I had the opportunity to interview a mover and shaker, whose passion for reaching out into the community made me want to quit my job and work with her. Susan Bass Levin is the head of the Cooper Hospital Foundation in New Jersey.
A lawyer by training and an entrepreneur and community advocate in her hear,t she listened to an internal drum beat that said “see a problem-fix a problem”. And while she got strength training in law, she had a yearning to be involved in the government to make deep and lasting changes.
How does a woman find her rhythm for being a change agent? For Susan she was lucky enough to grow up in a family where her parents told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted. That was not the style almost five decades ago, when most girls still had a limited range from which to pick.
She grew up, as she said, on the cusp of change. When she entered George Washington Law School the population of females hovered at 20%. By the time she graduated, the male-female ration was just about even at 50%.
Her first job in a law firm there were 8 female lawyers and women were considered a novelty. That was odd for this young woman who had always been treated as an equal with her two brothers. The balance and fairness at home gave her the capacity to just ignore the little innuendos and small talk that the guys hoped would get a rise from her. She stayed calm and cool.
Her love of business developed when her dad, an engineer decided to get his MBA. Susan was in high school and loved to talk with him about his courses. They helped each other with the learning process. It was an MBA by indirection, and it worked. Her skill base grew strong and when she decided to run for mayor of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a town of 70,000 with 350 employees and a budget of 430million, she had hit her stride.
“The little girl who could” became a force in the community and was elected mayor over and over, for fourteen years. She was respected, capable, and helped the community blossom.
Now, with her two daughters grown and on their own and loving to see the next generation, two grandchildren find their way; she is on to a project that brings out the passion of possibilities. Cooper Hospital is a force to be reckoned with, just like the leader of the Foundation.
The community projects are helping redesign a once down trodden area of Camden, New Jersey. Cooper has transformed the neighborhood. There is a health sciences campus with parks and beautiful landscaping. A new medical school is being built as I write this and the first class will start in 2012.
Susan, now free from a surprise bout of ovarian cancer that showed up after a routine checkup, has her totally involved with pulling together a product line to take cancer services to the next level. Her personal experience is a driving force to help others with the best care available. This dynamo is a perfect example of a women who learned early there are no barriers and by example, is showing that to all the young women she meets.