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Beth Van Duyne

It all started with a neighborhood playground in need of some serious TLC. Wanting somewhere safe for her young daughter to play, Beth Van Duyne went door to door to raise money for a new playground. Eighteen months and $200,000 later, she’d met her goal, but her itch for community service remained.
 
These days, Beth Van Duyne scratches the itch as mayor of Irving. Her days are jam-packed with meetings to discuss everything from economic development to the recent swarm of earthquakes. In between meetings, Beth squeezed us in to put aside politics and candidly discuss her most important role to date: that of mom to 15-year-old Katherine (Katie) and 13-year-old Pearce.
 
What drew you to politics?
[Building the playground] was a real trial in patience and love, but it was a really good experience. I think once you prove that you can complete something, then other people want to get involved. I was 32 when I decided I was going to run [for city council]. I started talking to campaign managers and they told me to gain weight, put my hair back in a bun, don’t wear makeup and wear glasses. A couple people told me I should have a shtick like handing out cookies because I was the mom. As a result, I didn’t have a campaign manager my first campaign.
 
How long have you been a single mom?
A little over a year. I am very lucky. I’ve had a lot of friends who have gone through horrendous divorces. We didn’t have that kind of divorce. He’s still really involved in the kids’ lives.
 
Tell me about Pearce and Katherine.
My son just got his black belt and is very involved in Boy Scouts. His teachers always describe him as a “funny kid.” He was always a rule follower. He’s very energetic. Loves video games.
 
My daughter got her black belt two years ago and is involved in everything. She is a sophomore and she’s already head of band this year. She’s really involved in robotics. She is her own person. I'm not concerned at all about the effects of peer pressure on her. She is a leader. She’s very outspoken and very independent.
 
So might politics be in her future? 
She threatens me. It wouldn’t surprise me.

How have you balanced politics with parenthood?
One of the things I’ve always done is be really honest with my kids and involve them. But it’s tough. There have been concerts that I’ve missed, karate tournaments I haven’t gone to. But they accept it. If there’s something I know that’s important to them, I won’t even ask. You miss whatever it is to go to those things.
 
Is there anything that you do for yourself to stay sane?
Spending time with my kids. I will cancel a meeting if I feel that I’m getting overwhelmed because there will be weeks that just go on and on and on.
 
First parenting low that comes to mind? 
Twelve hours after my daughter was born, having to identify that they had to have surgery on her eye. After we got out of the hospital we spent the next three days in doctors’ offices. Some of the doctors we went to thought it was a tumor and we were going to have to have her eye removed. When you think, I did everything right: I exercised. I didn’t drink. I took all my prenatal vitamins. I did all of my prenatal care. That was the first time that I really realized that you don’t have nearly as much control as you think you do. That was by far the worst.
 
Parenting high?
When my daughter was going to get her black belt. You brag on your kids, but it’s always so much cooler to see that other people recognize their talents. And with my son … him sticking in karate even though he didn't want to and getting his black belt — just showing the tenacity.
 
Good habit you’d be happy to pass on to the kids?
My passion. It gets you through everything. Passion and a positive attitude. I love the diversity in life. There are low times; there are high times. But at least you’re living. I really want my kids to have that.
 
Bad habit you hope not to pass on?
I’m always late. It’s a horrible habit and my son is the same way. My daughter is the exact opposite. To her if you’re there 14 minutes early you’re late.

What does a day in your life look like? 
I’m usually up around 5:30–6am to look at emails to get prepped for the day. You have to read the newspaper before you leave. I usually have a ton of meetings.
 
Yesterday, I was on the phone about six hours and in and out of meetings. I met with the Railroad Commission of Texas and media. I had a luncheon. It is never the same day twice. There’s a lot of multitasking. You get credited with nothing but you get blamed for everything, so you have to have big enough shoulders to deal with that. If you walk in with an ego, it’s going to get crushed.
 
Do you have any help managing things at home?
No, my kids help me manage things. They’re really pretty good. The rule in my house is, “Clean up after yourself.”
 
What do the kids think about what you do?
Reading some of the stuff in the paper … my daughter gets the eye rolls. It’s probably most difficult on my mother. My mother cuts out all these articles and she saves them all. My son doesn’t even look at the paper.
 
How would you spend a totally free day?
I took off the week around Christmas. My family went to colonial Williamsburg. I read two books. I went swimming. We went for a ton of walks. We went shopping. I wasn’t looking at my phone. I wasn’t on conference calls … and to force the kids to disconnect. We all have this thing where we go to dinner and we have to put our phones on the table and whoever is the first to touch their phone has to buy dinner or do a favor for someone at the table.
 
Who’s usually the first one out?
Me. I hate to say that.
 
Favorite spots around the city?
Does home count? We try to go someplace different all the time. I love Heritage Park. I think Main Street is awesome. Blue Fish is probably my favorite place to eat. Mustang Park Recreation Center is our favorite rec center. The Valley Ranch Library I adore. We pretty much stay in the bubble.

What might our readers be surprised to learn about you?
A title is a title, but it doesn’t define me. I'm just a normal person. I have the same frustrations, challenges and joys as anybody else. When I'm at the grocery store with my hair pulled back in a ponytail, that’s me. That’s me next to you filling my car up with gas and that’s me next to you in the carpool line swearing because I just got cut off. I am a person just like everybody else. I’ve lived in the same house since ’97. There’s no mayor’s mansion. There’s no driver. It’s just me. It is not glamorous.