By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

Meet Cathy Abashian Williams – Executive Director of SUNY Broome Foundation

Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

What drives you professionally and personally? “My professional drive has always been heavily influenced by my parents. Both of my parents were raised in poverty. They truly embodied the value of hard work and embraced the hope of the American Dream.  

My father started a vending business out of the basement of our Vestal home in 1955. He started with just one coffee machine in a local factory and successfully grew his business from there. The business was truly a family effort, and my mother, my siblings, and I each had our own little roles to help with its success. 

My mother was the oldest girl in a family of ten children, and after marrying my father, she raised six children. She cared for all of us, helped my father with the business, and was the consummate volunteer. When I look at my career and the work that I do with the Foundation, I can trace my work ethic, energy, appreciation for relationship building, and customer service skills back to my parents. 

Personally, I am driven by the memories of my role models, most notably by my grandmother. My grandparents were survivors of the Armenian genocide and met in a refugee camp in Alexandria, Egypt, on the day of their wedding. My grandmother’s brothers arranged their marriage. After they married, they traveled to France and then came to the United States. My grandmother moved to a new country with a husband that she had just met. She knew no English and did not have any family nearby. She was only 19 years old! 

My grandparents settled in the US and created a life together, which included seven children, one of whom was my father. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or particularly challenged, I am instantly reminded of the blood that courses through my veins. Thinking specifically of my grandmother always serves as a reminder of how fortunate I am to work in a field that I love, with a mission that inspires me, colleagues that I respect, and a beautiful family that supports and encourages me.”

What can we do to encourage and support fellow women as they pursue their education and careers? Throughout my nearly 40-year career, I’ve learned that if women don’t care for each other, lift each other up, and provide chance-giving opportunities, who will? In the early part of my career, when I was a new mother and balancing a lot, I benefited from so many women who had established careers that were mentors to me and taught me the importance of lifting each other up. I feel it’s my responsibility to do my part for the next generation of women leaders and it’s amazing to witness this life-cycle and process. 

Who is a public figure (either historical or present day) that has inspired you? What were/are her contributions and achievements? “I’ve always admired Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s strength in forging a path for women to have the opportunity to pursue a legal education and legal careers. She was a true champion for women and broke through the constraints that limited women from entering the legal field. The films about her early career and the documentaries about her life on the bench are worth watching and are rather inspiring. 

What does it mean to you to be celebrated as a remarkable woman? “I don’t think that I am any more remarkable than any other woman on this campus, but it is truly an honor to be featured alongside so many women that I admire. I love reading these profiles because we get to know a little bit more about each woman as a person, not just as a colleague. I’m in awe of them all.” 

Name another remarkable woman of SUNY Broome who inspires you. “It’s tough to single out just one. In my role on campus, I have had the privilege to meet and befriend so many remarkable women, many of whom have retired from the College but still devote their lives to supporting the mission of what we do.”

If I had to name just one, I’d say, Kathy Connerton, Chair of SUNY Broome Board of Trustees and President of Guthrie Lourdes Hospital. For years, through work in the community and here at Broome, I have intersected with and have always been inspired by Kathy’s ability to “walk the talk” and her commitment to the missions of each organization that she represents (which are many!). Whenever I am tired or stressed, I look at Kathy Connerton and get re-energized by her example of leadership and strength.

I’ve been a Rotarian for over twenty years, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible women from my club. They truly embody “service above self” and are an astonishing example of the power of collaborative work. Rotarians tackle everything from food insecurity to providing clean water to eradicating polio worldwide. 

In Rotary, we live our lives subscribing to the 4-Way Test.

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

It’s a code that I try to live by in every area of my life.”

Celebrating Women's History Month

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