Meet Giovanna Gray Lockhart. She is a force and an incredible friend. After working on Capitol Hill for many years as an advisor to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Giovanna made a permanent move to Maine three years ago to enjoy a lifestyle change and new career. Now at the helm of the Frances Perkins Center in Damariscotta, her charisma and knowledge are building new legacies in honor of one of our nation's foremost female political pioneers.
Gionvanna is a doer. Beyond her impressive career, she is exceptionally caring. In my recent ordeal with my daughter's surgery on the other side of the country, she found a way to overcome logistical challenges and make the comforts of home appear in a remote location. I'm very fortunate to call her my friend and to celebrate her leadership in our community.
My name is Giovanna Gray Lockhart. I'm the Executive Director of the Frances Perkins Center in Damariscotta.
I’m known for my work at the intersection of culture, public policy, movements, and leadership. My commitment to social and economic justice issues, especially gender equity, flows through my professional experiences and my personal endeavors. I am a passionate believer in the power of women. I am a connector and a builder.
The first word that comes to mind to describe Maine / Portland is ideal.
Without a doubt, the Mainer who most inspires me is Frances Perkins. While she was not born in Maine, Perkins considered Maine her home as both sides of her family were from a long line of self-made Mainers. After a three-year restoration project, Perkins’ ancestral home in Newcastle is now a National Historic Landmark. It is one of less than 1% of the 93,000 National Register of Historic Places sites across the country that represent the stories of women and Americans of color.
Frances Perkins was the nation’s first female cabinet secretary and served as Secretary of Labor under FDR. Roosevelt’s New Deal was often referred to as “Perkins’s New Deal" because it was her policy ideas (Social Security, fair labor laws, the 40 hour/5 day work week, abolition of child labor, minimum wage to name a few) that shaped the economic recovery. In fact, when FDR was elected president and asked Perkins to come work for him as Secretary of Labor, she was torn about the demanding role. She said she would take the job if he made a promise he would prioritize and fight for these policy ideas of hers. President Roosevelt kept his promise and Perkins saved a nation in crisis. I have always been a huge admirer of Frances Perkins and consider her one of the most important women in our country’s history. I had no idea of her connection to Maine until I discovered the opportunity to serve in my new role as the Executive Director of the Francis Perkins Center.
What is Portland and Maine’s biggest challenge?
I worry most about economic opportunities for young people in Maine. I read an incredible book, Downeast by Gigi Georges, that details the lives of teenage girls in Washington County. Among other challenges, they are faced with a lack of job opportunities upon high school graduation. I am hopeful that the state, in partnership with the federal government and private industry, will find ways to ensure economic security for the next generation of Mainers.
What is our greatest asset?
In the challenge, we often find the solution. I recently became involved with the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute (OSWLI), which provides mentorship for high school girls in all 16 counties. The young women and girls of this state are Maine’s greatest asset. There is an incredible resilience and optimism in the way they approach their personal and community challenges. However, some challenges are insurmountable without the commitment of a caring adult and that’s exactly what the OSWLI provides. What I have learned through this work is that girls from Maine are not to be underestimated and with the right guidance and support, they will be the ones to solve the challenges in our state, country and globe.
Five years from now, the change I'd like to see in our state is even greater acceptance and welcome. Traditionally, you can’t say you’re a Mainer unless you were born in Maine (and some think your parents and grandparents too!) I think that welcoming new Mainers with open arms and letting anyone who wants to be a Mainer call themselves a Mainer is an important step forward.
What is your favorite local restaurant / brewery / store?
Of course, I love all things women-owned! We are lucky to have so many amazing restaurants and shops in Portland that are owned by women. But I think the place I have grown to love and not be able to live without is Beauty Mark. Jenn Ross Boshes’s has built a business (and fan club!) with her facials, beauty services and products. Jenn and her team are knowledgeable, kind, and have quickly become the necessary part of my self-care routine.
What is your favorite outdoor spot?
I visited Monhegan Island for the first time last summer and was blown away. I love how the whole experience, from arriving by boat to walking all over the island, was so unique. I had never experienced anything that felt so otherworldly and truly like going back in time. I am also learning how to paint and was inspired by all of the artists capturing all that perfect Monhegan light. Being there, and all along the coast, calms and grounds me.
What makes women’s leadership unique and how Maine women can work together to create impact?
In general, women don’t realize that their personal stories and experiences actually are their leadership super powers. To make an impact in our communities, all we need are ourselves. We don’t need to wait for someone else to solve them or learn some special skill. Whether you’re a mom, a recent high school graduate or just embarking on your career, you are qualified to make an impact in your community (and that could be school, city, state, the country!) I learned this from one of my mentors, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: decisions are being made every day about your life by people other than you. If you don’t like what you see, it’s up to you to use your voice. And when women’s voices are heard, there are better outcomes for everyone.
How and why did you decide to make Maine home?
I first visited Maine when I was 18 years old on a vacation before beginning college. I was captivated by the afternoon light on the ocean and the clear, crisp air. The rocky coast and weathered landscape had me hooked and I vowed to come back some day. Twenty five years later here I am, living the dream! I’ve lived in New York City and Washington, DC and traveled all over the world. I’ve started companies, served in government and worked on presidential campaigns. However, there is something about living in Maine that feels authentic to the truest form of myself. The mix of working hard and taking leisure time seriously really fits with where I am in my own personal growth. And as a mother of young children, I was worried about them growing up too fast. I love that they will get a few more years of childhood in a slower paced culture–one that values the environment, individuality, and taking care of others. I also really, really love winter!