From the hills of Kentucky, Woodward continues to champion the causes of women

Nov. 1, 1998
Virginia Woodward became a dental hygienist because she sought a career where she would be actively helping people. Her subsequent entrance into dental hygiene politics and then Kentucky politics was a natural course of action for the spirited feminist from the South. Her formerly acquired elected posts - which include president of the American Dental Hygienists` Association and executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women - enabled Virginia to help multitudes of people by championing

Former ADHA president remains politically active, following the lead of `Grandma.`

Cat Schmidt, RDH

Virginia Woodward became a dental hygienist because she sought a career where she would be actively helping people. Her subsequent entrance into dental hygiene politics and then Kentucky politics was a natural course of action for the spirited feminist from the South. Her formerly acquired elected posts - which include president of the American Dental Hygienists` Association and executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women - enabled Virginia to help multitudes of people by championing issues ranging from women`s equality to civil rights. She is quick to credit the dental hygiene profession for molding her into the savvy, warm-hearted politician she now comfortably projects. "I would not be where I am today," she says assuredly, "without dental hygiene."

Virginia recently experienced a slight setback; she narrowly lost her bid in the primary to run for U.S. Congress. However, her own personal race is hardly over. After a short vacation with her family at the conclusion of her campaign, she hopped right back into the Kentucky political arena. Virginia has been fund-raising and event coordinating for friend Scotty Baesler`s statewide senatorial bid, and she`s also helping out pal Fred Cowen vie for a county judge seat. Her long range plans, though, don`t include staying behind the scenes for long. It`s a sure bet: Kentucky and the rest of the nation will see a lot more of Virginia Woodward in the years to come.

Virginia has championed women`s issues and health care concerns professionally for the past three decades, and personally for her entire life. She credits her early appreciation of feminism to her grandmother`s influence while she was growing up. Her grandfather suffered from emphysema and was unable to work, so her grandmother provided the household income. It was this intimate exposure to a working woman`s troubles and triumphs that formed Virginia`s support of women`s equality in the workforce. She considers her grandmother to be her first feminist role model.

The social and political evolution of the 1960s and 1970s shaped Virginia`s views on equality for women and civil rights for all humankind. The climate of those times ignited the driving force behind the woman Virginia has become. She strongly supports women`s equal rights and fights for funding for programs that benefit women, children and the elderly. She backs the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Food Program (WIC) which provides nourishing foods to pregnant and nursing women and their children. Also, as the former executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, Virginia worked to ensure the forward progression of women in society and in the workplace.

Her early political role models include Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., whose benchmark ideals and ideas carry as much, if not more weight, as we head into the millennium. Virginia definitely considers herself a product of the 1960s. The turbulent, altering events that occurred during that era directly molded her current heartfelt social stances.

Another role model that Virginia holds in esteem is former Rep. Corrine C. "Lindy" Boggs, currently the United States Ambassador to the Vatican. In the early 1970s, Lindy spearheaded legislation promoting civil rights to credit access. As a newly widowed single parent - Cokie Roberts of ABC News is one of her three successful children - Lindy found it impossible to receive credit. The reason? She didn`t have a husband or father to co-sign the paperwork. Today, we women can thank an extremely determined Rep. Lindy Boggs for allowing us equal access to credit.

Virginia was raised in a family with strong political opinions and she was privy at a very young age to witness family roundtable discussions. She was the first grandchild of the lot, and, while growing up, she was treated as more of an adult than a child. This enabled her to glean and absorb intellectual information from her elders. Her grandfather immersed himself in the observation of Kentucky politics and thus introduced Virginia closely to the public profession she now sees as her destiny.

She also was reared to constantly challenge herself. If she brought home an "A," she says, it should have been an "A+." Virginia became a high achiever and lauds her family for pushing her to excel and succeed. She was taught to challenge the status quo, and still does. It`s an attitude that shapes her work in public service.

Starting as early as her Girl Scout days, she was active in volunteerism and assisting people, especially the elderly. She looked to JFK as a role model with his creation of the Peace Corps in 1961. "Give them a hand up not a handout" is the saying she has emulated in her own volunteer duties. She cultivated an early desire to give of herself and eagerly sought interest and activities that would incarnate her progressive social philosophy.

Virginia took an early interest in astronomy and found that the adventure of science and the thrill on the unknown eventually led her into the dental hygiene profession. Seeing her talent and interest in the sciences, Virginia`s dentist urged her to enroll in dental hygiene school. He noted her winning personality and love of helping others as good indicators for success in the field. She followed his advice and obtained her dental hygiene license. She has been practicing dental hygiene for the last 26 years. Even though her public service life is a full-time job, she still manages to practice hygiene, seeing patients on Saturdays and during breaks in her hectic schedule. Some of her most loyal patients have been with her for more than 20 years. They`d joked with her that should she make it to Congress, she`d have to set up a schedule to fly home from Washington to clean their teeth.

Her earliest forays into the political playing field came as she started out in dental hygiene. She assumed an active role in the professional association since her first day as a licensed dental hygienist. She began at the grass roots level in the dental hygiene association and worked herself up through the ranks. The culmination of her professional efforts came when she was elected president of the American Dental Hygienists` Association. From there it was a natural step into local Kentucky politics.

Virginia ran for a state senate seat in 1994. Despite a very close race, she was defeated. But the exposure sealed her entry into politics. After that, she became a coordinator of campaigns for various races, including a U.S. Senate race, a winning Congressional race and a successful county commissioner race. She also was a women county coordinator for a victorious gubernatorial race, and earned a membership on a women`s think tank. She has chaired numerous committees such as the Kentucky women Advocates and Emmanuel Community Center where she helped to see the sponsorship of the only Adult Day Center in the area.

The most difficult professional decision for Virginia derived from a phone call with the governor of Kentucky. He asked her to accept the executive directorship of the state?s commission on women.

Virginia knew that if she took the post it would mean that there would be no turning back. She would be entering a new phase of her career and leaving the practice of full-time dental hygiene behind for good. After much thought, she decided public service was her destiny and accepted the position from the governor, thus sealing her fate in public life.

Recognition for her efforts has been forthcoming. In 1995, she received the ADHA?s Outstanding Service Award, and the previous year she was a finalist for the Woman of Achievement Award from the Business and Professional Women?s Federation. Also, the year 1993 saw her listed in Oxford?s Who?s Who in America.

Virginia is supportive of health care reform and believes that we as dental hygienists ? and mostly women ? are poised to take the lead in organizing efforts to see it to fruition. She believes that we haven?t had much change in our current health care system from our government because only an estimated six members of Congress are health care professionals. There is no one on the inside with direct knowledge of the particular changes that need to be made in health care.

Virginia also emphasizes the importance of the role of women in legislation. OWe simply need more women represented in government,O she says with conviction. Every one of us can contribute, even the slightest degree, starting in each of our own backyards. As a spunky woman from the South, Viriginia herself stared out at the grass roots level in politics. Today she is making great strides for women in her home state of Kentucky, and perhaps in the new future she will seek a national platform for the advancement of her social causes.

Virginia is in her mid-40s and lives in Kentucky. She is married to husband Jim Woodward, a dental professor at the University of Louisville. They have three sons and a granddaughter.

Cat Schmidt, RDH, holds a bachelor of arts degree in communications from Southern Methodist University and a dental hygiene degree from New Hampshire Technical Institute. She resides in San Mateo, Calif., where she is a free-lance writer and shares a business with her sister selling dental training videos to long-term care facilities. Her recently published book, ONot Just the Cleaning Lady: A Hygienist?s Guide to Survival,O is available from PennWell for $29.95. To purchase the book, call (800) 752-9764, or fax (918) 831-9555.