Always be prepared, listen in order to be heard, and be willing to negotiate a compromise: These are three principles that have guided Dolores Furtado throughout her life.
Furtado, a former county commissioner and former member of the Kansas House, recently received the Johnson County League of Women Voters’ Making Democracy Work Award, given to acknowledge high achievements in public service.
“To me, being a member of the League of Women Voters … it was sort of an acknowledgement by family, of ‘Yeah, we want to recognize you,’ and it has special meaning in that sense for me,” said Furtado of Overland Park.
Carisa De Anda, member of the award committee, said winners are selected on criteria that includes public service for five or more years and exhibiting honesty and principles in service to the community.
“Dolores exceeded all of these qualifications with her outstanding service,” De Anda said.
Furtado, professor emerita at the University of Kansas Medical School, has always had an interest in public health, or what she prefers to call “health of the public” because, she said, it broadens the topic beyond just the needy. She came to the field of medicine when it was rare to see women don lab coats. She chose to pursue an undergraduate degree from Cornell University because it was coeducational.
“Separate but equal? Not for me,” Furtado said.
Later she went on to a fellowship program at Harvard University, where an adviser’s threat of the “three M’s: money, marriage and forgetting her mind” — pushed her onward toward a doctorate in bacteriology from the University of Michigan. She also completed post-doctoral studies at Guy’s Hospital Medical School in London and Yale University.
While teaching at KU Medical School, Furtado became involved in faculty governance and the American Association of University Professors, advocating for issues such as tenure and qualified admissions for students.
“It allowed me to prepare to listen in order to be heard, so I listened well, and then to derive a solution you have to negotiate to compromise,” she said. “The word ‘compromise’ to some people means that it just happens — no, it’s a very negotiated process and you realize success in that way. And I did.”
Furtado became more involved in politics as a public advocate for the “Yes Yes Yes” campaign in favor of approving the Johnson County Charter Commission’s recommendations, one of which was to remove partisanship from the Johnson County Commission elections. Voters approved all three recommendations in 2000.
“(The campaign) led to my arguing that nonpartisan (elections) would bring people with skills who are not politically active to offer their service,” she said.
After retiring in September 2001, Furtado’s phone started ringing with requests from both political parties to run for office. In 2003, she began a term as a county commissioner, where her teaching experience shaped her political goals.
“Political experience, as it accumulates, causes that individual to rely more on what’s happened in the past than what is going to be in the future,” she said.
Furtado compared a four-year political term to college life. Freshman year is “awesome, amazing, wonderful, everything.” But your sophomore year, she said, you have to establish a purpose and an identity.
“You begin to look ahead,” she said, “and as a result, I was vocal enough that the county commissioners began to have a retreat. … I think it was important because it forced us to create a vision, a mission statement, emphasize what we were about and look a little bit ahead.”
In the last two years of her term, Furtado felt passionate about restricting smoking in public areas. It was a “long battle,” but she created a citizens survey that was influential in getting the Legislature to pass smoking restrictions for the state.
Afterward, Furtado was elected to the Kansas House, where her teaching experience continued to benefit her. She lost reelection in 2010.
“Being in the House, or being in the state legislature, is a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to such a broad, broad field of decisions that you have to make,” she said.
To reach Mackenzie Clark, call 816-234-4905 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.