Being a dental hygienist was a nice enough profession, but it wasn’t satisfying Marta Loyd’s desire to make an impact on the world.
“It took me becoming an adult to learn enough about myself to know I needed to be in some sort of career — I know this sounds trite — but I really needed to feel like I was making a difference,” Loyd said.
That insight wasn’t revealed on a mountaintop, but it took her to one.
Loyd is the new executive director of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain, where she and her husband live.
“I’m required to live up here; it’s not a hardship,” she said, laughing.
Loyd grew up in Fort Smith, a middle child “and all that comes with that,” she said.
“Honestly, I feel like it was a gift,” she said, because middle children typically don’t like conflict and try to resolve problems. “I believe that part of my nature helps me with relationship building.”
Her parents served as role models for giving back — her father was a surgeon, and her mother didn’t work outside the home, but she was a “very talented musician,” a pianist, Loyd said. She recalled that her mother played for all the mayor’s functions, as well as at weddings, funerals, for nursing home residents and for a friend who had cancer when she couldn’t think of anything to get the woman.
Loyd’s mother, Patsy Mings, died of cancer in 2006, and Loyd’s father, Harold, lives on a cattle farm in Oklahoma that once belonged to her grandparents.
Family was all-important to her mother, Loyd said, and she feels the same devotion.
That’s why Loyd, a mother of three, chose dental hygiene, she said, to be able to work part time and be a mom.
It didn’t satisfy her soul, though, and her husband, Greg, knew it. He found her next job as program coordinator in continuing education at Westark Community College in Fort Smith, now the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Shortly after she started working at the college, administrators found out she had been a dental hygienist. She was asked to help start a dental-hygienist program there, after one had failed five years before.
“That’s when I learned about myself; I did have the ability to build these relationships across the state,” she said.
Loyd said she brought together several groups and entities, including the state Department of Higher Education, the Arkansas Dental Hygiene Association and the Arkansas Dental Association, to help create a successful dental-hygiene program that is still in place.
Carolyn Moore, a former vice chancellor for university advancement, asked Loyd if she wanted to be the school’s program director.
“No, it’s not really my dream,” Loyd said.
Moore told Loyd that she’d been watching her and was impressed with her natural gift of building relationships. Moore suggested that Loyd become a development officer.
Loyd didn’t think so because she remembered back to college.
“I used to cry when I had to ask my dad for money for the phone bill,” she said.
Moore, her mentor, explained to Loyd that she wouldn’t be asking for money for herself, that it would help students, and that she would be working with philanthropists.
“She said it was for the greater good,” Loyd said.
As it turned out, Loyd was perfect for the position.
“It was a great fit for my interest and skills,” she said. “I was born to do it. I don’t know how else to say it.”
When Moore left for another position, Loyd presented a 10-year plan to then-chancellor Joel Stubblefield, who asked if she was interested in being vice chancellor. Loyd applied for and was hired in the position.
“I loved it — too much,” she said. “I became a serious workaholic.”
Loyd said her family can attest that every time they went out to dinner, she would ask their server if he was in college. If he said no, Loyd would ask, ‘Why not?’
“I’d give them my card and say, ‘Come see me.’ Those waiters and waitresses would come see me, and I’d help them get a scholarship. They were just needing a little push. I got a lot of joy from getting them over the hump.”
The push she needed to stop being a workaholic was serious, too. In 2008, she was driving to the airport at 4:30 a.m. and lost control of her car on a slick spot in Fort Smith on Interstate 540. Her car spun around into the path of an 18-wheeler going 70 mph, she said.
Her vehicle was crushed, but she had only a bruise on her wrist.
“I realized I need to make sure my priorities were straight and appreciate my family. I want to make sure I’m enjoying the right things,” she said.
At the time, she was working on her Doctor of Education degree in educational leadership and policy analysis, which she completed.
Shortly after Loyd became vice chancellor, Stubblefield died, and in 2006, Paul Beran took over as chancellor.
“Dr. Beran became my mentor, too,” Loyd said.
“He said, ‘I want everyone on my senior staff to have a doctorate,’ and I enrolled in a doctorate program, literally two weeks after that,” she said.
“He invested in me; he prepared me to move on,” she said.
Beran sent her to Harvard for high-level management-development training, as well as other programs.
“I saw a person with phenomenal potential who was already doing a great job, but I saw that she could really go on and be a CEO someplace and really go to that next level,” Beran said. “One of my few strengths is that I can spot talent.”
Beran said their relationship wasn’t a one-way street.
“When I came in, I’d say she was a mentor for me at the beginning, certainly, even more than I was a mentor for her,” Beran said of Loyd. “She gave me the opportunity to meet the community and get engaged in getting to know the people I needed to know to be successful in my position.”
He said Loyd is a “great manager of boards” and takes direction for them well, too.
“I have seen Marta manage people in very humane but very straightforward and honest ways,” Beran said. “She is not just concerned about people getting along; she is concerned about them getting along to get the job done.”
Loyd, 54, said she also felt like she had accomplished most of her goals at UA-Fort Smith.
“I felt like you can stay somewhere too long,” she said. “I thought I wanted one more challenge.”
Loyd had attended conferences at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, which is part of the University of Arkansas system with the goal of honoring the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller’s legacy “and all the good he did for Arkansas,” she said. “Basically, we try to approach issues, what I like to call the Rockefeller way, in that we bring thought leaders to the mountain to talk about important issues for our state, give them the opportunity to collaborate and move toward solutions.”
The institute was established in 2005 with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. It hosts workshops, seminars, lectures and special events through the institute and conference center.
“I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to work here,” Loyd said.
“My husband found this job,” she said. He was on the WRI website getting directions so he could pick her up from a leadership retreat when he saw the job posting. “The email that he sent in the subject line said, ‘Your new job.’”
After talking to Milo Shult of Texas, president of the WRI Board of Trustees, about the job, “I was even more enthusiastic,” Loyd said.
Shult, formerly of Conway, said he encouraged Loyd to apply for the position. She was one of more than 100 applicants.
He said she impressed board members at every turn, and as the board kept narrowing the field, her name rose to the top.
“Marta, of course, was at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and … she came up by her bootstraps and did an excellent job with their development program,” he said.
“She came across exceptionally well, so we’re very pleased she accepted the offer, and I’ll tell you, she has really hit the ground running and has done a superb job,” he said. “She has a good way of working with people. She’s reached out, engaged the campus people and is engaging others, and I think she’s going to be an excellent choice.”
“Mentors are key,” Loyd said. “I couldn’t have done it on my own. I try to pay it forward.”
Loyd said she stays in touch with many of the former restaurant servers whom she encouraged to get an education, and she received letters of congratulations from some of them when she took the job at WRI. She has also found people to encourage and mentor at WRI, where she has made friends quickly.
“We love her,” Gigi Sellers, a volunteer at the WRI gift shop, said of Loyd. “She’s the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time.”
Loyd said the passion of the institute’s employees impresses her.
“The dedication of the staff is really amazing,” Loyd said. “They really have a passion for honoring the governor’s legacy.”
Loyd said she wants to strengthen the message about Rockefeller’s legacy and communicate that more effectively, as well as strengthen the relationship WRI has with the University of Arkansas System.
The transition from UAFS to the institute was a natural one, she said.
She was making a difference in the lives of students at one university, “and now I get to work with all the UA system and beyond. Working for a Rockefeller entity, you have a responsibility to make the state better. I feel a responsibility to use his name and this institute in a way that he would be proud,” she said.
“One of my goals is to try to help the people of Arkansas recognize the jewel we have here and what it means to the state.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.