Photo: Mark Wemple
"I choose to be happy. I choose to be upbeat," says Rita Lowman.
Icon: Rita Lowman
Rita Lowman, banker, former chair of the Florida Bankers Association and chair of the American Bankers Association's executive board of directors, St. Petersburg; age 70
When I was 2, my parents divorced, and, (when I was) 5, they both remarried. So, for the first years of their marriages to my stepparents, I was living six months with one parent and six months with the other. When I was 9, I had the opportunity to go before a judge and he asked me what I wanted to happen. Since my parents only lived about five blocks apart, I said I wanted to live with my mom during the week and my dad on the weekends. The judge thought that was a great idea. For a judge to listen to me, a 9-year-old, that made a big impression on me. After that, I knew I would have the opportunity to have my voice heard.
I would have loved to be an actress on Broadway. I took dance lessons and things along those lines, but that wasn’t a reality. At 18, I knew I had to work and put myself through school.
There’s a difference between managing and leading. A manager is not necessarily a leader. But, to me, a leader has to have a management skill set. I feel like I am a true leader in that I don’t lead from the front or the back, but I lead side by side.
My husband and I have a farm outside of Columbus, Georgia. We raise cattle and timber. It’s called HooperWill Farm, named after our two sons. Our oldest son is William Gary and our youngest son is Clinton Hooper. We named the farm HooperWill after Clinton passed away (at the age of 38).
There were times when I would be in a boardroom and I would really have to make sure that my voice was being heard. Sometimes, I would have to step up and say something over again. It’s no secret. When you’re in a room of all men and you’re the only truly diverse person in that room, that can be a challenge.
My philosophy is that if you’re not truly getting out of bed wanting to go into that opportunity, then it’s not the right opportunity for you. You’re not going to be happy all of the time, but if you’re not happy 80% of the time in what you’re doing, then you should find another opportunity that is going to make you happy.
If you have 85% of the answers or the information that you need to make a decision, you need to go ahead and pull the trigger and move on. Five more meetings will not get you to 100%.
Our youngest son, Clinton, had addiction issues, but he was doing extremely well, living in South Florida and helping others with their addictions, working as an intake counselor. He talked to his dad the night it happened. We talked every night. His heart just gave out from the years of stress the addiction had put on his heart. They did an autopsy. The medication that was in his system was prescribed by his doctor. He did not have anything abnormal in his system, and we were very thankful for that. His heart had just gone through too much.
Each quarter since about 2000, I’ll bring about 10 or 12 women together. Some of them know each other. Some of them don’t. And we’ll just have lunch. Usually, I will ask them to bring their favorite book, so we can swap books. You put all the books out and see if you find something you haven’t read before. My favorite book is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.
I think work-life balance is a myth. What you need to do, though, is work very hard to make time for your life. The events I wanted to be at for my kids I actually had on my calendar, so I would not miss those.
If I were younger, I would want to be over the prison system in Florida. The reason for that is I feel like we could help our inmates with so much more education to get them ready to get out of prison and get a job. I don’t think we give that enough thought.
You have to grieve in your own way. I was selling a bank at the time of Clinton’s death, so my grief was getting right back into work, and getting that bank sold, and doing what I needed to do. My husband Gary’s way was to rebuild the lake at the farm for Clinton. That’s how he managed his grief. The farm was one of Clinton’s favorite places. It’s really beautiful now. We know he would love to see it.
We’re going to continue to see consolidations in banking. I think that’s good, but we need to consider that 60% of small business loans are made by community banks. We need to keep the community bank perspective going.
After Clinton’s death, a 42-year-old woman called us and said she just wanted us to know the impact that Clinton had on her. She said when she went into the intake center where he worked and they sent Clinton out, she said: ‘Who is this good looking, big guy, and what is he going to do to help me?’ She said he put his arms around her and said ‘we’re in this together.’ She said when she started to have a slip up about a year later, she called Clinton and Clinton helped her. Did Clinton have a tough life? Did it impact our family? Absolutely. But did he make a difference in peoples’ lives? Absolutely.
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