By Russell Rawlings

The original version of this column appeared in the newsletter of the Communications Section of the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) as a tribute to the young professional women serving on the section’s executive council. The sentiments contained therein, however, also apply to the thousands of working mothers who count themselves among the membership and staff of the North Carolina Bar Association.

My first big boss was a woman. Her name was Elizabeth Swindell, and she owned The Wilson Daily Times. That is where I began my professional career as a sportswriter in 1974 – before many of the women I’m writing about in this column were born.

Miss Swindell, as we knew her, would never weigh more than 100 pounds, yet she remains to this day the toughest woman I ever met. In addition to her duties at the newspaper, she was also a mother, grandmother and, by the time I started working for her, a great-grandmother.

The experience proved beneficial for me in many ways. It has never felt the least bit foreign to me to work for or with women. The newsroom was split roughly 50:50 male and female and the composing room, where we put the paper together every morning, was predominantly female. We all worked together each day toward a common goal without the slightest notion that either sex should consider itself superior or inferior to the other.

Fast forward 42 years and I find myself sitting around a conference table with my esteemed colleagues who comprise the executive council of the National Association of Bar Executives Communications Section. The women outnumber the men seven to four and all of the females, unless someone tells me otherwise, are under the age of 40. Well under the age of 40!

When I leave town for NABE meetings, my biggest concern is Brownie, our beloved rescue dog who is half collie, half hound, and 100 percent love. On the rare occasion when my wife is not also traveling with her job, I have no worries at all. Otherwise I either pay the dog-sitter for a few extra visits or board Brownie at the vet.

For my colleagues who are working mothers, leaving on an NABE trip, or simply leaving to go to work every day, is an entirely different matter. They all leave behind this whole other world of responsibilities about which I know so very little.

They leave behind children who as of yet are incapable of driving themselves to school, preparing their own meals, transporting themselves to soccer practice, scheduling doctor’s appointments or, perhaps worst of all, knowing when it’s time to go to the emergency room, much less having a clue how to get there.

There is no doubt a support system that helps fill the void, but the void exits nonetheless, because no matter who is taking care of the children, they ain’t Mama.

So as I sit around the table responding on my mobile device to the latest “crisis” that arises at the N.C. Bar Center, these remarkable women never know what they’re going to get in their next email, text, phone call or voicemail. Ninety percent of my problems fall under the heading of information technology; that’s the least of their worries.

With that in mind, and with Mother’s Day approaching, I offer a tip of the cap and a raising of the glass to all of the moms out there whose workday has only begun when mine ends.

I do admire you so.

You’ll never be as tough as Elizabeth Swindell, but God bless you, you’re just as strong.

Russell Rawlings serves as director of communications for the North Carolina Bar Association