Architect, Covert activist, Women Advocate, Philanthropist, San Francisco
It was such a treat to get to know the multitudes of Ms. Hilary Bates. Initially she comes across as unassuming, reserved even. As the conversation flows, you suddenly get an urge to sit up straighter, lean in and hear her opinion on a slew of topics from architecture to politics. Ms. Bates is secure enough to also open up about her shortcomings and areas she would like to focus on for personal and professional development. You also get a feel for her determination to stand behind the national issues, a quiet force fighting for women’s reproductive rights and hence their destinies.
From Ms. Bates’s work in Malawi, her philanthropic efforts, equestrian aspirations to overcoming dark periods and setbacks, persevering, showing up and looking forward, this is a portrait of a WOW Woman! It’s time to get the pointy elbows out!
2. Where is your hometown?
Split between San Francisco and Woodside, California.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a California-licensed architect. For the last two decades I’ve renovated and sold homes in which our family has lived. We are constantly moving! The upside is that in three decades of living in the Bay Area we have experienced six different neighborhoods; each of them is unique and special.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I always thought I was fortunate to know at a young age what I wanted to do, which was to design and build things. I would build model cars and tanks when those were hobbies kids did; that changed to scale dollhouses later. I guess architecture was the natural progression. I like collaborating and problem solving in a team environment, and complicated projects have lots of smart people all striving to get to that end. A big turning point for me was working in the US Peace Corps in Malawi where I volunteered for three years as an architect. One of the blessings of that time was boredom, and out of that came tremendous creativity.
5. What did you study in school?
I got my BA in Architecture at Yale and my Masters in Architecture at University of California Berkeley.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
At 20 I had no income or savings; I did have lots of student loan debt and an occupation that paid really poorly. This was one of the reasons I joined the Peace Corps- it was the only thing at the time I could afford to do. In college I worked in the dining halls, sold football programs, exercised polo ponies, set up rooms for the annual reunions and even performed medical experiments for cash. When I started graduate school I worked almost full time for an San Francisco architecture firm to pay for school; and going to a University of California of course made it very affordable compared to my peers who were at Harvard or Yale. So, I never could have imagined that my financial fate could have changed as much as it has. I have been married for 25 years to someone who works in the investment markets and is ridiculously over-compensated (his words). He is also ridiculously talented (my words).
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
I’m just coming out of a very dark period. I had a complication from a routine orthopedic surgery two years ago that resulted in extraordinary chronic pain in both legs. In addition to the battalion of doctors I consulted, I sought out the help of a therapist and a psychiatrist. It’s been a long journey back to the life I had previously enjoyed, and I guess the biggest insight to getting back on my feet, both literally and figuratively, was “showing up”. After years of self-imposed isolation, I had to force myself to get out of the house, to join activities, to mix with people, to go back to work, but now I’m in a great place. So ya, I think Woody Allen had it right when he said 80% of success is just showing up.
8. Advice for other women?
Speak in public! I rarely follow my own advice because I am terrified of public speaking, but I am in awe of women who do so fearlessly. Even if it is a toast at a friends wedding, a Q&A after a school PTA meeting, or expressing ones opinion or political views in a social forum- women do not allow themselves to be heard enough.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
It’s no secret that education, wage parity and controlling one’s fertility are critically important for women to be independent, which is a core tenant of feminist values. I actually think “feminist values”, at least the way they have been thought of previously, are greatly endangered. Young women today don’t want to be called feminists; to them that is someone who is unattractive and has too much arm hair. They want to use, rather than excuse, their sexuality as a way to broker power. The rise of social media and selfie-culture has created a generation of women who are distracted from protecting the political gains that they now enjoy. Sadly, I think the way forward will likely come only after some painful steps back.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
For sure it is when I am on one of my horses! I’ve ridden competitively most of my life. It is one place I feel the most confidence and the most joy, and totally in the moment.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
For over three decades I have supported organizations that champion womens’ reproductive rights. Philanthropy can be overwhelming because there are so many causes. For me, it was finding a niche, something where I thought my contributions could make the biggest impact. I feel very strongly about the basic human right that all women should have to access contraception and abortion.
I decided five years ago that my focus would be TeleMAB, or telephonic medical abortion. Telehealth is increasingly used to provide real time, two-way, private communication between a patient and their doctor and is especially useful in remote areas where bricks and mortar health care is scarce.
Medical abortion, as opposed to surgical abortion, is widely used around the world. In fact, the two medications used in MA (Misoprostol and Mifepristone) are considered by the WHO as essential medicines. The convergence of the availability of these medications and information technologies to distribute and use them is a potential game changing development to protect access to abortion services.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I want to be a political activist in another life! I know it won’t be this life; it is just not in my DNA to be the outspoken rebel. But I do admire those who can be. A goal I do have is to be a teeny activist- just someone more involved in my community.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
See #8 above.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
Fortunately, not very much. I wish I had maintained some type of professional life for my kids to witness; they just know me as a mom. I think it would have been good for them to see me as someone who had commitments outside of their world, someone who had an income, skills and colleagues.
15. What inspires you?
Beauty and smart women (don’t need to go together, but not necessarily mutually exclusive)!
16. What are you hopeful about?
To be hopeful, is it a necessity that a rational reason exists as the basis for having that feeling? Or can one be hopeful simply to manufacture optimism in the face of almost certain calamity? The future looks pretty grim. Can I just say I’m hopeful that complete social collapse as a result of climate change never affects us more than it already has?
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Family, friends, animals, conversation, laughter, good music & food, nature, sex, a sense of being needed, and a sense of contributing to something bigger than yourself.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Be nosy and talk to strangers, have pointy elbows, run fast and break (some) things. Remember that some things that are broken can’t be fixed.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I’m reading Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin with my book club- it’s a great reminder of how analog San Francisco used to be pre-Silicon Valley. A favorite read is Endurance by Earnest Shackleton. It’s an unbelievable true story, a thriller, a page turner, a treatise on leadership, mental toughness and survival in the face of almost certain death; and finally, a window into the era of exploration, before everything in the known world could be Googled.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?
Lisbet Sunshine was my college room mate. I admire her because she somehow “has it all”. She is married with three children; owns her own political consulting firm; late in life became a world-class long-distance athlete qualifying for numerous Olympic trials; is whip smart, opinionated and politically informed. She is an adventurer, always up for a crazy trip or a spontaneous event. Plus, in her spare (?) time, she is a loving friend.
Kris Crossland is one of the women who rides in my show jumping program. She is a warrior! I started to know her just as she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. She used her super brain to research and network every possible treatment, and against all odds, is in remission. She is such a fighter, she is back to riding at the top of the sport again. She is kick ass.
Katy Schneider is a friend from college. I am inspired by Katy because of her sense of curiosity and humor. She is a painter; head of the department at Smith College. She sings. She is in a band. She cooks and bakes. She is beautiful inside and out. She has a great laugh, and a smile that lights up a room. Just thinking about her makes me happy.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?