Gloria Tarpley is the Chair of Dallas’ City Plan Commission and  volunteer extraordinaire. She grew up in Mexico City, went to Rice University and practiced commercial litigation before deciding to stay home and raise her children. Her son is a Duke-educated lawyer and her daughter graduated from Harvard and wants to be a writer. Tarpley volunteered for St. Thomas Aquinas and the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association. She served for eight years on the City of Dallas’ Ethics Commission, responding to complaints about city officials violating the city’s code of ethics. In her role on the Plan Commission, she makes recommendations about the future of Dallas development. All while on the board of trustees at Rice. 

Her motivation: Public service in one form or another is important. You do what you can. I have always been interested in what makes society tick. It (City Plan Commission) is intellectually challenging, and I enjoy learning about different parts of the city. I think I have brought a tone of civility, tried very hard to make it an open and welcoming body. Our political institutions can be very intimidating to the average citizen. Folks are often terrified. It is important that they feel welcome and treated with respect.

What brings her joy: Sometimes we have folks who come in and speak Spanish. I am completely fluent, so I turn around and talk to them in Spanish. I like the fact that we can do that in a multi-cultural city. I want to make sure everyone feels welcome.

Her philosophy: I try to be collaborative. We get further treating people nicely, even if it takes forever. Clearly, we do not agree often, but I am particularly proud of people who vote their conscience. You try very hard to do your best for your city and for your district. You vote and then you move on. There have not been any personal attacks; I personally won’t allow that. 

Something surprising: Most people have no idea about the depth of the work that goes into it (Plan Commission). They have no clue how much time commissioners put into things. People think bureaucracy doesn’t care, but the planning commission is a group of people and staff that tries to get it right. 

it never occurred to me to feel lesser in any way or that I needed to modify my behavior.

Best advice: My first job in college was a summer job at a law firm in Mexico City. I was talking with my Dad, who was a self-made businessman and he said, “No matter what they ask you to do, even if it is counting paperclips, do it as well as you can no matter what job you are doing.”

On gender discrimination: I was fortunate in that I was never impacted. Clearly, there was sexism, but a generation of women older than I was had broken through and we are in their debt. At the end of the day, I would work hard, hope for the best that things would work out, and they did. Part of why I have not been impacted by it is that I don’t think of myself as a female lawyer. I don’t gender define and it never occurs to me that anyone is going to discriminate. I don’t know if that has cloaked me in some way, but it never occurred to me to feel lesser in any way or that I needed to modify my behavior.

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