If I could really sing, I'd have loved to be a gospel singer. I grew up around people who had incredible voices, so that was something I always yearned to do. I was raised in Kentucky by my great-grandmother, who was a healer in the community. She could only read at the third-grade level, and her mother had been a slave, so she put all her expectations and hope in me. I knew early on I'd go to college and get into nursing.
Kentucky was a segregated state. The whites lived on one side of the tracks, the blacks the other. But I had the luxury of a really close community.
My schoolteacher was a person I saw in church and at the store, who'd taught my mother and my grandmother. She'd tell me I was smart like my mother. Comments like these showed me that I had something to offer the world and were building-blocks for my career.
But even as an adult, it never crossed my mind I'd work in Europe. I was working for the Clinton administration, and his term was coming to an end, which means clearing everyone out. I was campaigning for Gore but needed a back-up plan. I put in what I called my fantasy application to the Royal College of Nursing - I didn't put much stock in it, thinking that they wouldn't take someone from outside the UK. There was resistance when I started, but it was easy to deal with as I knew it had less to do with me than what I represented. Leadership boils down to how you deal with people. Being able to work with almost anyone is one of my strong suits, and after two years I got a much warmer reception.
My two children both got married while I was here. My daughter has one child, with another due in September, and my son will soon start a family.
I feel honoured and delighted with the road I've taken, but there's a role for me back home now.
Beverly Malone is stepping down as general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in January.