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2014 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Patricia L. Herbold

Vice President and Secretary, Herbold Foundation;
Former United States Ambassador to Singapore

"Education should be a lifelong process. It can be the ticket to a better life and unexpected opportunities. Don’t be wedded to the status quo when you have options that will open doors to new and exciting experiences."

Patricia "Pat" Herbold was born in 1940 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the second of five children—four girls and one boy. The children all attended Catholic grammar school, and their mother stayed home to care for the household. In trying to recollect her early childhood, Pat admits that there are gaps, especially about her father. She thinks he worked at the local AAA automobile club affiliate for a while. At some point he managed a gas station. Eventually he owned a grocery store near their family's home in Oakley, a suburb of Cincinnati.

Pat has very few memories of her father ever being home or interacting with the children. "We children didn't know at the time that my father was addicted to gambling," says Pat. "We later learned that he was rarely home because he was gambling at the casinos in northern Kentucky, and he got deeply into debt."

Pat's mother was often unable to pay the bills. "I remember that on several occasions we ate dinner by candlelight because our electricity had been turned off. There was a little 'Mom and Pop' grocery store nearby that would let you run a tab. When Mom didn't have any money, and the grocer didn't want to extend her any more credit, she'd send me to the store to pick up a few groceries, hoping that the owners would feel sorry for this skinny little girl."

In 1948 near the end of Pat's second-grade year, her father faked his own kidnapping, which garnered a lot of media attention in the local newspapers. "I guess he was trying to get away from those to whom he owed money. He eventually surfaced in Florida."

Following her father's abandonment of the family, Pat's mother struggled to support her children. "Except for what little financial help my maternal grandparents could muster, my mother had no other income." Pat's father had bought a diner in Florida with help from his mother. "Mom agreed to go to Florida with the children to see if reconciliation was possible. She sold our home in Oakley to pay for our car trip to Florida." Once they arrived, Pat's mother paid off her husband's debts with what was left from the sale of the house. Less than a year later, Pat's father lost the diner. There was no money left and no income. Her mother decided the marriage was hopeless. Pat's maternal grandfather scraped together the money for six plane tickets so they could return to Cincinnati.

"I never saw my father again," says Pat. "My mother had no job and no home for all of us, so she went to Catholic Charities and made arrangements for the five of us to be placed in the St. Joseph Orphanage. Mom went to secretarial school and filed for divorce."

Pat was in the middle of fifth grade when she entered the orphanage. "It was a more regimented life than I was used to. Boys and girls were on opposite sides of the building and each side was divided by grades. Kindergarteners were in the 'baby' division, the junior division was first through fourth grade, and the senior division for those in the fifth through eighth grade. My baby brother was in kindergarten, and I rarely saw him. My two younger sisters were in the junior division and became more dependent on each other. They remain close to this day. My older sister and I were in the senior division and over time made separate friends within our grade level. There were some tough kids in the orphanage and I learned quickly to keep my head down and stay out of trouble."

Pat's world had been turned upside down, but she accepted the circumstances and did her best to adapt. The orphanage had laundry and kitchen staff; routine cleaning and ironing duties were assigned to the children. Once a week after school, the senior girls would iron all the laundered dresses. "I learned quickly which dresses were easy to iron and which ones weren't. I came up with a routine that made ironing day easier. I would eat lunch quickly, run to the laundry and pick out the easy dresses, spray and roll them up, put them on my ironing board, then go back to school. As soon as school was over, I'd run back to the laundry to iron the dresses. I always finished before everyone else—because my items were ready to go and they were the easiest to iron."

During the summer, the older girls had cooking and sewing lessons, and all of the children had swimming lessons. Pat got into the routine of living in the orphanage. She discovered that the more responsible jobs went to the most trustworthy girls. She also learned that the harder she worked and the better she did with her chores, the more benefits she received. "I also learned that I was a survivor," she says. "I knew that no matter what life threw at me, I would somehow handle it."

Once a month was visiting Sunday and Pat's mother, who was working as a secretary and living with her parents, faithfully came to visit her children. She would bring cookies, and they would try to make the most of their time together, but Pat says she was always sad when her mother left.

When Pat's older sister, and then Pat, graduated eighth grade, they went home. "My grandfather died that summer that I went home and my grandmother was in a nursing home, so my grandmother deeded the house to my mother. When my next younger sister graduated eighth grade, the other two also came home."

Once Pat started high school, because of the work ethic she learned at the orphanage, she continued to study hard and make good grades. She became president of the National Honor Society and played varsity volleyball and basketball. When she considered her future, the thought of college seemed unattainable financially. She had decided to become a nun after her high school graduation. But during her senior year, a sign-up sheet for a scholarship test for Edgecliff College was being passed around. "My friend encouraged me to take the test, which was on a Saturday," says Pat. "She convinced me it would be an excuse to go to our favorite hamburger place afterward. The Sunday after the test, my mother received a call and with tears in her eyes told me that I had won a full scholarship to Edgecliff. As it turned out, my friend who talked me into taking the test is the one who became a nun! God works in mysterious ways!"

Edgecliff College (officially Our Lady of Cincinnati College) was an all-women's Catholic college that later merged with Xavier University in Cincinnati. Pat's tuition was covered, and she continued to live at home, but she needed an on-campus job to pay for books and clothes. She went to work in the chemistry department, which influenced her to take freshman chemistry classes. In 1962 she graduated cum laude with a major in chemistry and a minor in biology.

Pat's first job out of college was in the federal government's water pollution control office at Taft Sanitary Engineering Center in Cincinnati. She worked there as a chemist until her marriage to Robert ("Bob") Herbold in 1966. Motherhood quickly ensued, and by 1973 Pat had three children, ages three, four, and six. Pat had stayed home with her children, but her passion for learning took hold. "I wanted more mental stimulation," she says. "I thought about going to medical school but there wasn't an evening program and I wanted to be home during the day with the children. Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University had an evening program, so I took the LSAT and started law school in 1973."

Pat went to law school two evenings and Saturday morning each week for four years. After she attained her JD degree in 1977 (graduating second in her class), she worked part time for the county prosecutor's office, which allowed her to be with her children after they came home from school. From 1979 to 1988 she served as assistant, then associate, regional counsel for Prudential Insurance of America; from 1988 to 1990, as vice president and general counsel of Bank One Dayton; and from 1990 to 1994, as an attorney with the Cincinnati law firm of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister. In addition to these positions, Pat was elected to the City Council of Montgomery, Ohio, and served as mayor in 1985 and 1986.

In 1994, after 26 years at Procter & Gamble and having risen to the position of senior vice president of marketing, Pat's husband was offered and accepted the chief operating officer position at Microsoft. By then, Pat and Bob were empty nesters and made the move to Bellevue, Washington. Pat quickly began looking for opportunities in her new community. She was asked to chair the Downtown Bellevue Tomorrow Task Force, which made recommendations concerning development of more housing and commercial properties, and improving traffic patterns and pedestrian-friendly access in the city center. Through this experience, Pat became acquainted with local, state and federal legislators.

Pat was asked to run for the chairmanship of the King County Republican Party. She won and served from 2002 to 2004. In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed her as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Singapore. "I was familiar with the country," says Ambassador Herbold. "Bob and I visited one of our sons who lived and worked there for two years, and I also went there with Bob on a business trip. As ambassador, I lived there full time for three years and Bob was there every other month." In 2006 Ambassador Herbold hosted President Bush and the First Lady during a visit to Singapore.

"It was the greatest honor of my life to be the President's personal representative in another country," says Ambassador Herbold. "And Singapore was a wonderful post. I was very impressed with the people of Singapore, the intelligence of its leaders and all they have accomplished in a short amount of time."

Ambassador Herbold defines success as an endeavor that makes her feel productive, fulfilled, and happy. In her commencement speech at Northern Kentucky University in 2008, her advice to the college graduates was this: "Recognize the fact that we now live in a global society. You can no longer stay in your hometown for the rest of your life and be as successful as you might have been generations ago. Don't be wedded to the status quo when you have options that will open doors to new and exciting experiences. There is an exciting world out there, and you shouldn't be afraid to look at jobs that take you to foreign countries. Become a part of the global picture, and be successful—whatever you determine success to be."

Ambassador Herbold and her husband cofounded the Herbold Foundation in 2002, and she now serves as vice president and secretary. The foundation is used primarily to award scholarships to students majoring in science, technology, math, or engineering. Ambassador Herbold and her husband funded the Herbold Computational Biology program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. She is a former member of the President's 21st Century Workforce Council and has served on the boards of St. Joseph Orphanage of Cincinnati, the Seattle Art Museum, Washington Policy Center, and the Performing Arts Center Eastside in Bellevue, Washington.

Ambassador Herbold is now retired and she and Bob enjoy spending time with their children and seven grandchildren. She serves on a number of non-profit boards, including the Reagan Ranch (President Reagan's home in the mountains above Santa Barbara); the National Finance Committee for the Bush Foundation, which raised money for the Presidential Library in Dallas; and Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which teaches free-market principles. When Ambassador Herbold is offered a position on a board, she takes time to think about the group's purpose and whether or not she feels she can make a valuable contribution to further its goals.

"My philosophy really hasn't changed since I was a young girl," she says. "I have always believed in working hard at whatever I undertake. At some point in my life I realized that, for me, education is a lifelong process. I try to learn something new every day. Education can be the ticket to a better life and unexpected opportunities, as it was for me."