Cherishing Every Opportunity

By: Abbey Adams

I’m like the grandmother that I always threw up on. I’m only gonna show you one I promise.” She reaches into her purse and picks out her iPhone. In a matter of seconds, we’re “Awww-ing” at her beautiful baby granddaughter. Kimberly’s blue eyes light up as she lovingly brags about her wonderful family. “My greatest pride in being a woman is my great family,” she says with an honest smirk. But the steps to this happy place were nothing close to easy. Townsend is a real-life mascot for the saying, “hard work pays off.”

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New Hampshire native, Kimberly Townsend found herself a single mother of three at 30 years old with only a high school diploma. Times were tough, but her motivation was tougher. Working two jobs for six and a half years while taking care of her children and trying to stay afloat, Townsend never lost sight of the finish line. A Bachelor’s Degree, MBA, and a Law Degree later, Kimberly proved herself. “I knew I had to make a plan of how I was going to take care of myself and my children, and that plan was to seek education to try to create a career path for myself,” says Townsend. When asked how in the world she made all of it happen, she says, “I really couldn’t have done it without a lot of support. My three daughters were very proud of me and supportive of me as I was sometimes studying and not available.” Her daughter Virgie recalls, “She used to study at a small folding table, and she’d sit there for hours at a time highlighting her textbooks and making flashcards. She was incredibly focused because she knew my sisters, and I depended on her.”

kimberly_3982-400Townsend has a very nurturing way about her. She seems like the type of mom who would offer to have sleep overs at her house complete with buttery popcorn, the best movies, and fuzzy blankets for all. It’s evident how important being a mother is to her. She says, “Mothering, being a mother is like the most important thing that I’ve done and personally the most meaningful.” Townsend re-married 14 years ago, and combined the two have six children. “A big family is a bit crazy, but fun.” She couldn’t help but gloat about her husband, referring to him as a “Saint.” Townsend says, “I just don’t know if I personally could’ve done as much as I have done without his support.” She proceeded to explain how helpful he is, running errands, picking up children, fixing cars, reminding her to study or write. He is the anchor for her fast-moving boat even on the windiest of days. Her husband John admires Kimberly’s tenacity and compassion saying, “She is very goal oriented, and while working extremely hard to achieve a goal, she never treats anyone with anything other than compassion, empathy and honesty.”

Not only does she excel in her personal life, but her trek to professionalism is one worth reading about. After acquiring a job at Welch Allyn, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic devices, monitoring systems, etc. Townsend was on her way to success. She describes her time at Allyn as “life changing.” In a relatively short period of time, she went from having a high school degree to being an attorney with one of the premiere companies in the area. Townsend also taught a class at Syracuse University titled, “Managing in a Global Environment.” Although teaching was never on the menu for her, she did enjoy the atmosphere saying one day she could see herself teaching again.

Now, Kimberly’s long days are spent at Loretto (founded in 1926), a healthcare organization which provides a variety of services for older adults throughout Central New York. They have 2,500 employees, 7,000 people in their system every year, and are the fourth largest health system in CNY Counties. Townsend served on the board for 12 years and was a chair of the board for two and a half years. She is now CEO of the organization and has been in that role for two and a half years. Loretto is more complex than you think. It is compiled of almost four different businesses; skilled nursing, short term rehab, pace managed care program, and housing portfolios. Townsend says, “I just want to continue the honor, legacy, and work that the people who came before me have done…not only providing high-quality jobs to people in this community but also to serve people in the community regardless of their ability.”

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What is a day in the life of a CEO? Kimberly takes a deep breath and says, “Extremely busy, probably 12-14-hour days; meeting with people, encouraging people within my organization, dreaming for the organization, taking the steps necessary to get us there, and inspire people to come along on that journey.” Townsend remains a motivator and face of the company, but she is also a team player and understands the importance of working together for the common good. She stays involved in her community through community service as well as serving on several boards. Being a good person is the exact model she wants her children to follow and continues to pursue greatness as much as she can. In terms of free time, Townsend says, “If I’m not working or writing (her dissertation), I’m either with my family or doing something I’m very passionate about.” Her husband John says, “Those lucky enough to come in contact with her, both personally and professionally, are able to tap into a wonderful source of wisdom and strength.”

She also remains a great role model for women everywhere saying, “I think it’s very important to be resilient. Particularly for women I think you have to not only work smarter but you have to work harder.”

Townsend’s daughter Virgie, told me about her mother’s impact on her life, saying, “Almost everything I know comes from my mom, from how to comfort a sick child to setting high, but achievable career goals. But the most important lesson she taught me is that short-term sacrifices are worth their long-term benefits. Doing the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work in front of you is what opens doors.” One word to describe her mother? She says, “perseverance.” After only speaking with Kimberly for close to an hour, I understand why her daughter describes her with that one word. The CEO of Loretto could write a book of the dos and don’ts of business, life, and motherhood. She has a wealth of experience most people don’t have and continues to remain a positive light in many peoples’ lives. “Every day I am incredibly impressed and inspired by the people that are around me,” she says, “The single women head of households who work for us who sometimes, in their lives, face incredible challenges but come in everyday seeking to deliver the highest quality of care to people who are in their most vulnerable times in life.” She looks at me with a serious honesty and says, “I find that incredibly inspiring and I’m also grateful because there are so many people who have been helpful to me and helpful to Loretto.”

Life notes from Kimberly:

“Don’t put pressure on yourself”
“Learn as much as you can”
“Learn and be open to new opportunities”
“Just do the next thing.”
“Expect to work hard and don’t expect it to be easy.”
“Value relationships and relationships with people at every level.”
“Maintain a sense of humor.”