Linda Sutherland describes herself as the public face of the Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County.
Her position took her to luncheons, health fairs, fundraisers and meetings, where the focus was often on early childhood health and education.
“It’s kind of funny. If it has something to do with children and families, even if I wasn’t invited, I’ll show up,” Sutherland laughed.
But after 20 years as executive director, her presence will be missed. She’s retiring this month.
“I’ll definitely miss this place,” Sutherland said from her office in Orlando. “I’ll miss the people who are like-minded and have a passion for this like I do.”
Sutherland’s passion was what her coworkers wanted the community to understand about her career. They felt that a retirement party wasn’t enough, they also nominated her for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
Jarrod McCovery, Healthy Start project manager, spoke for the entire office when he said, “Nominating her was a no-brainer. She just accomplished and achieved so much in her tenure here.”
McCovery added that Sutherland has been an inspiration to him.
“She’s someone that I look up to professionally and personally. She inspires and she’s an all-around good person,” he said.
Healthy Start is a free home-visiting program that provides education and care coordination to pregnant women and families of children under the age of 3. The goal of the program is to lower risk factors associated with pre-term birth, low-birth weight, infant mortality and poor developmental outcomes.
As her retirement day approaches, Sutherland remains committed to the mission. Her last days are being spent answering emails, processing donations and preparing for an upcoming audit.
“I tell people, ‘You really can’t get rid of me,’” said Sutherland, adding that she plans to stay involved in the maternal and child health initiative. “They’re stuck with me. There’s really no escaping if you have that early childhood passion.”
Sutherland’s passion first showed itself in 1990 when she decided to run for a seat on the Orange County School Board after encountering a candidate she felt was unqualified.
“I started complaining about him to my friends and colleagues and they said, ‘Put your money where your mouth is,’ and that’s how I decided to run, and it started my messaging to parents, really.”
Sutherland served 12 years on the board before joining Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County.
Sutherland’s last day is June 30. She says she plans to travel, spend more time with family and finally catch up on some novels.
“She’ll be missed,” McCovery said. “Her legacy will live on in our programs and initiatives. We will continue her mission.”
“I’m proud of my time here being surrounded by people who believe in the cause and want to make the world a better place for moms and babies,” said Suthertland, reflecting on her career.