Driven to help children and their families succeed, Patricia O’Leary has been working to fulfill this calling for decades. For 10 years, she owned a Huntington Learning Center, an accredited school that offers remedial and enrichment services to students. Now, as the chief operating officer of the Children’s Cancer Center, the mother of two ensures that families dealing with life-threatening illnesses receive the emotional, financial and educational support they need.
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
Working together in a loving, supportive, yet structured manner. With a demanding career that has inconsistent hours that require me to be at evening events or early morning meetings, my family has little margin for error. We follow very structured home routines for getting to school, doing chores or extracurricular activities. We all have to be independent in our own capabilities and take accountability when we fall short. We try to not make promises we cannot keep, yet forgive when things don’t turn out as we would like. A difficult lesson for a 7 and 10 year old. We have grown to find interest in each other’ s careers, schooling and activities or have created those we can do together. I have found that I have been able to successfully involve my children with some of my work responsibilities and this has given them an appreciation for what I do and why I am away from home. Of course the mission I am involved with has changed our lives for the better. The most important key to our success is leaning on others and knowing when to ask for help. Grandparents and nannies are valuable treasures.
What is your biggest fear?
That I may not live the life God has for me. I would not mind dying a heroic death, but my preference is to die quietly, prepared, even eager to meet my creator. My terror is to die too soon, for no good reason. I don’t want to trip over my own high heels and break my neck falling down the stairs.
What is your proudest moment?
Completing the Gasparilla Marathon. The training took a tremendous amount of effort, sacrifice and commitment. I learned how to persevere and find enjoyment in the ability to overcome life’s obstacles. I was able to share the triumphant moment with my husband, children and parents.
What is your biggest achievement?
Of course the birth of my two children ranks very high on my list. Purchasing my own business also was an amazing moment in my life. In my COO position, I could not begin to measure the gratification achieved when my team and I raise funds to support children and families in need or successfully implement a program that offers the necessary emotional support for the families we serve. I really believe the one moment of great achievement that will encompass all that is important to me has yet to come.
What makes you happy?
I am happiest when I feel there is balance in my life. My children’s happiness is of the utmost importance, however, I can only find joy if I am happy as well. I am happiest when my family, career and social life all are working together harmoniously.
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
I have always loved running. I run at least four times a week. I find the aesthetic beauty on Bayshore [Boulevard] therapeutic. It is something I can do by myself and under my own power. I can go in any direction, fast or slow. It is self-satisfying. I also make a commitment to plan weekend getaways with my girlfriends, free of children, husbands and careers.
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area or in this community?
Finding the balance between being a mom and having a career is a real challenge. Being the mother of two children and, as my husband would tell you, trying to do it all everyday is a constant juggle and quest for more time. It is important to remember the miracles we pull off nearly every day. We manage work, family, personal relationships and time for ourselves. I would suggest spending a few minutes with your loved ones without thinking about what’s for dinner or the fact there is a pile of laundry to be done. I recently learned and accepted that there’s no way to be a perfect mother, wife or friend, but there are a million ways to be a good one.
What else would you like to share with our readers? About being a mom, about your work?
Being a mother is one of life’s greatest joys and it was not until I started my career with the Chldren’s Cancer Center that I realized how precious spending time every day with our families is. I would hope I could bring some awareness to the need for mothers and children to get involved with supporting the families in our community that need it most. As mothers and caretakers, being empathetic to children battling cancer or life-threatening blood disorders would appear to come naturally. Teaching our children to be philanthropic with time or money is one of the greatest lessons we could offer to them.
How do you enjoy or draw information from the magazine?
With such a hectic schedule, I love that the magazine is a resource for what my family can do in the Tampa Bay area. The articles are ones I can relate to and I like the traditional feel of reading a magazine before bed or relaxing and not relying on electronic technology.
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in the Tampa Bay area?
My children and I love to take advantage of the beaches and many lakes. We especially like going to Busch Gardens or to see plays at the Straz Center. My daughter and son often pull me in different directions. My son Jack would spend every day at the Skate Park of Tampa, while my daughter Regan would live in the International mall.
Who is your biggest inspiration or role model?
My 90-year-old grandmother has shown me how women can achieve anything. Tenacity comes to mind when thinking of her. Spiritually, Mother Theresa has always inspired my faith and desire to volunteer time and strive for a sense of selflessness. Professionally, there are many women I model myself after and, of course, a Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is my idea of poise and grace. I am truly blessed by the strength given to me by so many women in my life.