Profile: Emily Gilmore
Imagine your dream colleague: she inspires you, celebrates your work, helps you navigate office politics and your career goals, and most often the two of you can be found chatting away about life outside the walls of your cubicle. That’s the best way I can think to describe Emily Gilmore.
Emily serves as Board Chair of Still Kickin, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit supporting awesome people going through awful things. Its mission is to build a braver, more supportive world. In her day job, she works in a Capability Management role at PepsiCo, which draws on her sales skill set and decade at PepsiCo to facilitate trainings that prepare her colleagues to move up within the ranks and assume new roles within the company.
We connected (and devoured gooey monkey bread and lattes) at the very sunny, very yummy Lucky Oven Bakery in Southwest Minneapolis. Here is an account of our convo:
What’s on the horizon that you’re most excited about?
I’m having another baby. So we’re excited. We’re expecting another girl, which is awesome. I come from a family of all sisters and my sisters have had girls, so my dad is literally to this point of no return. He’ll say, “What did I do in a past life, in this current life or what am I bound to do that is cursing me?” He loves his son-in-laws but he’s like, “I just don’t understand why I can’t have a boy”. Whereas I, on the other hand, when I was pregnant with Neva my mom looked at me and said, “What would we do with a boy?!” And I was like, “I don’t know.” I wouldn’t know how to teach them to go to the bathroom, it’s a whole new thing because I grew up with sisters and a single mother and so I don’t understand it.
We only want two so I’m happy to have two of the same sex. I’m looking forward to the fact that Neva will be a big sister and they will be able to terrorize each other like sisters and love each other like sisters.
How did Neva take the news?
Neva doesn’t understand why the baby isn’t here now. She is obsessed with why the baby isn’t here. She’s also very obsessed with the idea of moving when the baby comes. We’re going to name her Rose, so she’s like, “When Rose gets here, we’re going to go to a different house.” And our joke is, “Well, when you get a job we’ll do that.” She has this weird expectation that a new baby comes with a new house [laughs].
I’m 14 weeks and happy to be through the first trimester and the tiredness that feels debilitating to me. Everyone knows now, so it’s about fun to be able to talk about it and just be in that chubby mom phase. I have two pairs of pants that fit.
What does Still Kickin mean to you?
Such a good question because we ask that of all of the people we support. It means perseverance. It means giving someone a voice. So something we really pride ourselves on as an organization is that Still Kickin gives individuals a voice to tell their own story free of pity, free of ‘I’m so sorry’. It empowers people in a way. We give people a voice to tell their story of perseverance, not their story necessarily always of loss. We really look to support individuals who, regardless of what they are going through, have a strength that says, “I will overcome this”, whatever ‘overcoming’ means to them. We’ve had people who have died, we have people who went through something that debilitated them for the rest of their lives, but they are still wanting to persevere and move forward. Perseverance is one of the strongest words that describes what Still Kickin does and means to me.
Of all the Still Kickin Heroes you've supported, who stands out?
We read these hero submissions as a Board and I just want to cry after every single one of them. We have a hero committee and first question is: “Who’s bringing the wine?” I have to mentally prepare when I get the email of reviews in my inbox. We rank them according to different criteria and I have to set aside time for myself when I know I won’t be interrupted or in a weird mental place because they are very emotional. I would say I was really inspired by the story of a Dreamer who was brought here by her mother as a child. The pseudonym we gave her was Veronica. She currently supports her mom who has Cancer and her husband who became a paraplegic in the middle of his life. With all that’s going on in this Administration for Dreamers and all the pressure she’s under, I love that she’s still so caring and giving to others.
I love that Still Kickin tells stories with strength and without pity. What’s the secret?
I think it’s that the stories are honest. They are individual stories so we’re not generalizing about all people with cancer or just talking about cancer. Our heroes personalize what it means to struggle. We support many different aspects of life's challenges, but ultimately people relate to people and I think our ability to tell human experiences sets our stories apart from other nonprofits. Also, we’re sharing the stories mostly for ourselves, not for any fundraising goal.
The stories are most often submitted by someone who is nominating someone else as Still Kickin Hero. Sometimes people nominate themselves, which I think is great and so ballsy.
How does Still Kickin inform the way you choose to give back?
I’d always been someone who was happy to build a house with Habitat for Humanity or make sandwiches for X, but I never felt a personal connection or an empathic connection with the cause.
When my husband died of cancer I was so overwhelmed by the support of this family and friends. I had people I hardly knew who were friends of his from college who would leave me food or mow my lawn and part of Still Kickin is finding a way to say thank you for all the support my family received and was so meaningful and to pay it forward.
What do you love most about MSP?
I love that we hibernate like bears and endure winter. I love the connection to lakes and being outdoors that is accessible for most people. I love the food scene. We love going to Spoon and Stable. I give them all my money. I love World Street Kitchen. I order the OG Chicken Bowl every time. It’s great to bring Neva there. She gets the OG Chicken Bowl without the spicy sauce. Like mother, like daughter. I like how dining has evolved in a way that the food is great but it doesn’t have to feel stuffy.
Speaking of Neva, what part of mom-ing comes most naturally to you?
Adapting. When Neva was born she wasn’t the most important person. I know that’s surprising to hear and when a baby is born you want to think they will be the most important person in the world, but I was focused on meeting Marcus’s needs and he was being admitted to the hospital every two weeks. Adapting doesn’t come easy to me, but watching Neva, I see her do that and I learn that from her.
What’s your favorite way to spend QT with Neva?
I love reading her books before bed and making her laugh.
How has becoming a mom changed your relationship with your mom?
I appreciate her so much more. It couldn’t have been easy as a single mom raising three strong-willed daughters. I’m thinking about that a lot as Mother’s Day is coming up.
On your blog, Two Gilmore Girls, you have this quote: "Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for." What are those defining things for you?
Love. After Marcus died I re-examined love and what it meant. I was thrown out of my comfort zone and realized that my value placed on love had shifted. My heart opened to new forms of love that I didn't know existed and relationships I thought were stable and steady seemed to crack a little, and this is painful. I also felt the floor come out from beneath me and experienced true despair for the first time ever. Well, the cure for despair, will always be love and this is why I will fight so hard for it. So feeling uncomfortable with love and the growth it offered, was a relief from the despair.
What do your friends come to you for advice on?
Careers, job transitions and how to support people going through a hard time.
What support did you most appreciate after Marcus passed away?
People dropped off food. Mowed the lawn. Told me they wanted to babysit Neva and asked when to come over. I felt supported by people who just DID, they didn't ask, they acted. That was a relief.
On your blog, Two Gilmore Girls, you say you want “to heal with grace and patience” because that’s what Marcus would have wanted. What are the everyday things that support you on this path?
I do what Oprah’s says from her podcast SuperSoul Conversations and I keep a gratitude journal. I write in it at night before I go to bed and try to remember the day and write down specific things, like my first cup of coffee, etc. Happiness is a choice, and I firmly believe that. I’ve seen people become consumed by grief and that happens, but I didn’t want that to happen to me.
What’s the best compliment someone could give you?
You’re a good mom.
How can the Power of 100 MSP community support Still Kickin?
Who else should we interview?
- Sara Manes, The Angel Foundation. She is a sub-committee member for Still Kickin but is an awesome steward of the Angel Foundation
- Jacqueline Griffith Crowley, Wealth Advisor at CIBC US, fellow widow, Still Kickin Fundraising Committee member and seriously smart and beautiful.
- Lydia Haines and/or Maura Schwandt with Bahaus Brewery. Lydia is COO and husband is co-owner with her and is brewmaster. Maura is the Marketing director and wife to another of another co-owner) They both were instrumental in offering Bauhaus as a fundraising space for Marcus and I and then also now make a Still Kickin Beer with proceeds benefiting us and host our Still Kickin Birthday party each July.
- And honestly any of our Still Kickin Board Members. We are a female-led group and each member has a seriously kick ass job and is a pioneer. We have a woman who owns her own law firm, someone who owns her own communications company, Lindsay our COO does everything for us, one member is a lawyer at a top law firm and her brother died from cancer when he was in college. Another lawyer who is Student Affairs Director at MCTC and Meghan is the COO at Clockwork, a top design and tech agency here in Minneapolis and is Board Chair of Give to the Max Foundation.
Favorite Restaurant(s): Spoon & Stable, World Street Kitchen + Lucky Oven Bakery
Favorite Podcast(s): Oprah's Super Soul Conversations, Nora’s Terrible Thanks for Asking + In the Dark
Favorite Quote: “Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.” - Mark Manson
Favorite Nonprofit: Still Kickin
Still Kickin is a retail-based nonprofit that helps awesome people going through awful things. Its mission is to build a braver, more supportive world. To volunteer, visit https://www.stillkickin.co/events/. Find Still Kickin on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @stillkickinco.
Images by Gwen Cox of G. Photographie for Power of 100 MSP.