Meet Mary Selecky, December's Featured Board Member

We are excited to continue our monthly series highlighting our Board of Directors!  This month we are delighted to feature former Washington State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.  Take a look at her interview below!

And in case you missed it, you can check out our first three Board Member interviews with Sue Lani Madsen, Matt Layton, and Todd Koyama on our blog.

Featured Board Member: Mary Selecky


Who are you and what do you do?

After growing up in Pennsylvania in a large family in a small town, attending the University of Pennsylvania and serving as Assistant Dean of Students at Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Pennsylvania, I ventured west for friends in 1974 never expecting to fall in love with the mountains and making my home here. After 41 years, I still live on the property I bought in 1974 and have wonderful views of mountains everywhere.  Colville is a small town of 5,000 and jobs for folks with college degrees were not in high demand.  I was lucky to get employment in local government first in economic development for four years and then in public health.  I enjoyed working for local government and the elected officials but I fell in love with public health.  I was a local public health administrator for 20 years and was named Secretary of Health by Governor Gary Locke in 1999 taking my passion for rural health and public health to the state and national level.  I retired after serving under three Governors – Locke, Gregoire, and Inslee – in 2013 and returned to my rural home.

 Tell us a little about yourself and your background.  

See some of that above.  I grew up in a family of 7 kids – four boys and three girls – with ages ranging twenty years.  Our family was very involved in community and church.  We grew up with a philosophy of “if not you, then who?” when we asked about something that needed to be done in the community.  My dad was a lawyer and eventually a judge and died very young at age 49.  At that time my older siblings were in college and I was the oldest at home.  My mom had 7 of us including a two year old so we all pitched in to keep the family rhythm including serving the community. 

What is your favorite book?  

Currently, “The Road to Character” by David Brooks; for public health, “House on Fire” by William H. Foege, MD; for historical fiction “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford.

How long have you been a member of the EHF Board?  

I joined the board in 2014 after retiring from state service.

What attracted you to the Empire Health Foundation Board of Directors?

I have to say that [current EHF board member] Sam Selinger and [former EHF board member] Garman Lutz were quite persuasive in talking about the work of the Foundation as it reached its 5th year of maturity.  I was aware of the foundation and its mission and service area.  I am particularly interested in making sure that it isn’t “Spokane centric” and knows about the issues in the surrounding rural counties.  After two years on the board I know that is not the case.  For example, this summer we reached out to our rural partners during the fires and were able to provide air cleaners for health settings.

What most excites you about our work and mission?

We don’t jump from project to project.  The goal of changing health of our communities that can be sustained takes longer than an episodic intervention – both are important but it is the long term sustainability that we want to invest in.  We also take a collaborative and comprehensive view of the issues that face our communities.  We also realize that what works in the more urban/metro community may not work in our small rural communities; tactics would have to be customized but the mission and goal need to be common to all.

Has anything surprised you about Empire Health Foundation?  If so, what?

The Board of Directors is very engaged in the direction of the Foundation.  We are willing to take stock and change course if necessary.  That kind of engagement is not common to all boards but is also characteristic to this region. 

Finally, when you have an out-of-town guest visit, what is your “must do” in your community.

Have a great dinner with friends at my house, a drive about with stories about the history of the area, and if time permits, Grand Coulee Dam….and getting there by driving along the Columbia River and then the waters of Lake Roosevelt.  Perhaps taking the free ferry from Keller to Wilbur – the only free ferry in Washington State.  And of course include stories about the history of this area.