Emily Beach was elected to the Burlingame City Council in 2015. Before we met for the first time, I looked her up online and was blown away by her resume. She served as an Army captain and served in South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Texas. How did this young woman, the mother of two young children, end up as a city councilmember? What was she doing in the Army and what led her into military service?
Beach grew up in a small town, Longmeadow, in western Massachusetts (so no Boston accent). One of the ways for her to pay for college was to enroll in ROTC. She did at the University of Notre Dame. The commitment was four years while in college and four years afterward. She was a second lieutenant when she graduated in 1996 and her first overseas assignment was in South Korea where she served in air defense. Next was a stint in Saudi Arabia where even though she was in charge of a division she was not allowed to drive and as a passenger in a car had to sit in the back and wear a burka. She met her husband in the military and they were married in 2000. He was a member of the famous 101st airborne division. I wondered who outranked who but they were both captains by the time they wed.
After military life, her husband attended law school at UC Hastings which brought them to the Bay Area. Beach found a job in technical sales in Silicon Valley. They started a family and moved to Burlingame in 2008. At that time, she decided to devote herself to bringing up her young children. She threw herself into volunteering and wound up as chair of the Burlingame Community for Education Foundation. It was almost a full-time job for four years and it was something about which she was passionate. When an opening occurred on the council, she decided to go for it.
When you meet Emily Beach in person, you realize how fortunate Burlingame is to have her talent, energy and enthusiasm. It’s something councilmembers throughout the county recognized when they recently elected her to the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.
While she has never engaged in any political march or rally before, Beach traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the women’s march, the day after inauguration. She went by herself hoping to connect with friends but there was no cellphone service because thousands of people were trying to do the same thing. She attended an early morning rally U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, held near her Rayburn office. She was in a good position to hear the speakers but it was impossible to move because of the throngs of people. Once you found your spot, that was it.
Beach was impressed with the diversity of the crowd, the number of senior citizens and young children, the number of different states represented on the handmade signs. The joy and camaraderie people felt even though they didn’t know each other. Just as military service overseas had made her so proud to be an American and treasure what we have in this country, so participation in the women’s march made her proud to be American, too.
Other thoughts on the women’s march: From a grandmother: “many thousands packed around San Francisco Civic Center which was bathed in pink, just as the ‘cheering wave’ was going through the crowd. The march was so calm with the forceful impact of solidarity and the dampening of despair. As I marched down Market with three generations in tow, there was a family of Middle Eastern descent in front with their son and daughter. The father’s sign read ‘Men of quality support women’s equality.’ Many images like this are etched in my mind and did uplift my political spirits. We were ‘all together’ and we were ‘all diverse.’ Impactful and gratifying ... with the realization that we have been an important part of history made.”
From a teacher who “rode San Jose light rail from Mountain View, and it was standing-room only Saturday morning at 8:30! With each stop more and more people packed the train as they were greeted with cheers. What impressed me the most was the diversity of the crowd — ethnic diversity, babies/toddlers/teenagers/adults, women/men/girls/boys ... a real representation of the Bay Area. And even though there were diverse messages (pro immigration, pro ACA, pro reproductive rights, etc.), there was a palpable sense of unity. The united message wasn’t about what we’re against, but what we stand for.”
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.