Public Service Innovators -- Jackie Weatherspoon MPA 1991: She Tried It and Liked It

February 8, 2001
Lory Hough

For Jackie Weatherspoon, MPA 1991, the terms "working" and "public service" go hand in hand.
"There is no distinction," she says. "Public service is like breathing air. Making money is never the only thing in life."
It's a good thing Weatherspoon adapted this philosophy. Now in her third term as a full-time, elected state representative in New Hampshire's "citizen's legislature" - the nation's oldest - she earns in one year what many people spend in one week on groceries: $100.
"When it began in 1776, only wealthy white men took part," she says, explaining the initial reasoning behind the low salary. "Even today, in order to run, you have to be wealthy, retired, or just dedicated. This is real public service."
Devoting herself to a career that doesn't pay the bills is difficult, she says, especially with four kids.
"I don't deny it. It's not easy," she says, explaining that during her first term, she supplemented her income by working part time as a librarian and teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, where her husband is dean of students and where her family has lived in a boy's dormitory for the past 14 years.
Still Weatherspoon says, this passion for helping others trickled down to her because "public service has always been a part of my family and extended family."
Beyond her work in state government, she found scholarship money for Ukranian students to attend Phillips Exeter, volunteered with the League of Women Voters, and worked with the Gore campaign to "win back" the New Hampshire seacoast for Democrats. A couple of years ago, she even started her own nonprofit, Decision in Democracy International, aimed at bringing women from emerging democracies to the United States to receive training in how to run for office.
Weatherspoon's public service resume doesn't end there, either. She endured five months of bombings in Bosnia working for the Organization in Security Cooperation in Europe as an election officer assisting in implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. She attended the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and helped organize a follow-up post-conference event in New Hampshire. She traveled with Hillary Rodham Clinton to Iceland as part of the ongoing Vital Voices conference (an outgrowth of the Beijing conference). Most recently, she was in Belgrade with Swanee Hunt, director of the Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program, talking about how women can build grassroots networks and get elected to office.
As Weatherspoon moves onto her next challenge - sponsoring legislation to end the death penalty in her state - she has this bit of advice for Kennedy School students who wonder if they can "afford" to devote themselves to public service as she has: "Try it. You may like it."


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