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Community leaders discuss women’s history

by | Mar 23, 2022 | Latest

As the daughter of one of the first Black teachers in Plano ISD, Wylie Assistant City Manager Renae Ollie’s mother was a very influential figure in her life.

“That gave me my first glimpse of what it means to persevere and work hard for what you want,” Ollie said. “That is how she taught us. You can be and have whatever you want if you have a passion for it and work hard for it.”

And when the district desegregated in the mid-60s, Ollie’s mother was named an elite teacher.

Ollie said her mother’s philosophy has been ingrained in her and is a part of who she is as a professional.

One of Ollie’s heroes is Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who, in 1955, refused a bus driver’s order to vacate her seat for a white passenger.

“I just love her story,” Ollie said. “It really wasn’t a story of violence. She made her stand and was meek about it.”

Ollie said a quote from Parks, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right,” has stuck with her since she first read it.

Ollie said that quote and what her mother instilled in her are the basis for how she lives her life.

“If it’s right — what I am trying to do — I shouldn’t be afraid of it,” Ollie said. “It may be hard but don’t be fearful.”

Additionally, Ollie said three women have significantly impacted her professional career. Phyllis Jarrell and Christina Day, with whom Ollie worked at the city of Plano, and former Wylie City Manager Mindy Manson.

“All my leadership skills,” Ollie said, “I learned from them.”

Ollie graduated from Prairie View A&M with a degree in architecture. After three years working for an architecture firm, Ollie earned a master’s degree in city planning from MIT.

She was hired as a city planner in 2001 in Plano and took a similar position in Wylie in 2004. In 2019, Ollie was promoted to assistant city manager.

Ollie said it can be difficult being a female in a profession dominated by males.

“Sometimes you can walk into the room and you are the only female,” Ollie said. “There is not a male in the room who is trying to intimidate you but sometimes it’s just the way we feel when we walk in.”

Ollie said her experience lends her confidence, which helps in those situations.

She said she feels good knowing she is someone that a young person can look toward and say, “I want to be like her,” or “I want to learn from her.”

“I have done that before,” Ollie said. “I’ve met women that graduated from Wylie High and then gone off to college trying to figure out what they want to do in life. They reached out to me and we have done internships with some of them.”

Ollie said there was one woman interested in city planning and through her work with Ollie in an internship, the young woman realized city planning wasn’t right for her.

“It is not always about getting someone to agree and do what you do,” Ollie said, “But help them find what is best for them. She went into a different area of planning, more on recreation.”

The city manager said she is glad she could still be a positive influence on the young woman, even if the situation didn’t work out the way she had intended it to.

Like her own mother, Ollie has a close relationship with her son Donovan, who plays football at Washington State University.

“He’s my pride and joy,” Ollie said. “He started 13 games last season and I was at all 13 games.”

To show her support, she would leave work on Friday and catch a 7:30 p.m. flight to Washington, often arriving at midnight. She would watch the game on Saturday, spending time with Donovan afterward and catch a flight back to Texas at 6 a.m. Sunday morning.

“It was rough,” Ollie said. “But it was exciting.”

A strong maternal figure with an affinity for adages was a key influence in Wylie ISD Deputy Superintendent Kim Spicer’s life.

Growing up in Colorado, Spicer’s grandmother not only helped raise her but continues to influence her life years after her death.

“She was the first executive director of the Pike’s Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross,” Spicer said.

The superintendent said her grandmother was full of sayings such as, “The world is round, if you’d just be patient, what goes around comes around,” or, “There is no rational explanation for irrational behavior.”

 Spicer said she does not know if her grandmother made up any of those sayings, but considered them lessons learned over the years that Spicer dispenses to others on a regular basis.

“Even now, even though she has been gone since 2016 when I am struggling with some situation, I think, ‘what would grandma say here?'” Spicer said. “When you start feeling overwhelmed, she would say, ‘OK, you’re allowing yourself to be nibbled to death by ducks.'”

In college, Spicer kept in touch with her grandmother, calling her every Thursday evening. Even after Spicer graduated, began her own family and started her first teaching job, they would talk every Saturday morning.

“She was always full of wisdom,” Spicer said.

Another influential woman from abroad Spicer always admired was Princess Diana Spencer.

Spicer said what she remembered about Princess Diana is that even though she was thrust into the limelight at a young age, she always put her children first and behaved with grace, poise, and class.

“She was always kind,” Spicer said. “I try to remember that. You can accomplish great things and still be loving.”

As a mother working for a school district, Spicer said raising a family has not been a problem.

“One of the truly wonderful things about the profession [working in a school district],” Spicer said, “is that your kids go to school.”

Spicer’s youngest daughter currently attends Wylie High School and recently had an assignment detailing a historical figure. Spicer suggested her daughter cover Susan B. Anthony because of her efforts in the women’s suffrage movement.

“She said, ‘Who’s Susan B. Anthony and what is suffrage?'” Spicer said. “[She] did not understand that there was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote.”

To properly serve a community, Spicer said it is essential to understand the viewpoint of others — especially when they have differing opinions. To do this, she said individuals must gain empathy by viewing history through other lenses which is why heritage months, such as Women’s History Month, is important.

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