By Pamela Baggett-Wallis
This year, we renamed our Mentor Award the Gene Barnwell Waugh Mentor Award. Jenny Magic and Jane Baxter Lynn received this prestigious award for their commitment to mentoring other professionals. You may not know Gene personally, so here’s a bit more about her.
Gene Barnwell Waugh’s communication career began as a child in Johnson City, Texas in the ‘30s. Her home was the hospital run by her father, the only physician in the area. Next door was the weekly Courier Record where she helped set type.
She moved to Austin to attend high school, graduating from Austin High in 1938. While there, she worked on the Austin Maroon. After a year at Temple Junior College, she transferred to The University of Texas where she worked on The Daily Texan. One of her greatest achievements in college was membership in Theta Sigma Phi—at the time a by-invitation journalism fraternity whose membership was based on academic achievement. To this day, Gene continues her WCA membership and it is a source of pride for her.
From Austin to San Antonio to Los Angeles back to Austin [with a side trip to Spain], Gene has worked as a journalist, ad agency writer and in public information as an executive director in state government.
What strikes me most about Gene’s career is how it mirrors most of ours, but led the way as a woman in her field decades ahead of the women’s movement. She values honesty, quality and thoroughness, and insisted on the same from those who worked for her.
On a personal note, I consider Gene more my mother than my mentor, especially in the years since my younger son’s disability. She is always there for me in the most special way. Gene has been my role model for almost 40 years. I went to work for her in 1970 in the Governor’s Office for Economic Development, Texas’ effort in President Lyndon Johnson’s great War on Poverty. She taught me how to balance career and family decades before that became a career field! I joined AWC at Gene’s urging.
In 1942 at the beginning of her professional career, Gene was one of the first two women to work at the San Antonio Evening News city desk. She completed her career in 1985 after 16 years at the Texas Department of Community Affairs, including a stint as executive director.
Gene walked bravely and confidently into leadership, whether the leadership was the title of the job or that she was a woman in that role. She moved from the city desk to head the photography department. Then to Los Angeles where she worked at the LA Times and in an advertising agency, returning to Johnson City to take care of her ill mother for two years.
For six years, Gene was Woman’s Club Editor for the San Antonio Express-News, the best that could be achieved by a woman in the post-WWII 1950s.
Perhaps her most valuable contribution is the quality of her work and her work ethic. Did she win any huge awards? No. Frankly, there were no awards to be won by women during most of her career.
Leading by example, she served in various offices for both the Austin and San Antonio AWC chapters, including publicity chairman for the 1962 National Professional Conference in San Antonio where Lady Bird Johnson was a keynote speaker and Liz Carpenter was one of the honored headliners. Mrs. Johnson was and Liz Carpenter is a good friend of Gene’s. They shared geography, education and world views.
Today she still leads by example. Despite failing vision and the disabilities of age, Gene was a leader in her neighborhood’s successful effort to be named historic and therefore protected from unchallenged development.
Gene contributed her writing and publicity skills to St. Martin’s Lutheran Church. She also was an active member of the Texas Public Employees Association where she served as state public relations chair in 1970-71, and was a board member of the TPEA Pioneer Chapter in 1976-77.
Gene was the first life member of the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies, and is a life member of the Blanco County Historical Commission.
This is in addition to caring for a disabled husband, running the ranch outside Johnson City and providing extraordinary assistance to individuals in need—just because she believed in helping people, not as a requirement of any organizational membership.
Here’s a list of some of her awards:
• Society of Industrial Editor’s National General Improvement Award for the “Texas Public Employee” in 1950.
• Woman of the Week by the San Antonio Express.
• Marquis’ Who’s Who of American Women, 1975-7 and 1977-78.
• Personalities of the South 1976.
• Recognition at the Austin Professional Chapter’s 75th anniversary.