Family First by Nancy Mugele


Photo c.1987 – Tom, Tracy, Jim and me


My brother and sister-in-law spent less than 24 hours at the Red Roof Inn two weekends ago. They live in the Boston area, and traveled south to watch their son, a junior assistant captain of the Villanova ice hockey team, in his final tournament of the season. Nova made it to championship game, and unfortunately, lost a heartbreaker in overtime. I don’t care what the reason was for the visit though. To have been the local bed and breakfast for their overnight trip to Aston, Pennsylvania, was an honor, even if we did spend most of the non-hockey time debating politics! When your extended family lives far away, any excuse for a visit – no matter how brief – is greatly appreciated.

My brother Tom is only 16 months younger than I am so we grew up side by side. I was a model student and a goody-two-shoes (as many girls and first children are – said with a smirk!) and he was, well, let’s just say, not exactly my twin. He once put my kitten, Jingles, in a tree, and when she climbed higher, we had to call the fire department to get her down. He followed that by putting her on the roof of the house, and the firemen told us that was the last time they were coming for Jingles. But I got my brother back when I found out that he had tried his first beer. I told my parents, and he was grounded for a year. I am not kidding – he was literally grounded for an entire year. He only recently forgave me.

When Tom got married I was lucky enough to finally get the sister I had always wanted. I grew up with three younger brothers. In our early 20s Tracy and I enjoyed vacationing together and spending time together. We raised our kids together, and although there was a geographic distance, we communicated regularly on the trials and tribulations of babies, toddlers, elementary students, middle schoolers, tweens, teens, and young adults. We always found ways to get together through the years – most often on Easter and the 4th of July. There were also many years when we watched the Major League Baseball All Star Game together in Baltimore over crabs but that is another story. Our thirty-plus-year-friendship and the relationships our children enjoy are so very special.

During the 2011 – 2012 academic year,  I had the privilege to work part time as the Interim Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) during a leadership transition. I was on its board and my Head at Roland Park Country School granted me a year of working part time so that I could also serve NCGS. It was an incredible year visiting public and independent girls’ schools across the country. But, the very best part of the year was that the NCGS offices were located just outside of Boston and I stayed with Tom and Tracy when I was there – which was nearly every other week that year!

I got to see my nephews play high school varsity ice hockey, ate a lot of sushi and Italian cookies from Modern Pastry with them, and deepened our relationship. There is nothing like living with your sibling’s family on a semi-regular basis. I am being serious. It was amazing. Tracy always had my favorite coffee creamer – Italian sweet cream – in the fridge, and Tom, a wine collector, always had the best wines uncorked when I arrived. My home away from home that year was heavenly.

Family is the foundation that grounds us all, and I am so fortunate to have a tight circle of five that is expanded on both my side and Jim’s side with love and support. I have also been lucky in my career that I have always worked for people who believed that family came first. Well, maybe not lucky, since it was a question I specifically asked in interviews. “Is this a family friendly environment?” You would be surprised by the answer to that question in many companies. I told the professional community at Kent School when I began that my motto is family first – so they could rest assured that I would understand and support their family priorities – always. I have found that as a leader there is nothing better you can model than family first – extended family most definitely included!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

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