Beyond the Boardroom

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Madeleine Keegan O'Connell

Author: Alexandra Russell
January, 2013 Issue

Last spring, Madeleine Keegan O’Connell made a major career transition. After 28 years in the banking industry, she was tapped to lead the “amazing, inspiring and dedicated team at the YWCA  Sonoma County” as executive director/CEO.
“My vision is to grow our agency and expand its reach in providing services throughout Sonoma County,” she says. “Last year alone, our 24-hour crisis hotline fielded more than 3,000 calls, which resulted in 5,000 referrals for services and provided safety planning and alternatives for those in need. I firmly believe that, through awareness, education and empowerment, we can end domestic violence in Sonoma County.”
What are the hardest and best things about your job?
The hardest part of my job is seeing the effects domestic violence has on Sonoma County families with children. The best thing about my job is seeing children thrive once their parents choose to make positive changes in their own lives.
Are you a Sonoma County native?
Four generations of my lineage have called Sonoma County home, but I was actually born in Mexico City. As a result of my dad’s career in higher education, we moved often before returning to Santa Rosa when I was in high school. My whole life, I’d been told about this blessed place, where my paternal great grandfather and his sons raised chickens in Petaluma, and my maternal great grandmother was a major landowner in the Valley of the Moon. My parents met while attending Santa Rosa High, and so deep are their loyalties, that when I was a cheerleader at Montgomery, they actually sat on the Panthers’ side of the field at the big football game.
If you could visit with any person from history, who would it be and why?
My father’s mother, Adelia May Payne,   was a widowed mother of three boys who worked as a stenographer and secretary for Luther Burbank. In 1917, her mother, May Marshman Payne,   became the first woman elected to the Santa Rosa Board of Education. She later began one of the earliest Montessori Schools in California from her home on Humboldt Street. Can you imagine the dinner conversation I could have with two   generations of women—from my own lineage—who’d made their careers here in Sonoma County?
What childhood accident stands out for you?
Being the youngest of 10 children, it was hard for me to keep up during “follow the leader.” One day, instead of making all the twists and turns of my siblings in front of me, I made a bee-line to catch up (literally!)…and ended up in a hornets nest! At age four, it’s hard to remember much of it, other than sitting in a bathtub while my mother   put piles of baking soda all over the stings   to numb the pain. But to this day, I defy any bee, hornet or wasp to interrupt my walks, picnics or “follow the leader” games.
If you could spend one hour doing absolutely anything, what would it be?
With two very active little boys and a very busy job, I’d use the hour to nap and hope no one remembered when the hour is up.
What’s your dream car?
I recently parted with my early ’90s Mazda Miata five speed—a real beach car. I used to cruise to Bodega on the weekends with the top down. Meeting up with the   motorcycle crowd at Starbuck’s, we’d drive together out Highway 12   sharing the same goal of getting to the waves in the early hours of a crisp Saturday morning. Kev and I once took it to the Miata Rally at Infineon and oohed and ahhed at all the suped-up models. One day we’ll be in a two-seater again.  
What do you love to do outside of work?
I’m an event planner at heart and I’ve been known to make a big production out of my sons’ (Johnny and Nicholas) birthday parties. Their “movie debut” first birthdays were complete with red carpet, life size Oscar statuette, personalized movie posters and a Lincoln town car for arriving celebrity paparazzi photo ops. Other celebrations have featured live farm animals and miniature tractors, and a real racecar and driver.
For my own birthday, I once planned a Santa Rosa history scavenger hunt and watched and waited as party guests drove all over town looking for clues. The party favor/prize for winning was a copy of Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” autographed by my mom, who played Teresa Wright’s stunt double in the scene where she almost gets hit by a car at the corner of Fourth Street and Mendocino Avenue.
What would your friends say they can’t believe you have time to do?
That would be organizing and hosting my annual “Westie Fest,” a picnic for lovers of West Highland White Terriers, which attracts 20 or so families with nearly 30 Westies in tow. My favorite part is the spontaneous Westie romp, which starts the minute a few of the dogs arrive. Dubbed “The Dog Party” by my son, Johnny, it’s easily our pup Duffy’s favorite day of the year.


What’s your favorite day of the week?
Fridays marks the end of another busy week and the start of what Johnny  calls “stay at home days with Mommy and Daddy.” I like the sound of that.




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