Deborah McColloch Interview: The Philadelphia Story: “Do-Gooder” Does GREAT!
Diana Landau | November 13, 2020
Carl had the opportunity to catch up with his long-time friend Deborah McColloch -- who he discovers "really was somebody!" So many of us understand the importance of community service and want to do it “some day.” Philadelphia’s Deborah McColloch devoted decades of her career to affordable housing development, at the OHCD (Office of Housing and Community Development.) She is still going strong in (un)retirement, devoting much of her time to serving on Boards that make her community a better place to live. Her career was dedicated, hard work combined with ribbon-cuttings, ground-breakings, a $100 million budget and a staff of 75 to manage, plus definitely some masterful political maneuvering.
Carl met Deborah back in the 1970’s when both were day camp counselors for the Shaker Recreation Department in Cleveland. They had, in Carl’s words, maybe too much fun? (Carl and Deborah have been long friends and recently reconnected again.) Deborah’s parents were teachers and inspired her commitment. “I have always had this passion for community,’ she says. Her three brothers eventually pursued careers in community service as well.
In 1978 Deborah started as summer intern and eventually worked her way up to OHCD Director , a position appointed by the Mayor. Deborah not only worked with many diverse groups (often with opposing agendas) but also negotiated between the Mayor and the City Council to get things done. It’s a difficult job, and possessing huge amounts of patience is key. “In this field you need to be flexible. You need to like people and like interacting with people. While the rewards may not be monetary, they are soulful.”
Every four years usually meant a different administration and the opportunity to evaluate whether she wanted to keep doing the same work. In 2015, she decided it was time to do something new. “I didn’t have a specific plan, but I had things I definitely wanted to pursue, in addition to my hobbies, like quilting. Before spending time ticking off items on her bucket list, she took a break. “Go on vacation as soon as you retire. It creates a clear space between work and starting the next thing.” After a 3-week trip to Hawaii, Deborah came back and tackled her bucket list, including attending Philadelphia Phillies' spring trainings, a trip the Grand Canyon, and even singing songs with her daughter on the actual Greek island featured in the movie, “Mama Mia.”
Deborah now serves on an impressive list of community Boards: The Neighborhood Gardens Trust, New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Community Ventures and St. Laurentius School. She is still working hard to create housing and neighborhood services for those in need, as well as urging thoughtful land preservation. Deborah’s three most powerful words to describe this new phase of her life: “Purposeful, creative and….contented!”
Wise(un)retirement advice from Deborah:
“It’s important to think about how you want to spend your time, energy and creativity in retirement. Think of ways to contribute without sitting in long boring meetings.”
“When volunteering, it is very easy to get swept up into doing other people’s grunt work. Be selective. Are they good people who are committed to the community?”
“It’s a huge life transition to retire (or do something new), like when you become a parent. Your career is your identity. How do you want to redefine your identity now, for yourself and to others?
“Remember that you have a lot to give AND have a lot of experience. You have value!”
To learn more about Deborah McColloch and one of the many non-profits she works with, go to New Kensington Community Development Corporation: visit their website.
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” weekly blog.