Hello from the Other Side: Liz Crowell

Hello from the Other Side: Liz Crowell

Tell us a bit about yourself: if you were narrating your story, what would it sound like?

I’m from Houston, where I went to Rice University and then straight into law school. I was the youngest graduate of my law school – I was 20 when I finished college and 23 when I graduated from law school – and I had no worldly experience at that point (though I was married). I clerked for a federal judge for two years, then went into private practice and did that for 30 years, hitting all the milestones, rising to partner in the allotted time. I had two boys, and I raised them with their dad and then without their dad after we got divorced. So I was a single mom for a time. I ended up with my own practice group at my firm. I got remarried, which was great. And then I retired.

I’ve always been active in my community, whether it was joining Junior League at age 23 or in my 40s when I was chairing the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston board. I’ve always volunteered; that’s always been an important aspect of my life.

I’m definitely driven and determined with goals that I have always set and tried to accomplish. I’m very warm and family oriented, but at the same time analytical and effective, organized. Basically, a happy person who tries to effectively manage her desire to control everything! I try to strike that balance, between being relaxed and in charge. But all those tendencies do mellow over time.  


What are you doing now?

I’m retired, but I’m continuing my involvement with nonprofits. I’m on several boards and various committees. I’m able to travel more; my husband is frequently invited to academic conferences, and now I’m able to be a lot more flexible and go with him now! I’ve taken up golf, and I have two grandchildren and another on the way, so I spend time with them. We do like to entertain and I have done some fairly large gatherings that benefit nonprofits. Other than that, just catching up with girlfriends.  


What were the hardest decisions you had to make in the past?

I don’t know if it was a decision or more of a mindset: I had to constantly remind myself when my kids were younger that I needed to focus on quality over quantity, and that the quality of the time I spent with them was really good. My career and family obligations were always contemporaneous (rather than being at separate times during my life). It was a constant source of worry and stress. My law practice was based out of New York – and I was living in Houston – so I had to be there a lot. It wasn’t a choice, really, I had to be there. And I might be missing the parent teacher conference or the back to school gathering, and it just drove me nuts. But when I was in Houston, I had really hard and fast rules about being home for dinner every night. I took a lot of work home and was up to 1 or 2 am regularly. But we always had dinner together and breakfast together. And we had quality time on the weekends. I tried to impose my desires on my schedule where I could.  


How did those decisions turn out? Any regrets?

No regrets. It all worked out well! My sons are both well adjusted, happy guys who are married and successful in their careers, and both of them give back to their communities. My older son was in the Peace Corps for two years in Africa and does volunteer work in the immigration realm. And my younger son started a nonprofit in college and works for a nonprofit, as does his wife. Even though I didn’t know at the time that anything I was doing would have an impact on them, it’s sort of astonishing to see the extent to which it did; the fact that they ended up finishing law school and being involved in their communities is kind of interesting!  


Are there things that you spent years stressing out about that turned out to not really be that big of a deal?

It’s hard not to stress about things in the moment. It was more of a love-hate relationship with my job. It was very intellectually stimulating, challenging and very demanding yes, but it served me and my family very well. It gave me the financial security to be able to provide my boys with an education, interesting experiences, and travel. Being able to give that to them and not worry about the next paycheck was great. But it also could be my biggest challenge. You just have to have a strategy. I would always pick one thing at school, over the lunch hour, let’s say the valentine’s lunch in the classroom. I could be there and help pass out the cupcakes. And that way my children could see me in their school just like everyone else’s mom. Pick one thing, do it well, and you’re good.  


What do you wish you had spent more time doing over the years?

The one area that probably suffered when I was juggling family and work was friends. And I had a core group of girlfriends, and we’ve stayed in pretty close touch, but its such a busy time that you just can’t keep up with all of your friends from the different times in your life. But there’s always the other side, and now I spend a lot more time with many of those old friends.  


What would you say your highlights have been?

Racing through school: finishing college at 20 and law school at 23. When I was in college, my roommate and I restarted the women’s athletic program, particularly in basketball (all 5’4” of me), at Rice. One of my all-time highlights was certainly when I got to live abroad in Strasbourg, France, when I was 16. I progressed from struggling in every subject to being fluent in French and passing the baccalaureate at the end of the year.

Definitely being able to do big Wall Street deals, facing down all of these jerky lawyers and then being able to go home to my nice life in Houston – leading this double life. I can do business with you here, and then I get to go home to my car and my lawn and my friends, and my family. That was always a nice silver lining.

And then, for me, a highlight is having all the family around. I’m just a big family gathering person, so I love all of the family gatherings. On Saturday we celebrated my mom’s 90th birthday and had a big party for her.  


And the low points?

When I got divorced: the all time low, not much beats that. But then beyond that or the death of a loved one, they have to be pretty big to get on my low point list. I thought taking the bar was pretty bad, but at that point I hadn’t gotten divorced and no one had died!  


What do you think has changed the most for women over your lifetime?

It’s sort of like change and lack of change. From my perspective, being in the workplace, I saw the changes: the percentage of women in law schools rose dramatically and we would hire lots of great women. But then many would fall out of the workplace because we didn’t have enough good childcare options or offer enough flexibility. The constant repetition of that pattern was jarring. At the same time, the loosening of structures around dress and family. When I first started working, I never talked about my kids. There’s a lot more acceptance that we’re actual people, that we’re the ones who have the kids, you know.  


What would you like to see continue to change and improve for women?

There has to be a constant vigilance about opportunities for women and options for change. The battle has not been won. We can’t look back and say, “Our feminist sisters took care of it for us and we don’t have to worry.” There’s this constant lurking reality that men and women aren’t treated equally, and we have to be diligent about that.  


Looking back at the past 50 or so years, what words of wisdom would you have? 

Have a game plan, but stay flexible and be open to pivoting to Plan B. And then stay focused on your goals. Work hard for them, and, at least in my case, it all worked out. It all came to pass, but it was a lot of hard work.  


Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years? What does "retirement" look like to you?

Probably more of the same! Travel, recreation, down time, entertainment and volunteering. I don’t really see any of that tapering off - maybe just different places and emphases in different decades. I think I have it pretty well mapped out.

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