By Megan S. Willman
With more than 100 women at The Fillies’ meetings, I asked Fillies President Kathy Bingham if she found it difficult to step in as its leader. “When I agree to do something, I give it all I have. I love to talk to people and am willing to explore all sides of an issue. Sometimes, though, I do have to put on my warden voice,” says Kathy with a laugh.
Kathy Bingham worked her first shift as a Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) volunteer in 1988 and hasn’t stopped since. Named the KDF Volunteer of the Year in 2002, Kathy has served on the Board of Directors for the Festival and is currently president of The Fillies, Inc., the organization whose responsibilities include the official Derby Festival Program, the Princess Program, the Fillies Derby Ball, the Children’s Tea, and the Royal Court Float at the Pegasus Parade. Volunteering is a way of life for Kathy. Even before retirement, Kathy would save her vacation days and use them to help during the Derby Festival.
As is the case when one shows dedication to a cause, Kathy was asked to do more. The Fillies wanted her to take a leadership position, but Kathy didn’t feel she could manage more responsibility until her August 2002 retirement as deputy warden from Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky.
With more than 100 women at The Fillies’ meetings, I asked Kathy if she found it difficult to step in as its leader. “When I agree to do something, I give it all I have. I love to talk to people and am willing to explore all sides of an issue. Sometimes though, I do have to put on my warden voice,” Kathy says with a laugh.
With responsibility for so many Derby events, I asked Kathy to highlight some of her strategies for success:
- Keep meetings short and on target.
“You start to lose people after an hour; if you get to 90 minutes, they’re no longer with you.”
- Surround yourself with good people.
“Any leader is only as good as the people around her. Committees are critical to our success.”
- Be realistic about your availability.
“Consider how much time you can really give. We host some big events, and ask volunteers to take on roles that work within their priorities.”
- Celebrate diversity. “We don’t all do things the same way. Variety brings success.”
- Remember…we are volunteers.
“We’re not perfect, and not one of us gets paid. In fact, those on the KDF Board pay for the privilege. My husband likes to tell his family in Alabama, ‘My wife is a big volunteer, and she even pays to do it!’ I’m very passionate about this work, but I do have to remind myself that we are volunteers.”
- Be decisive.
“A leader can’t be wishy-washy. Sometimes we get caught up in debate and need a decision. I can do that.”
- Recognize your role.
“Next year I will be the immediate past president on the board. I want to be a good resource for the new president but also remember I’m not in charge.”
- Preserve your free time.
“Get your work done but take time to play. I never miss family birthday parties.”
- Get sleep.
“When I worked at the jail, I was never off-duty, and we had some very long days. Sleep is important to me, and I don’t deprive myself of it.”
- Believe in second chances.
“I used to tell my corrections staff, ‘If you hate people, you can’t work here.’ I am a people-person who cares for others. I try to live out my values.”