OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, CLAUDIA GEE VASSAR HAS DEVELOPED A REPUTATION FOR HERSELF IN THE NONPROFIT SECTOR AS A WOMAN WHO GETS THINGS DONE. USUALLY KNOWN FOR STEPPING IN TO HELP AN ORGANIZATION AS AN INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TO PREPARE FOR A PERMANENT ONE, CLAUDIA RECENTLY DECIDED TO TAKE THE FULL-TIME PLUNGE BY STAYING ON AS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE HOUSTON BOTANIC GARDEN.
Did you know Houston is one of the only major American cities without a botanic garden?
That’s all about to change. On January 21, 2015, the organization’s search for a suitable location came to an end as Mayor Parker and the Houston City Council approved a lease agreement to transform the 120-acre Glenbrook Golf Course into the Houston Botanic Garden. This beautiful property with a mature tree canopy sits on Sims Bayou and represents an approximately $50 million investment by the City of Houston.
Claudia joined the team in 2016, leading their Grow Houston’s Garden fundraising campaign that has raised over $21.6 million thus far. Born and raised in Houston, Claudia did her undergraduate work at Rice, attending the University of Virginia for her law degree. With a fierce determination and desire to overcome any obstacle, Claudia is a powerhouse when it comes to her love of turning the Houston Botanic Garden’s vision into a reality as a major cultural institution. We sat down with this trailblazer to get an inside look at just what sets her ablaze.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT HOUSTON?
This was an easy one: the people. Houston has such a diverse and passionate cross-section of people, and the city itself offers us an openness, a level of accessibility and opportunity that isn’t always available in other cities.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE TO FUTURE TRAILBLAZERS?
Change is hard, so it is important to have courage and a good support system, whether it be family, friends or a mentor. Your support system should encourage you when it feels like everything is against you, but also give you honest feedback when you might have gone off-track and not just be “yes friends.”
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU THINK MAKE A “TRAILBLAZER”?
– The drive to overcome roadblocks, to go around obstacles
– Conviction, without being stubborn
– Being flexible
– Learning from your mistakes, so they can empower you and don’t hold you back
LOOKING BACK, IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO YOUNGER CLAUDIA?
That it is all right to compromise. That the art of compromising is not a weakness. That taking insights from others, and using this insight to help mold and formulate a better plan, is sometimes the best way to forge ahead.
LOOKING FORWARD, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HOPE FUTURE CLAUDIA STICKS TO?
To remember to take care of myself more. When you are diving head first into a project, especially an ambitious one, it is easy to have tunnel vision and forget to take care of yourself.