The first such role model was my mother, Mary Kathryn Callaghan O’Leary. As a song my younger brother penned in honor of her 93rd birthday described her, “She was a lover and a fighter and one busy letter writer.”
That line captured her compassion toward others, her willingness to stand up for what she believed in, and her lifelong habit of sharing her thoughts through neatly typed letters to the editors of her local newspapers and to elected officials from town hall to the halls of Congress. When she got connected to the brave new World Wide Web in the ’90s, we joked, “Watch out Washington, Mary O’Leary’s got e-mail!” She passed away in 2009 at the age of 95.
It wasn’t until I announced that I intended to go to law school that Mom revealed she had once dreamed of doing so. When I asked why she had not pursued her dream – for clearly she had the intellect and civic passion to have excelled as a lawyer – she responded with only a hint of regret that, due to the Great Depression and the limited job opportunities that followed, she elected to go to business school instead and use a portion of her earnings as an executive assistant to help put her younger brother through law school.
Another strong, capable woman I had the good fortune of meeting was Daisy Erma Paulsen Tappan. I met Daisy in her early 70s, when she lived on and single-handedly worked a ranch property in the Pahsimeroi Valley of east-central Idaho.
Daisy was born in Prineville, Ore., in 1908, but her family moved to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River when she was a young girl. She and her brother Fred spent their childhood years living in what is now the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness near Indian Creek.
Daisy later returned to the Middle Fork area with her husband, Fred Tappan, to raise their two sons in a small log cabin on what has been known ever since as the Tappan Ranch, at the mouth of Grouse Creek. Together they raised cattle, horses and a few milk cows, and put up hay to feed their stock through the long winters.
As if raising hay in such rough country wasn’t daunting enough, Daisy and Fred had to pack the haying equipment into the backcountry by horses when they set up their home.
In addition to tending to the ranching chores, Daisy grew a big garden with strawberries, watermelons, blackberries, raspberries and muskmelons, as well as corn for her chickens. She canned all of their fruits and vegetables. When she wasn’t growing and preserving food for the family’s subsistence, Daisy looked after her sons and fought off the bears that frequently swam the river to feast on the bounty of her orchard.
After several years of investing their sweat equity to improve the hand-hewn homestead, the Tappans were forced to move from the Middle Fork when their grazing permit was discontinued. From there, they moved on to Yellow Pine, where Daisy transported her sons three miles to school each day by dogsled team in the winter, and then mushed six miles out to the nearby landing strip to pick up the day’s mail, before returning to Yellow Pine to deliver the mail and retrieve her sons from school for the sled ride home.
Joe Anderson, an early pioneer of boating on the Middle Fork, recalled at the time of Daisy’s passing that “Daisy loved the great outdoors. She loved her animals, especially a good horse. She could handle a pack string of horses or mules better than most. And she could break, train and ride a horse with the best of them. When it came to handling a gun, she was a crack shot. I believe Daisy could outwork, outshoot and outride most men, and she didn’t mind telling them.”
I don’t know about you, but when I read about pioneer women such as Daisy, or Polly Bemis, or the World War II feats of the Rosie the Riveter brigades, I can’t help but wonder why diversity in the workplace is even a topic of discussion. What distorted looking glass did our culture fall through that causes us to even entertain a debate about whether women – or other political minorities – are qualified to work shoulder-to-shoulder with their political majority peers, regardless of the task?
Lead a pack train over mountainous terrain? Check. Hay the upper and lower fields to provide feed for the stock through the winter? Check. Sow, grow, harvest and preserve the land’s bounty? Check. Ward off bears and face the fears of an uncertain, hardscrabble existence? Check. Educate the future generation and deliver the mail through rain, snow sleet and ice? Check.
Diversity? Bring it on. I think we can handle it.
Molly O’Leary represents business and telecommunications clients throughout Idaho, and is a managing member of Richardson & O’Leary, PLLC, in Boise (www.richardsonandoleary.com). Ms. O’Leary began her service on the Idaho State Bard Board of Commissioners in August 2010 and will serve through July 2013. Her term as President of the ISB began at the conclusion of the Bar’s annual meeting in July of this year. In addition to her service to the Bar, Ms. O’Leary serves on the ￼￼￼￼￼statewide advisory council for the Idaho Small Business Development Center and is actively involved in a variety of community and neighborhood-related issues. You can follow her on Twitter: @BizCounselor.