Meet Annette Saxon


Over the years, as she moved from South Carolina to Silicon Valley to Baltimore, Annette Saxon has always volunteered in her community and elsewhere. But for many years, she never really saw herself sitting at the head of the table. 

Yet, while she was on the board at the Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, she was first approached with the idea. Former Executive Director Larry Ziffer suggested she might want to work toward becoming its board chair. 

“I needed to think about it,” she recalls. “I went home and asked myself, ‘can I do this?’ And then I realized, absolutely!” 

That first leadership experience led to more opportunities, including chair of the JCC (she and her husband, Mike, have been the only couple to have both held that position in Baltimore … although 15 years apart), chair of the Associated Women’s Campaign and various Associated committees and task forces. And she found that she loved it. 

Recently retired as director of development for Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, this former fundraising and public relations professional – she once worked for the gaming company, Atari – is taking on a new challenge. For the next two years, Annette, who is also a Lion of Judah (see sidebar) will chair Associated Women.
  

You are originally from Columbia, South Carolina. 

I grew up in a small Jewish community in Columbia. There were only a couple of dozen Jewish kids in my grade. I knew them all because from the time I began preschool, hardly anyone new joined my class. I attended Sunday and Hebrew school, and my parents were volunteer teachers there. My bat mitzvah was held with group of girls on a Friday night at the synagogue; and we all had our party together in the JCC lobby.  

How did your early years influence your values of giving back? 

My parents didn’t have a lot, but they felt it was important to support both the Jewish and the broader community. They were truly philanthropic role models.  I still remember a photo, taken by the local newspaper with my sister, brother and mother when I was around 12 years old. My mom volunteered with B’nai B’rith Women and was involved in collecting products like toothbrushes and toothpaste for children that didn’t have any. The photo showed us dropping the items into a collection box stationed at a local drugstore. It was my first experience helping others. Since then, I’ve tried to make volunteering central to my life, even when I was raising my kids, Jake and Sarah, and working. As a bonus, I met my best friends through my volunteer work.  

As Chair of Associated Women, what are your goals? 

I think about how much has changed for women since I came of age. The younger generation is much more confident than my generation ever was. They live in a world in which women hold leadership roles in all areas and they know they can achieve whatever they work toward. My goal is to welcome them – along with women of all generations – harness their energy, tap their interests and experience, and find ways to involve them in leadership and philanthropic positions. Working together, we can engage more women from the Baltimore Jewish community and position The Associated as the center for women’s philanthropy and engagement. 

As a leader, what have you learned? 

So many women I meet have leadership qualities and don’t realize it. I love talking to them and letting them know how special they are. Take me for example. Twenty years ago, I was afraid to fundraise. Now it’s second nature to me thanks to the fact that others believed in me. I want to help other women see their potential and move along their own journeys. 

How did you first get involved with the Jewish federation?  

When I moved to Silicon Valley, I saw an ad in the newspaper for the local Federation. It mentioned an events hotline and I decided to call it. I got up the courage to attend an event and met so many women who became my good friends. Thankfully, I did. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have stayed connected and met Mike. 

How did you meet Mike? 

There was a volleyball party at the JCC in Palo Alto, CA. As I was leaving, I ran into him at the door to the event. He came over, started talking to me and the rest is history. It was beshert. We’ve been married 34 years. 

If you could sit down with any woman, who would that be? What would you ask her? 

I would have to answer with two women – my grandmothers who both immigrated to America around the turn of the century from Eastern Europe. I only knew them when I was a child and now as an adult, I often wonder what gave them the strength and courage to pick up, leave their friends and family and move to a far-away unknown land. What stories they could tell. 

What do people not know about you? 

I’m not complicated. What you see is what you get. 


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