Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2022


by Kathleen Cruise

Mui told me she is focusing a newsletter on retirement and asked me to contribute. I so sincerely appreciate Mui and her unending contribution I agreed to her request.

Since I do not look at what I do as a job or even as a career, but rather a calling, perhaps it is no surprise that I think more about reinvention than retirement. Even though I am long past the age when most people retire, today I had a second interview for a promotion. Although I did not think that I would stay in Public Service for more than five years, I am past 16. People ask me all the time when I will retire. The truth is I do not know, other than it will be the day that it feels like it is less than more fun. I feel so lucky and enormously grateful that I always knew what I wanted to do, and I am still captivated by the built environment.

When in 7th grade they started asking us what we wanted to be, the records show that I wanted to be an architect before I knew how to spell it and that my intention was constant year after year. Earlier on our weekly trips to the public library the only books that interested me were the architectural books"”the more photographs and floor plans the better. Even earlier my father noticed that I always requested the same walk when it was my turn to choose the route for our daily constitutional and confirmed that it was because we saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope house. He showed me the architectural books in the library, I was a goner. Even though my mother told me, "Girls cannot be architects, be a nurse," I was undeterred.

Through astonishing good fortune, the best architect and finest person I ever met hired me at age 16. I was his first employee, and he was unbelievably successful. Although his alma mater, the University of Virginia, did not accept women I was able to get into Virginia Tech's first class that did. At that time the university had 6,000 male students, most were ROTC, and 200 women.

By the time that the OWA entered my life, I had made my peace with the fact that I was different. Even so, when I was first approached when I came to San Francisco in 1972 I said no, "I am not a club person and certainly not a women's club person." But I was about to take my licensing exam and was persuaded to join a study group that included Mui Ho and Lucia Bogatay. The professional and social networks proved invaluable. Discovering I was less different than I thought was life enhancing.

My employment journey amazes even me"”some of everything from private practice, including my own practice, PG&E, Stanford, Microsoft, non-profit, public service and more. It feels like I have done everything there is to do in the built environment from planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance, real estate portfolio management, energy services and so much more. I am committed to sustainable, regenerative development, am an architect and general contractor, have a long list of credentials, an MBA in addition to my 5-year Bachelor of Architecture, many awards, a lot of recognition, some publication and a mind-blowing amount of accomplishment. And I still love all of it. Today I was highly energized by Championing Climate Action in the Federal Workplace put on by the Office of the Federal Chief Sustainability Office and I saw a training video on chillers, among other things.

For now, I am happy to be ably doing what I am doing. A top head-hunter once told me you are fortunate. "You are in the only industry that I know of that you do not age out of. Experience counts." For certain, my wealth of experience is invaluable. I often feel like Yoda must. But here is the thing. I am old. That fact blows my mind, I frankly often wonder how and when it happened. But it did. As "other" as I have often felt as a (once) very small women in was overwhelmingly a (usually big) man - s industry, it pales as compared to old. In the last decade I only recall encountering one woman my age - but many men. Although there is a LOT of conversation about gender, race, ethnicity and religion, I hear no discussion about age. I do hear ageism, "That old guy talks about smoking cigarettes on the job site." It is interesting since, if we are fortunate, we all become old.

What I do everyday engages and energizes me, and I feel youthful. In addition to the work, I love the mentorship. It seems every day some bright young person asks for my advice. Everything from the gnarly work-related problems to career counselling or "how should I heat my water at home." It requires developing new skills and keeping the old ones honed. As always, I like the intergenerational interaction and the challenge of solving big problems that require big teams and seamless teamwork. Most of all, being a pathological optimist, I hope and pray that we are about to course correct, to address the environmental justice, social justice, ecological, financial, spiritual and other issues that are adversely affecting all our lives and threatening our health and happiness if not our lives. I am hoping for the Build Back Better Bill while there is still something to build back. Our infrastructure is so degraded, and it is degrading our planet. I want to be in the arena if only as a wise, generous elder as we course correct. The desperately needed funding will require all our best if we are to do right by the coming generations. We have urgent, important work to do.

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