Esther Newman, who has been an integral part of all things Montgomery County for almost three decades, will retire from Leadership Montgomery this fall.
However, the book of Esther is not closing, but rather starting a new chapter.
Newman, of Rockville, is CEO of the organization she founded 26 years ago. During that time, the likes of Montgomery County School Superintendent Josh Starr, Sen. Richard Madaleno, Police Chief J. Thomas Manger and many Jewish Federation leaders, state delegates and county council members, a total of some 2,000 people, have graduated from one of Leadership Montgomery’s five programs.
The goal of the organization is to improve Montgomery County’s government, business and everything in between by educating, inspiring and connecting people who will go on to take leadership roles. Montgomery Leadership consists of five programs: core, senior, emerging leaders, youth and a one-day Inside Montgomery program.
Core is the biggest program and lasts nine months. Participants learn all about the issues facing this area from transportation, education, public safety, business, planning, economic development, community diversity to the arts.
“I looked around, and I saw the same people sitting on most of the boards. They all were white, and they were almost all males. It seemed to me there was a lot of untapped talent, including women and people of color,” she said, when asked why she set up Leadership Montgomery.
Newman’s program has done that and more, according to graduate Vivian Bass, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes CEO.
“I see her as a teacher with no pets,” Bass said, noting that Newman has the same passion whether a participant was a high executive or a 20-something just starting out. “When Esther speaks, she is the voice that just resonates.”
Newman said that while her goal was always to improve the county, she now realizes Leadership Montgomery became “a transformative experience” for many of its participants.
“I am most proud of the fact that we have touched the lives of 2,000 people,” she said. “My community service has been for the community at large.”
The community has shown its appreciation for that service. The Congregation B’nai Tzedek member has received the Jewish Community Council’s Community Leadership Award and was one of Jewish Women International’s 10 Women to Watch in 2011.
As for her future, Newman “is not going to retire. I am going to rewind.”
She expects to remain involved in community service, probably sitting on some boards of directors. She also intends to spend time with her husband, two children and six grandchildren and go boating in the Chesapeake Bay.
Traveling is also on her radar. Newman has been to all seven continents.
“I am sure I will find something new to do. Part of the fun is going to be the exploring. Certainly I am going to miss [Leadership Montgomery]. I have a great passion for what I do.” However, she said, “I know I am leaving the organization in good hands.”
Between now and her September end date, a search committee will be seeking her replacement.
“I could never, ever, ever have dreamed, I could never have imagined we could have come this far.”