AGA's Four Female Past National Presidents Reminisce about Turbulent Times and the Great Honor of Leading the Association

Article excerpt

It was an auspicious gathering. One day after AGA began its 50th Anniversary celebration, four Past National Presidents came together to discuss their AGA experiences-as members, as leaders and as the only four women to hold the Association's highest elected office. Their stories varied, but one theme emerged. Each was in the right place at the right time to affect real change and to help lay the foundation for today's AGA.

Eleanor M. Clark, CGFM, June Gibbs Brown, CGFM, Virginia B. Robinson, CGFM, and Virginia S. Brizendine, CGFM, held the top post during some difficult years and led the Association with skill and determination. To be in the presence of these four women is to know how close AGA came to being a very different organization. State and local members were threatening to secede, finances were in disorder, the education program was floundering and there was no clear direction of where the Association was headed or even who it was supposed to serve. Because each of these women had known significant challenges in their professional careers, they ended up being uniquely qualified to lead the Association through difficult times.

The First Woman

Ellie Clark was first, in 1981-1982, and no one was more surprised than she was. When she graduated from The George Washington University, she couldn't get an interview with a national public accounting firm because she was a woman. The private sector's loss was government's gain. All of the women agree that government was always ahead of the private sector in opening doors to women and minorities.

As Clark's government career progressed, she was encouraged by a colleague to join AGA to enhance her professional development. While she found that the organization welcomed all comers, it never occurred to her to seek out a national leadership positionuntil she was asked to consider a run for National President.

"I was overwhelmed at such a notion," Clark said, describing her reaction to being asked. Becoming President, it turned out, was not automatic, even with the endorsement of the Nominating Committee. For the first time that anyone could remember, an opposition candidate came forward at the last minute and managed to win one chapter away from Clark. But she won all the others and began two years as PresidentElect and President, traveling to more than 60 chapters. At no point during her term, did Clark feel that she was treated differently because she was a womanthe first woman to lead the Association.

"It didn't seem to ever again be an issue," said Clark, who retired from the federal government as the chief financial officer of the Federal Housing Administration and is now working as an international financial management consultant. "You just have to get over the hump."

While she is known for being the first female National President, she is especially proud of several significant accomplishments during her year.

Recognizing the serious deficiencies in AGA's education program, Clark led a major effort to redefine AGA's education goals, to restructure program substance and to enhance delivery mechanisms to achieve the "biggest bang for the buck." A Common Body of Knowledge for Government Financial Managers and Auditors (CBOK), issued during Clark's term, became the basis for shaping major modifications to the education program. Most noteworthy, was the restructuring of the annual Professional Development Conference to provide in-depth training in key technical financial management subject areas such as accounting, auditing, budgeting and technology, and to emphasize the importance of continuing professional education to the government financial management profession.

State and Local Champion

"Ellie did such an excellent job that it was never a question again that a woman could provide the leadership that the membership needed," said June Gibbs Brown, who was second.

Brown encountered some discrimination herself on her journey to the National Presidency, during the 19851986 program year. …