Susan Pauly has raised $70 million towards a $75 million capital goal for Salem Academy and College since becoming president of the 240-year-old institution in 2006. Aside from leading the oldest educational institution for women in the nation, she is also active with the Winston-Salem Chamber, the Winston- Salem Alliance and United Way.
But none of that comes close to the magnificence of raising a daughter.
“Being the parent of a daughter was transformative to me,” Pauly says. “I would say there is no role in life that is more powerful and more vulnerable and more subject to joy than being a mother. And that a sense of humor is essential.”
Two moments are seared into her memory as a mother, each part of her family’s generational legacy.
“I’d say the moment she was put in my arms after she was born is unforgettable; it’s a joy beyond description,” Pauly says. “And then the moment I saw her with her baby daughter is a joy that cannot be described except in spiritual terms. To love and be loved is what is most important. That is an iconic experience. There is nothing else in the room.”
Pauly’s daughter, Rebecca Williams – now in her late thirties – is raising two children of her own, a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, in Maryland.
“Certainly some of the highlights for me as a parent were when my daughter was most dependent and then most independent,” Pauly says. “To have such a beautiful child, it’s just thrilling to have that close bond. It’s also thrilling when you see them as an adult. To see them graceful and independent is equally thrilling, and discovering that you love them like that, too.”
Pauly is modest in hesitating to claim influence over any of her daughter’s positive parenting qualities, but it’s likely that she deserves the credit.
“From my perspective, I hope and believe that I’ve passed on to her a great love of family and a great job in living in the moment,” she says. “By that I mean not thinking about – we’re all so busy multitasking – it’s about quality of time when you’re with them. I see my daughter loving the process of getting her children ready for bed and reading them a story…. She’s not thinking, ‘I should be online.’ I hope she might have gotten some of that from me. And a sense of humor; it’s vital.”
Like her daughter today, Pauly took a couple years off to be a full-time mother and homemaker.
“I stayed home with my daughter for three years and absolutely loved that,” she says. Pauly is quick to say that women should feel emboldened to make their own choices when it comes to balancing family with a wage-earning work.
“I have to say that I find it’s wonderful to see mothers working outside of the home,” she says. “And it’s wonderful to see mothers who are full-time homemakers. Both are marvelous choices. One is not better than the other.”