The Power of Women Featuring Martha Ryan

Lisa Gable

May 25, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – October 31 – Martha Ryan attends ARCS FOUNDATION 2014 Scholar Awards Luncheon on October 31st 2014 at US in San Francisco, CA (Photo – Drew Altizer Photography)

Today’s interview is about WILLPOWER.  Joining me today is a woman known for her determination and indefatigable commitment to the causes she serves.  A dear friend of 25 years, Martha Ryan is currently the chair of the Board of Governors of The Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum. She and her husband are also dedicated members of the Library of Congress’ James Madison Council. Martha is known for elegant dinners at her beautiful home which have included notable leaders like David Rubenstein, Chair of Trustees for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – October 31 – Martha Ryan, Charlotte Shultz and George Shultz attend ARCS FOUNDATION 2014 Scholar Awards Luncheon on October 31st 2014 at US in San Francisco, CA (Photo – Drew Altizer Photography)

Martha, Welcome. You are someone who never gives up and does exactly what you say you will do. I love that about you. We have had the opportunity to work on important causes together include ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) and the 2005 Aichi World EXPO in Japan. We also shared an incredible friendship with a grande dame of fundraising, Katie Boyd, who we lost over a decade ago.

Tell us a about your philanthropic career, what it meant to be a mentored by a powerhouse like Katie and what young inspiring philanthropists should know.

I grew up with a father and mother who were highly philanthropic. Maybe I got the same gene because I think I was literally born with a small invisible bird who rests on my shoulder. The “bird” honestly chirps all day in my ear saying, “give back in every way you can”. The “bird” has pushed me to achieve great success in supporting many causes. 

As a young woman, I was introduced to one of the most powerful and influential women in the political world, my neighbor, Katherine (Katie) Boyd. Katie took me under her wing, teaching me no matter what happens to your candidate or cause, you must continue to push forward with your true beliefs. If it wasn’t for my experiences with Katie over the years, I would not have become the first female Chairperson in the state of California of the prestigious political organization, The Lincoln Club of Northern California. Two former Secretaries of State, George Shultz, and Condoleezza Rice were members of the Lincoln Club.

MENLO PARK, CA – May 2 – Greg Ryan and Martha Ryan attend ARCS Foundation Scholar Symposium on May 2nd 2016 at Quadrus Conference Center in Menlo Park, CA (Photo – Susana Bates for Drew Altizer Photography)

Share what excites you about your current stage of life.

I love this stage of my life because I am able to get involved in many different organizations. I co-founded a successful software company in 2013 with my adult son. We are a fintech company selling state of the art software to financial institutions. On the other end of the spectrum, I produced and was the Master-of-Ceremonies at a sit-down dinner that included four former Secretaries of State. Talk about having to pay attention to detail! I loved introducing Dr. Henry Kissinger, whom I found to be the most charming man ever. The tribute book I created for the event to honor Dr. Condoleezza Rice appears in two Presidential Libraries.

Martha Ryan and Janet Yellen, US Secretary of the Treasury

I was so excited when I received your note about your appointment as Chair of the board to The Commonwealth Club of California, considered one of the premier conveners in the US since its founding in 1906. Every year, the Club presents more than 450 forums on topics ranging across politics, culture, society, and the economy. 

I imagine The Commonwealth Club role is a significant one and an area on which you spend much of your time. Tell our readers about some of the speakers.

You are right. Today, my main focus has turned to being the Chairman of the Board of Governors for The Commonwealth Club. With over 20,000 members, the Club is a national forum for the impartial discussion of public issues. With over 550 programs a year, some of my personal favorite speakers have been Madeleine Albright, Tucker Carlson, Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox, and Janet Yellen.

Recently, your husband, Greg, was appointed to serve on the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, and you have become very involved with the James Madison Council.  People likely don’t know that the library is the official research arm for Congress. It is also the oldest federal cultural institution and has the largest collection of books, recordings, manuscripts, and maps in the world! Tell us about your involvement.

Since my husband Greg was appointed by Congress to serve on the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, we both have become passionate supporters of the Library of Congress. We are members of the James Madison Council which supports the funding for all private purchases for the Library’s treasures.

What are the most important documents that it holds? What are some of the unexpected things you have discovered?

The Library has many of our country’s most significant documents including The Declaration of Independence, Washington’s First Inauguration speech, and the Gettysburg Address. The Library also has the largest collection of baseball cards and comic books in the world, as well as a piece of Mozart’s and Thomas Jefferson’s hair!

The Library also extends the Gershwin Prize every year, honoring living musical artists whose standard of excellence is in keeping with that of George and Ira Gershwin. This year, the Gershwin Prize was awarded to Lionel Ritchie. Past recipients include Paul McCartney and Gloria Estefan.


Martha Ryan and Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress

Can you tell our moms where they can get information about education programs for their local schools?

The Library offers fascinating programs for both kids and adults alike. Try the “Cooking Up History” program where you actually receive Thomas Jefferson’s favorite macaroni and cheese recipe! Current exhibits include Rosa Parks, Exploring the Early Americas, and the Geppi Gems. Visiting the Library makes for a highly educational family vacation.

The Library of Congress is the people of America’s official Library. It is our treasure to use and enjoy. Parents can go to the Library of Congress website to research educational programs for specific age groups and encourage teachers to use the Library’s programs for special curriculums.

Martha Ryan and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

The Big Three

What women inspired you to break through?

Several women have inspired me to overcome obstacles and keep thriving. On a global level certainly Angela Merkel fits that category. The late Katie Boyd influenced me, as does Jennifer Johnson, the current CEO of Franklin Templeton Investments. She was the first investor in the software company I co-founded. My dear friend and the writer of this article, you–Lisa Gable–has always impressed and inspired me with your extraordinary record of accomplishments.

What are you doing to inspire the next generation of female leaders?

My goal is to set an example for the next generation of women to be the very best they can be. I will forever say “always make your physical and mental health one of your top priorities.” If at all possible, when you are young, try to start something on your own so you will always have control of your own life. Partner with others who have a different skill set than yourself, so you have the right balance of talents for success. Many successful businesses are started with a minimal amount of funds.

What advice do you have for a young woman watching who’s trying to break through or a woman who might be re-entering the workforce?

Never let anybody bring you down. Remember when people are negative or unkind, it is only a reflection of how they see themselves. Finally, never stop believing in yourself no matter what anyone says. You will achieve!