Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Matrice Ellis-Kirk did what every other Penn graduate does, and worked for a stint in New York City, but when she heard about Dallas being the next financial mecca, she came to visit. She began working for a bank in 1982 and has made the most of her time here ever since. While working at the bank, she began volunteering with the YWCA and the Junior League of Dallas, earning a reputation as a great board member and fundraiser. She now chairs the board of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Arts District, where she is working to ensure its financial health for the next 25 years. In addition, she has worked with the World Economic Forum, focusing on research about parity in income and opportunity, and is on the board for DFW International Airport. When she isn’t volunteering, she is managing director for RSR Partners, an executive search firm.  She met her husband, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, at a charity event.

Her inspiration: My grandmother and great-grandmother believed everyone should give back. My grandmother ran a dry cleaner’s. I saw her wake up at 4 a.m. and come home at midnight. When people didn’t pick up their clothes for a year, we were giving people clothes and packaging certain outfits. 

Her vision for the arts: How do we ensure that we get our share of the entertainment venues? What can you do to create value, and can we do it for all the segments of the population? We (at the AT&T Performing Arts Center) talk about being a community gathering place, programming outdoor events and making it a place where people feel comfortable. We want to be a place people understand is theirs.

On balancing her ambitions with her husband’s: I never want to clip anyone’s wings, and I never want anyone to clip my wings. I had my dream job, but what he had to contribute at that time (when he was elected mayor) was more important than what I had at the time. It created a different family dynamic, but we figured it out and made it work. We are a team for life, and there were no rules or playbook. I am very proud of him, but in all candor, that was his life. I figured out how to exist and thrive beside him, in front of him and behind him. We don’t always agree on everything, but people make assumptions that because we are married we agree. 

I never want to clip anyone’s wings, and I never want anyone to clip my wings.

What she is proud of: I am proud of my girls, who graduated from Stonewall Jackson Elementary. My oldest graduated from Fordham Law School and the youngest is a professional dancer and graduated from NYU. Never say an East Dallas education can’t get you places. I love them and am very proud of them. Also, to stay married for 30 years and know that you have another 30 years in you is a great feeling. 

Her most challenging moments: The risk of your husband running for office was hard, because it is rare for families to succeed and be together in politics. Getting into executive search was a risk because all I knew was banking and financing for 22 years. It is a whole career shift. And taking on and chairing an organization (the AT&T Performing Arts Center) that was retiring a significant amount of debt was a risk. You are a part of a change, part of doing something that is going to create a new shift. That is the risk you take and you have to be ok with that. 

Our community’s greatest issue: We only have 10 percent of our population engaging. What would it look like for more people to take part? Would some of the gender issues go away? The more people you have vested in something, the closer you get to solutions.

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