“It is not the leaders that will necessarily impact your life, but the people.”
As a young girl in a small village in South Dakota, I was blissfully oblivious to the worries of the outside world. My home, a small hamlet of mere 800 people, provided me with a true feeling of community and belonging.
We owned a small family hotel where my grandmother took care of everything. She was my role model and a driving force for us all. While her focused demeanor was inspiring, it was her unwavering will and genuine caring for others that were most uplifting. She instilled strong values in me from a young age. I took it upon myself to become a reflection of her excellence and strove to carry her legacy forward with her best qualities hopefully living on in me.
From a young age, politics interested me. This was evident from my work with the U.S. Senator as well as several internships in the public service domain. But I was looking for an opportunity to offer my services- one that could change lives and impact others.
One day Mrs. Esther Kee, the founder of the US-Asia Institute (USAI), called to offer me a position at her organization in Washington DC. Upon my arrival, I received a very odd reaction from Mrs. Kee and her colleague, Mr. Joji Konoshima.
Since my middle name was “Sue”, Mrs. Kee had assumed me to be part-Asian! And just like that, we shared one of our first laughs. Everything changed that day, and from then on, our laughter and positive energy were a constant at the USAI.
At some point, I noticed how Mrs. Kee was always accompanied to meetings by Mr. Konoshima, our male chairman. Even in 1979 the preconception that the man in the room should be in charge existed. Mrs. Kee ,though, was a force in her own right. Her gracious persona, insightful comments, & infectious laughter earned her the respect of all those she came into contact with, and tore down all possible barriers. It is a strong person who makes a difference, not just a strong ‘man’. Mrs. Kee’s leadership opened many doors for me to gain faster acceptance across the communities we serve.