A Tribute to an Amazing Leader, Patti Caldwell

patti caldwellPlanned Parenthood Arizona recently bid farewell to one of our most tireless leaders, Patti Caldwell, who served as the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona from 2000 – 2007. Patti left PPAZ this past Spring to become the Executive Director of New Beginnings for Women and Children. We honored Patti at this year’s Roe v. Wade Luncheon for her twenty-three years of service.

I took time to speak with Patti about her tenure at Planned Parenthood Arizona. And, I also asked others to speak about Patti’s contributions to the pro-choice movement. The responses were very inspiring.

When did you start working for Planned Parenthood, and what was your motivation for working here?
I started working for Planned Parenthood in August 1987. As a social worker, I was always interested in social justice issues and community involvement. After providing direct counseling and case management services for a number of years, I was ready to focus on a more “macro” level. I had always respected and appreciated the mission of Planned Parenthood. I had the opportunity serve on a community coalition about reducing teen pregnancy with the PP CEO, Ginger Yrun. She impressed me with her brilliance and thoughtfulness, and I thought, “I’d love to work with this woman.” I started as the Director of Education and Training, since attitudes and behaviors are so key to the choices people make. I had the opportunity to serve in many roles, as well as work with amazing people from all over the country. The work was always exciting and interesting, and I learned every day.

What are some of your most memorable experiences working for Planned Parenthood?
Oh, there are so many. Here are just a few:

  • Standing outside of the federal courthouse downtown as part of a 24-hour vigil prior to the initial hearing on a lawsuit to stop a parental consent for abortion law from going into effect (which we won, that time!). And, so many wonderful people driving by and calling out their support. And even more amazing, Marian Lupu seeing the coverage on the 10:00 p.m. news and getting in her car and driving downtown to give us refreshments! I was so touched by her actions!
  • Working nearly round the clock with three other amazing PP trainers to develop and implement a train the trainers three-day workshop, with each person giving selflessly of their ideas and talents, to create an incredible experience for the participants.
  • Meeting with long-time supporters who had known Margaret Sanger, or the incredible leader Ruth Green, and hearing their stories of the sacrifices they made to help women gain access to the health care services they needed. And, feeling the importance of that consistent connection we all have to social justice.

When I asked some of Patti’s former coworkers to describe her, PPAA’s Advocacy Coordinator Emily Herrell summed it up by saying, “Patti is an inspiring advocate for women and an amazing leader.” Everyone else I talked to agreed with Emily.

According to Kirsten Larsen, Coordinator of Board and Executive Affairs, “Patti is the person at Planned Parenthood who showed the rest of us how important it is to build an organizational culture that treats our patients and each other with respect. It’s a system-based approach that has built a culture at PPAZ where learning is the focus. It’s a special place to work because of that.”

Vicki Hadd-Wissler, Director of Education, describes Patti Caldwell as “a wonderful mentor. She gave me an in-depth introduction to the field of sexuality education, and I am so lucky that I learned with an expert like Patti. On a deeper, more personal level, my fourteen years of working with Patti taught me how to engage people in a meaningful, constructive dialogue and create a safe learning environment.”

Patti’s leadership style is unique. In Vicki’s opinion, “Patti wants the people she works with to move up and move forward. She has enough confidence in her own abilities that if someone she supports surpasses her, she views it as a success.”

Others echoed this opinion. “You don’t often meet someone whose personal and professional values are as aligned as Patti’s,” says Rachel Chánes, former VP of Medical and Program Services. “Patti’s a great leader because her honesty shines through in her leadership style. You want to be on Patti’s bandwagon because you know she doesn’t have a hidden agenda.”

Edna Meza Aguirre, Associate Development Director, told me that “Patti has grace under fire. We all owe you a big thank you for being so graceful under so much fire here in the state of Arizona.”

I asked Patti if she would continue to support Planned Parenthood, even though she’s no longer officially part of the agency. Patti declares that “I’ll always support Planned Parenthood, in so many ways. It’s the organizational love of my life. I am a donor. I’m on the PPAN listserv and I’ll take action as needed. And, I will continue to be an ambassador for the organization in the community, ensuring folks have an accurate understanding of the mission and work of Planned Parenthood.”

Thank you, Patti, for all that you’ve contributed to the pro-choice movement and to Planned Parenthood. You’ve left a leadership legacy that will never be forgotten.

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2 thoughts on “A Tribute to an Amazing Leader, Patti Caldwell

  1. What a great tribute to an amazing leader! I only worked closely with Patti for a brief time, but felt the impact of her work with PP in so many ways. I have PP to thank for so much of my professional and personal development – there are really no words to describe it. Thanks, Patti! And thanks Serena for a great read!

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