If I had to start again ...

Beverly Malone, who is stepping down as general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in January, explains what might change if she could start over.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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.

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