CHICAGO — The General Assembly Council has nominated as its new executive director Linda Bryant Valentine, a lawyer who says she likes to bring “clarity to complexity” and who thinks the Presbyterian church has “fresh and exciting stories to tell.”
At a May 23 meeting in Chicago, the council voted 41-13 to nominate Valentine, following more than a year of work by a search committee. If the General Assembly agrees and elects Valentine when it meets in Birmingham in June, she would begin work July 1.
Valentine will succeed John Detterick, who is retiring this summer after serving as executive director for eight years. She would be paid $160,000 a year.
Many of the questions council members asked Valentine before they voted concerned her vision for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has just endured a $9.1 million downsizing, and the differences between working for large corporations, which she mostly has done, versus an organization built around religious faith.
Valentine acknowledged that a corporation has a single bottom line, easy to measure, because “it’s all in dollars.”
But the church has at least a double bottom-line, she said — mission as well as good stewardship of the funds Presbyterians give. “We’ve got to equally measure that we’re achieving our mission every bit as much as running a business organization,” Valentine said.
Asked to do so by Gary Skinner, a council member from Seattle, Valentine declined to take a position on the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the PC(USA). Her mother, Barbara Everitt Bryant, is one of the task force’s 20 members.
But Valentine would not say whether she supports the task force’s recommendations. She said the process the task force used — in which they studied and prayed together and showed respect for differing views — was “a marvelous one.”
She said it will be up to the assembly to decide whether to approve the report, and that she would do whatever the assembly instructs — “I’d like to just leave it at that.”
From 1984 to 2002, Valentine was a senior vice-president at Motorola — and Carol Hylkema of Detroit, who chairs the PC(USA)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, asked about that.
The General Assembly in 2004 recommended a process of phased, selective divestment in some companies doing business in Israel — a controversial action that has produced a batch of overtures to this summer’s assembly, some supporting the 2004 action and some strongly opposed.
Motorola is one of the firms in which the PC(USA) is considering divesting. Valentine said she knows and has worked with some of the Motorola executives involved in discussions on the issue with the PC(USA).
She said she supports the process of “constructive engagement” MRTI is following, and said her role as executive director would be to carry out the assembly’s instructions, whatever they might be.
Valentine, 56, brings to the table years of work as a corporate lawyer and business executive. “I have a lifetime of experience in large and complex organizations,” she told the council. And she’s no stranger to contentiousness and lack of trust — she said the six divisions of Motorola were known during her tenure as “the warring tribes.”
Valentine is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and also earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan.
Most recently, she has worked as general counsel and managing director of an investment fund with Opportunity International http://www.opportunity.org/ , a Christian nonprofit group in Oak Brook, Ill. which provides micro-financing for small development initiatives around the world.
Valentine told the council that Opportunity International last year made over $1 million in loans that averaged $150 each. She described that work as a way “to lift people out of poverty with the smallest of loans,” nearly all of which are repaid.
Before joining Opportunity International in 2005, Valentine worked as senior vice-president and chief legal officer of the software firm TenFold Corp., based in Salt Lake City.
From 1984 to 2002 she worked for Motorola Inc., serving in a number of positions, including as general counsel for its communications businesses and a senior vice-president. Previously, Valentine worked for Atlantic Richfield Co., for a law firm in Philadelphia and for United Airlines.
Valentine described her decision to accept nomination for the executive director’s job as coming after receiving affirmation from “the saints of my life” — including her husband, Chris; her pastor, John Buchanan; people close to her and people knowledgeable about the PC(USA)..
Tall and poised, Valentine mentioned in a brochure which described her qualifications and was passed out at the meeting that “quiet, gentle tears come easily to me,” both at hopeful times and at departures. When referring to the support of her husband, whom she met in college, Valentine paused to collect her emotions, her voice breaking slightly — and said she’d warned folks of moments such as those.
Valentine said: “I prayed, I prayed long and hard” during her morning devotions, in the pew at church, walking in the woods, about whether to pursue the job.
“I listened, I prayed, and I tell you,” Valentine said. “I do feel a sense of call.”
Both she and her husband are elders at Fourth Presbyterian church in Chicago. They are the parents of three children, Ben, Jackie and Christie, ages 21 to 17.
Karen Dimon of DeWitt, N.Y., who chairs the search committee, said Valentine was one of 40 candidates for the job, and she believes the selection of Valentine was part of a “spirit-filled process.”
“Our God reaches out to us, comes to us and chooses us,” Dimon said “The Bible is full of stories of people who are called.”