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Updated: March 8, 2023

Mom's the word: Maine business dynamos share Women's Day wisdom from their mothers

Graphic of women sihhouettes Illustration / International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8.

Every March 8, International Women's Day celebrates women's rights and the fight for gender equality around the globe. There's a different theme every year, and in 2023 it's #EmbraceEquity.

To mark the occasion, Mainebiz asked a handful of Maine female business trailblazers to share advice and wisdom they gained from their mothers and unearthed some real gems.

Mascoma Bank's Amberlynn Esperanza, honored on the Mainebiz 40 under 40 list in 2022, greatly admires her mother. Esperanza's mother immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, speaking English with a strong accent that made it difficult for her to communicate.

Two women at Mainebiz reception
Provided photo
Amberlynn Esperanza, right, with her mother at the Mainebiz 40 Under 40 reception last year.

"She worked at McDonald's for 20 years and learned from the community she surrounded herself with," Esperanza said. "She overlapped five of those years working two full-time jobs as a machine operator at Fairchild Semiconductor on her days off from McDonald's as a store manager. She is now one of the highly valued engineering technicians at Texas Instruments at the headquarters in Dallas, Texas. She taught me that no matter what job you do, do it with passion and strive to be the best of it."

Mufalo Chitam, the Zambian-born executive director of the Maine Immigrant Rights' Coalition, says she's the woman and leader she is today because of three "phenomenal" role models and shared a photo collage of the now-deceased trio.

4 women's photos
Provided photos
Mufalo Chitam, left, and the three women she credits with greatly shaping her life: elder sister Carol (top right); her mother, Agnart (middle); and Grace, her mother-in-law.

Chitam’s elder sister, Carol, (top right) helped raise Chitam with her ailing mother, Agnart, (middle, in blue) after their dad died when she was 16. "Then at 27 years old, I gained a bonus mother, Grace (bottom right), when I got married to my husband, Frank."

All three have a special place in Chitam’s heart. 

"These women were the most selfless people I have ever met and taught me the importance of maintaining respectful relationships with family and community people," said Chitam, who was honored as a Mainebiz Woman to Watch in 2022. "I learned diplomacy from these three mothers, whom I deeply miss on this International Women's Day."

'Grow bigger ears and a smaller mouth'

Nancy Marshall, of Nancy Marshall Communications, lost her mother, Martha Briggs, known to many as Oma, in June 2022.

mom and daughter
Provided photo
Nancy Marshall, right, with her late mother, known to many as Oma

"She taught me that people love to talk about themselves, so the more you can get them to tell you about themselves, the more you can remember the next time you talk to them, and the more they will like and trust you," Marshall says. "She said you need to grow bigger ears and a smaller mouth."

Another stalwart of the Maine marketing world, Meredith Strang Burgess of Falmouth-based Burgess Marketing & Advertising, says she's very proud of her late mother, Charlene Perkins Strang. The 1941 University of Maine graduate was a social worker and child custody protective worker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for 35 years, working out of the Rockland office until she retired in 1995. Burgess said her mother was a social worker for 55 years.

"She carried a gun and used to shoot down at the Maine State Prison with the State Police," at a practice range for state and municipal police officers, Burgess recalled. "She was an excellent shot!" Her mother also started a travel business at age 60 called Camden Travel, and enjoyed many years of world travels with Burgess's dad.

two women
Provided photo
Meredith Strang Burgess, right, with her late mother in November 2012.

"My mom gave me lots of advice along the way," Burgess said. "Mostly she reinforced the idea to work hard but to also make a difference."

Burgess also remembers a few funny things her mom said, such as: "Women should always have their own bank account and always be sure to have your passport up to date, as you never know when you will be invited to Paris for lunch."

Just as practical and wise is a piece of advice from the mother of Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and a 2021 Mainebiz Woman to Watch.

mom and daughter
Provided photo
Quincy Hentzel, right, with her mother.

"She always told me (and still does!) to treat people how you want to be treated," Hentzel says. "It's simple, but if you follow it, you will always treat people with kindness and respect and make them feel valued."

Entrepreneurial inspiration

Heather Kenvin, of consultancy Cardigan Associates, says she learned a lot from her mom's work as a teacher that's helped her in all phases of her life as a stay-at-home mom, nonprofit leader and now as a business founder and career coach.

Kenvin lost her mother, Verna Rudd Kenvin, 12 years ago and recalled this "simple but profound" advice she still keeps with her: "When dealing with people — clients, kids, co-workers — who are facing challenges, keep asking them questions to help them."

While Kenvin has few photos of her mother, she shared one from from her graduation from Bowdoin College in 1983. Kenvin remembers the day as "a typically freezing cold Maine day in Maine."

Another entrepreneur, Torey Penrod-Cambra, co-founder and chief communications officer of Portland industrial software startup HighByte, notes that while her mom does not often give advice, her actions speak louder than words.

"Growing up, I watched her fearlessly change careers, start her own renovation and design business, and take professional risks," Penrod-Cambra recalls. "She was never afraid to learn something new and sometimes learn by failing. I think she balanced her risk-taking with smart budgeting and prudent spending. It never occurred to me what a big impression this made on me until I left corporate to co-found HighByte. This is why lived examples are so important for women entrepreneurs." 

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