents, a school division, a technical college in Georgia (where she ran an economic development program), and well, frankly, we couldn't keep up as she rattled off other edu-associated positions.

Not on her resumé are stints at a toy store and a defense contractor. Each time the job lasted five months; each time it was a disaster, she laughs, admitting her shortcomings in the for-profit world: "I can sell concepts, but I can't sell products."

 She's talking hope and opportunity– and what Albemarle students need to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century. What will it be like 50 years down the road when China and India will have bigger GNPs? she asks. How will we maintain our standard of living?

That's what she sees as the big-picture job of the School Board, and after she's been on it for over three years, it runs like a well-oiled machine– mostly. "I'm really impressed with the work we're doing," she says. "It's cutting-edge work."

Colleges both in and out of state know Albemarle and the work the school system has done in making its students critical and analytical thinkers, she claims.

Of course her term has also seen its share of controversies: alleged bomb plots, Pagan notices in backpacks, and the perennial favorite– redistricting.

"No parent has ever said, 'Please, please move my child,'" says Friedman. "The reality is, it will happen."

There's one other controversy Friedman is prepared to weather. "I would love to be part of the School Board that, along with the supervisors, says raise taxes 10 cents t0 pay teachers $60,000."

But that's not going to happen between now and December, when her term ends. Though Friedman is leaving the School Board, she's not leaving education: she has signed on to mentor an eighth grader for the next five years.

 She thinks back to growing up in Indiana. "I knew there was more to life, and education was the key." 

Age: 54

Why here? University town and job opportunities

What's worst about living here? "We/they" rather than "us"

Favorite hangout? Ocean beach

Most overrated virtue? Patience

People would be surprised to know: Probably not much

What would you change about yourself? I'd be on time.

Proudest accomplishment? Being part of the solution

People find most annoying about you: Let's ask them.

Whom do you admire? Those who see the glass as half full... and likely to fill up

Favorite book? Anything that makes me think

Subject that causes you to rant? Ignorance

Biggest 21st-century thrill? I haven't experienced enough of the century to know!

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Same as above

What do you drive? Reliable, fuel efficient car

In your car CD player right now: Mystery

Next journey? Road to prevent Alzheimer's disease

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Old news

Regret: Idealistic optimists don't dwell on regrets.

Favorite comfort food: Chocolate chip cookies

Always in your refrigerator: Yogurt

Must-see TV: NCAA "Dance"

Favorite cartoon: Inspector Gadget

Describe a perfect day. Making a difference

Walter Mitty fantasy: Lead a foundation

Who'd play you in the movie? Jessica Lange

Most embarrassing moment? Eeek....

Best advice you ever got? Golden Rule

Favorite bumper sticker? Be The Best You Can Be