Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rob Curley: These women are the inspiration we all need right now

It wasn’t an R or a D moment. It had nothing to with a political party.

It was about a promise to a daughter, one who as a little girl would hold my hand and look up to me and tell stories and ask questions and generally melt my heart with her smile.

“You can be anything you want,” I told Jazzy, as we walked around a college campus together one evening after work. She was probably 6 or 7. She doesn’t like to be called that now. Jazz is her preference now, which is about as perfect a name as you can have when you share a hometown with Charlie Parker.

Those words said to her so long ago felt a lot more real on a night a few summers back as we watched Hillary Clinton become the first female major party nominee for president of the United States. Our excitement wasn’t about the Democrats’ candidate. The party mattered the least. It wasn’t even about the person.

It was about something so much bigger.

What mattered was that others believed a woman could and should run the most powerful country in the world. It now was about so much more than a father’s promise to a little girl. It felt like the world actually changed that night for the better.

The next morning as we looked at how the nation’s newspapers covered this historical news, which is what you do when your dad is a newspaper editor, it was clear there was more work to do than we thought the night before. Across the country, newspapers illustrated this incredible news by showing a photo of former President Bill Clinton making the announcement at the Democratic Convention.

Not the woman who had been nominated.

I hadn’t raised Jazzy to believe she could be president only if her husband was elected first. My heart sank.

That moment resonated again as The Spokesman- Review newsroom began its strategic planning for 2019 almost 12 months ago. With 2019 and 2020 marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in our nation, we wanted to make sure this newspaper was a powerful voice in helping our community understand that more work needs to be done.

We would spend September celebrating the most inspirational women in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Lots of organizations do this and do it well. We were going to do it differently. We were going to focus on amazing women who are often overlooked.

I’m a huge fan of Spokane astronaut Anne McClain, the youngest ever on NASA’s roster. I wouldn’t think of missing “American Ninja Warrior” when Sandy Zimmerman is out on that crazy obstacle course kicking everyone’s backside, becoming the first mother to compete in the nationally televised contest. Justifiably, Gonzaga basketball coach Lisa Fortier is quickly gaining the recognition she deserves for being one of the best coaches in the nation, regardless of which locker room her players walk into.

Of course these women should be on any list of the most important women in our region. Because they are.

Which is why we wanted our list to be different.

We would let our readers nominate all of the recipients and we’d focus on those who rarely, if ever, have the spotlight on them … yet it’s impossible to think of our community being what it is without these women.

The stories about unsung heroes and the underdogs would no longer go unwritten.

For the past 10 days, our front page told these stories. Today’s paper not only republishes those front-pages stories, it also tells the stories of five legendary Washington women whose lives have been spent in splendid dedication to making our community better each day.

Our mission became even clearer as we read all of the nominations our readers sent us. We decided to run them all. The light needed to shine on every woman nominated. Their stories were all so good. That’s what you’ll also find in today’s very special section about The Spokesman- Review’s “Inland Northwest Women of the Year.”

After you’ve read all of the front-page news and sports stories in today’s paper, make sure to set aside an hour or two to take in all of their inspirational stories of achievement, ingenuity and spirit in that section. You’ll be as moved as we were as we put it together over the past several weeks.

We also need to let you in on a little secret: celebrating women has been our goal for a lot more than just the past few weeks. Yes, that’s part of the reason why you saw us amp our coverage of the Gonzaga women’s basketball team last year, but it was about a whole lot more than Title IX.

We’ve worked hard to turn our newspaper into something unique in our industry. We try to zero in on things that unite us as a community and celebrate the heroes and moments that have the power to show us that we have more in common than we have differences.

A huge part of our mission is an unconventional community-engagement strategy. We started Northwest Passages – a book club and community discussion series that often brings upwards of 700 people together. Yes, we talk about books, but it’s much more about getting together to talk about important ideas and issues.

It’s really about talking about our community and bringing us together for something greater.

Our events make our journalism experiential, showing the important role local journalists play in democracy at all levels … and how our community can help support this important work. Northwest Passages gets our readers involved at such levels that we now literally have “community-funded” newsroom positions funded directly by these events and by the people who attend them.

Over the past 18 months, Northwest Passages has hosted some of the most successful and important authors, athletes and entrepreneurs in the nation. We’ve had powerful discussions that encouraged thoughtful and positive engagement about difficult topics – a sharp contrast to the divisive dialogue that seems to be our nation’s new norm.

And if you’ve been paying attention to who we’ve brought to Spokane over the past year, you’d notice the vast majority of our speakers have been women.

We brought in Tara Westover, the New York Times best-selling author of “Educated” – which eventually became one of the top-selling and most talked-about books of 2018. Anita Lo, the first woman to win “Iron Chef America,” visited Northwest Passages to talk about what it meant when she beat Mario Batali for the title. Lo also is the first female executive chef to prepare an official state dinner at the White House. Nicole Chung, whose book about the struggles of adopted children was named national book of the year by many organizations, was here in the spring. We hosted the Washington premiere of “A Fine Line” – an independently produced film by Joanna James about why women represent only 3% of the executive chefs in the world.

Over the several months, they were joined by Nancy Pearl, Pam Houston, Mareya Ibrahim, Ana Warner, Sharma Shields and Laurel Randolph. That’s not the full roster of our speakers, but you get the idea.

We’re going to do it again and even bigger a little later this year.

On Nov. 14, we’re going to throw a huge party at the Bing to celebrate the 15 women featured in today’s “Women of the Year” section. You’re all invited.

Helping us with this celebration will be two of the most inspirational women I’ve ever met: Karen Wickre and Tess Vigeland.

Wickre has been one of the highest-ranking women at both Google and Twitter. Now she’s a best-selling author. Vigeland’s voice is instantly familiar to anyone who listens to NPR. She was the longtime anchor for public radio’s “Marketplace.” Then she walked away from it all and wrote a book about making that “Leap.” (She still fills in for “All Things Considered” from time to time.)

Just like the women we’re celebrating, Vigeland and Wickre represent something even bigger and more important: Successful women who have solved problems, made difficult decisions and overcome obstacles that half of our population can never truly understand … myself included.

These women never hit the glass ceiling. They created their own way around it, finding success on their own terms.

That’s what the words to my daughter meant. Be whatever your heart tells you matters the most. And know that you can.

Which is why this father of a daughter will keep reminding others that gender doesn’t matter. And if you don’t believe me, then just go read today’s special section and you will.