VOLUNTEER: DISCOVER A NEW CAREER: (and Remarkable Marjorie Clark)

It was Dukakis’ presidential campaign that did it–launching Marjorie Clark’s long stint in politics. “We both graduated from Swarthmore,” Marjorie says; “I thought I should be supporting him.”

It was 1988 and she jumped in with both feet. “It was a time for older women,” she says. “There were so many opportunities out there and even more since then.

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So Many Opportunities

At an age when many women are looking forward to relaxation, an empty nest or traveling, Marjorie Clark decided to volunteer in local Democratic politics, starting with the district in Virginia where she lived.

Claiming, “not to know much,” she made friends with activist members to recruit delegates to the state party convention. In the process she got a first hand taste of democracy in action.

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“I learned so much about what a balanced slate means—an equal number of men and women plus a racial balance. I saw how much the organizers planned ahead, several years in fact, so that what happened in the end is what was hoped for.”

Age Has its Advantage

In fact, she says, “One benefit of being an “older woman” who is retired but still involved is that I am often available and have been called to show up for press events during the workday for many different candidates and issues. Usually this is just to background crowd, but sometimes there are ‘talking points’ for interviews.”

Volunteers Can Go to the Top

She also learned that people who volunteer go right to the top! Over the next 20 years Marjorie was a delegate from the state of Virginia to five Democratic presidential conventions—a living example of the power of volunteerism, regardless of age.

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“Because I was involved in these different ways,” Marjorie says, “I was elected to the PAC Board for the Virginia Education Association, too, which enabled me to be a VEA representative/lobbyist to an event at VP Biden’s home in Washington in 2012.

She also wrote an article for the VEA-Retired magazine about how retirees can be politically active.

“Once I had started volunteering,” she says, “–making phone calls, showing up for committee meetings and fund raisers, being a delegate to district and state conventions–I was elected to represent Chesterfield County on the Democratic State Central Committee from the 7th Congressional District. Then about 1992 I became Chair of that committee; that role lasted 13 years.”

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But You Have to Work

During the four years between presidential elections Marjorie worked at the state and local level for whatever election was occurring that year.

Because local, district and state committees meet regularly there is always intra–party politicking and leadership jockeying going on, too, Marjorie says. A lot of this is organizational, scheduling conventions and caucuses or primaries and elections plus regular reporting of funds and organization.

Standouts from Five Presidential Conventions

Marjorie remembers the pageantry and the individual ways each delegation made an effort to stand out so the cameras were focused on them. (Once the delegation got Katie Couric to sit with them in honor of her Virginia sister who was very ill.)

1992. Bill Clinton’s year, along with rumors that Doug Wilder, Virginia’s African American governor, might run. Buttons were imprinted with “Home of Wilder Democrats” and Marjorie went to the convention undecided. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition also made its appearance. Marjorie and two other white women decided to see what they could learn and crashed the party.

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2000. Los Angeles with lots of security amidst the excitement of Joseph Lieberman, the first Jew on a vice presidential ballot.

2004. Boston —the first time the world heard a senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

2008. When that particular African American senator received the Democration nomination a football stadium was filled with people who wanted to be part of the historic event.

What Stands Out After 20 Years

During her 20 years of political volunteerism Marjorie believes in “the universality of people working for the good of the country.” And even faced with the soap opera quality of the current presidential campaign she still believes that “we elect the person the country needs at the time.”

Women like Margery Clark could be the poster girl for volunteerism. A role model whose attitude of openness, hard work and going after what she wants has earned Marjorie respect, admiration and enough clout that during the last presidential campaign, she was chosen to introduce Vice President Biden at a major event.

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Now at age 77 she says she’s “cutting back.” We’ll see.

MAKING ROOM FOR LIFE (and Remarkable Catherine Bryne)

Since 1991, Catherine Bryne has transformed herself for an hour into one of the most famous literary women of the 20th century. When she says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Catherine is recreating the plight of artistic women in a world dominated by men as described in1928 by the writer and critic, Virginia Woolf.

Introduction to Virginia Woolf

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It is a calling that Catherine responded to at age 40 when she was a wife and mother who had returned to college in Florida to study theater and literature.

When a professor suggested the long essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” as her graduate project, Catherine was “incredibly moved by the beauty of the prose–so graceful, so elegant and perceptive.” Little did she know that her adaptation of Woolf’s powerful words would find a permanent place in her life.

Today’s Women Need to Listen, Too

Because she believes that today’s women also need to hear these words, Catherine continues to present her interpretation of Virginia Woolf’s famous essay to groups throughout the United States and as far-reaching as Scotland and Mexico. “The power of this piece,” she says, “is the power of Virginia Woolf’s words and how they’re being heard by the audience itself.”

With her large brown eyes, delicate bones and drape of blond hair, Catherine is often described as having a haunting resemblance to Virginia Woolf. She also likes to dress in a 1920s  duster and swooping hat to bring authenticity to her presentation.

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Touching Something Deep

When Virginia Woolf wrote, “there will be female Shakespeares in the future, provided women can find the first two keys of freedom: fixed incomes and rooms of their own,” she was speaking personally. Generations later, these words, expressed so movingly and powerfully by Catherine, continue to touch something in her audiences.

Crowds surround her afterwards, some moved to tears, others saying the words have given them courage to go after their dreams, to seek the freedom for creative expression which means life for so many of the women in her audience.

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A Question that Still Resonates

“I understood the cultural milieu Virginia came from, ” Catherine says. “The question she posed–why men have always had power, influence, wealth and fame, while women have had nothing but children—is an issue that still resonates today.”

Called a feminist manifesto, the performance probes a woman’s place in contemporary society today with as much need as when it was first presented as lectures at the only two women’s colleges in Great Britain. Her purpose, Woolf said, “…was to encourage young women; they seem to get fearfully depressed.”

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A Personal Connection

“I count myself one of them,” Catherine says. “My performance of ‘A room of One’s Own’ has much to do with my own struggle to break the bonds, both emotional and cultural, that have handicapped me artistically.” This personal connection helps Catherine bring an intimacy to what might be dismissed as a literary performance.

One of her most famous venues was the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in 1993.

On another occasion she stepped out onto the stage and was stunned to see that the audience was entirely men, and Hispanic men at that. She was almost unable to speak.

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Catherine describes the response afterwards as one of the most gratifying she’s ever experienced. “It was though that setting gave them permission to talk about the women in their lives, the struggles they realized these women faced and how they could be supportive.”

Continuing Her Calling

When she moves back to Mexico this fall, Catherine plans to resume the highly acclaimed performance she initiated in San Miguel de Allende fifteen years ago. A man in the audience at that event was so moved by the performance that he introduced himself to Catherine as a trustee of Salem College for Women and invited her to perform for the students there.

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At Catherine’s most recent performance in July on Cape Cod a woman approached her after the event who is involved with International schools in England. Her invitation for Catherine to perform for the students there reinforces Catherine’s awareness that the room she has made in her life for Virginia Woolf is big enough to include all of us.