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McEntee: Karen Shepherd, businesswoman and Democrat, on life beyond politics

Published February 1, 2012 4:17 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Karen Shepherd has served in the Utah Senate and the U.S. House. She was publisher-editor of Network, a seminal magazine for Utahns for a decade, and the U.S. executive director with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, living in London for six years.

Shepherd, whose résumé spans four pages, also makes a mean latte.

So when we sat down to talk, it was only natural to ask for her thoughts on politics here and around the nation.

"I feel sad about it," said Shepherd, a lifelong Democrat. "It's so divisive, so venomous. It makes people feel hopeless and hapless, and I think that's exactly the wrong state of mind for a good democracy."

As for President Obama's re-election prospects, she said, "I have my fingers crossed. He's very smart and he's very hopeful, and he seems to be able to figure out things like this. But it's hard."

Given the nation's problems — a gridlocked Congress, a wheezing economy, a morass of conflicting "truths," she said, "I'm glad I'm not running."

Besides, Shepherd is plenty busy. She's on the corporate boards of Key Bank's Victory Funds, UBS Bank USA's Industrial Loan Commission and O.C. Tanner, the jewelry and employee-recognition company.

Shepherd also is chairwoman of UBS Bank's Community Reinvestment Committee. Among its targets for giving are food banks, homeless shelters, the YWCA and YMCA, Volunteers for America, children who need early intervention and homeless youth.

All that was preceded by her work with the European Bank, where she was one of 23 board members representing 60 nations, including Russia, central and eastern Europe and even Japan.

Having lost her re-election bid for the U.S. House in then-speaker Newt Gingrich's so-called Republican revolution of 1994, the work overseas "was worth losing the election … which was not a pleasant experience.

"It was an exciting time, just four years after the Berlin Wall came down, and the goal of the bank was to help countries build democracies and market economies," Shepherd said.

"So we made loans and investments … that worked in every country but Russia," which she describes as hopelessly mired in corruption, totalitarianism and "in the dark ages about freedom."

When Shepherd returned to Utah in 2002, her aging parents both had developed dementia. Both died eight years later. Both were 97.

"My parents died by inches," she said. "When you're caring for people like this, and you're a 60-plus person, you think, 'Holy smokes, this is how it is. I see it coming my way.' "

That means making choices, plans, which her parents could not do. "They lost all their freedom, because we made all the choices. We begged them to make choices early, and they refused.

"On her deathbed, my mother said, 'I never thought this would happen to me.' I said, 'Jeez, Mom, you're 97.' "

True to the writer she has been all her life, Shepherd chronicled those years.

"It was just such an experience that I kept notes the whole time. I was a column writer [at Network] and I found myself writing what amounted to columns. I'm trying to pull it into some kind of form.

"What I'd like to do is get into a routine where I have the busy-ness in one section of my life and I have a writing life," she said. "I haven't pulled that off yet."

Then I asked her if she had any plans to retire. This may have been a mistake.

"Let's talk about that word. What does that word mean?" said Shepherd, a former English teacher. "It means you go into a room and close the door. 'Retire' means go away somehow. I'm not going away."

She added that she doesn't work 8-to-5 anymore, but she and her husband, Vince, "work very hard. I control my own time more than I ever did, and I like that."

Calling herself a "busybody," she said, "I'm redirected. I'm just doing things that interest me a lot. I'm writing and being on boards; I really like my corporate boards because they're intellectually challenging. I like my involvement with business because I like having my own business."

With that, she showed me a picture of her granddaughters, who are "constantly in my house, keeping me alive."

About that latte. Shepherd made the espresso and frothed the milk with a hand whisk. It was an elegant moment with a strong, smart, elegant woman.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.