Mills alumna and diplomat Lora Bryning Redford died of respiratory failure at her home in Washington state Feb. 7. As a U.S. Foreign Service officer, she was a pioneer in a time when very few women were working in the field. Her career and life inspired her daughter-in-law and granddaughter to pursue their own paths, empowering them as women.
During World War II, Lora worked for the Rockefeller Commission in Mexico City in 1945 and for the next seven years served in Belgium, Japan, and Burma. Her career came to its end in 1952, due to a policy that did not allow married women to be diplomats. She left her career to marry a fellow Foreign Service officer, Ralph Redford.
Lora’s son, Kent Redford, recalled the struggles his mother must have gone through when women had fewer rights than they do today. “[My mother] had a difficult time in trying to achieve what women want while trying to balance it all,” he said. “She was one of the pioneers of this round of people in trying to reconcile how to have a profession and a family, and the world at large wouldn’t let her do it. It was a great frustration to her.”
Although Lora gave up her career to raise a family, her achievements impacted future generations of women including the women in her family. Kent’s wife, Pamela Shaw, who works for a women’s clothing company, said the lessons learned from her mother-in-law’s generation made a deep imprint on her. “I am in charge of helping my company accommodate women in combining their work life and family life,” she said.
Lora also influenced a younger generation. Her granddaughter, Sofia Redford, is a freshwoman at Mt. Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts.
When Lora’s health was failing, Pamela and her daughter, Sofia Redford, went to Washington to see her. Pamela recalled Sofia sharing her feelings with her grandmother about her first semester at college, and in particular, her decision to join the debate team. “Lora really lit up,” said Pamela.
Lora then recalled for her granddaughter her own experience on the debate team at the University of Puget Sound as an undergraduate, when she and her partner were selected to participate in a regional debate in Texas, for which they raised the money during the depths of the depression. According to Pamela, Lora said, “‘There are certain times in your life where you can sense doors opening in front of you. When I went down on that train trip I saw the whole country and I experienced this community and this event. At that time I felt that doors were opening in front of me and that I was seeing into a wider life.’”
Sofia said she feels profoundly influenced by her mother and grandmother. “[They] are strong, dynamic women. They are an example of how you can just be yourself,” she said. “You don’t have to let other people define you—you can stand apart.”
She credits not only her mother and grandmother for her empowerment but also her experiences at a women’s college. “[It is] a strong community that lets you be who you are and encourages that,” she said.
Lora’s most recent job was as a secretary for the White House during the Clinton administration. “[She] quit when George Bush won for the first time,” said Sofia.
Kent believes that if his mother had the opportunities women have today, she would have been able to accomplish even more. “My mother would have made a great young woman now,” he said. “She would have just been snapped up and been able to do tremendous things.
Lora pursued graduate studies at Mills. However, The Weekly was unable to confirm her dates of attendance and degree by press time.
Lora’s survivors include her husband of 52 years, Ralph; her three sons Bruce, Kent and Scott Redford; and two grandchildren.
“I’m proud to be part of her legacy,” said Sofia.