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Nan Whaley

Nan Whaley

Written by Mary McLoughlin '20

Nan Whaley graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in chemistry, but says the most valuable lessons learned during her time in undergrad were through her work with UD’s College Democrats. While getting her undergraduate degree, Whaley got involved in political campaigns and “learned how to organize at UD.” 

After graduation, Whaley faced what she calls a “fork in the road” when she was offered a prestigious job in DC. She loved Dayton, but knew “if I left it in ‘99, I would not be back.” Ultimately, her love for the city kept her here because she knew Dayton was the kind of city where she could make a difference. Dayton has been Whaley’s home since, and the love that kept her here has continued to grow as she’s found and made community in a city “built by people caring about each other.”

Though Whaley loved Dayton enough to stay, she never imagined leading it. Whaley admits, “I'd never thought of running for office,” but a few years out of college, she was approached by national democrats who wanted her to run for congress. When they explained what the process would entail, she said it felt like being told “you just need to land on the moon.” 

Despite her fears around running for office, Whaley decided to run for the city commission and was one of the youngest women to win a seat. After a year of adjusting to the pressure of public office, Whaley started to learn how the system of government worked. After the recession hit, Dayton started to struggle under leadership that didn’t take their positions seriously, so she decided to run for Mayor. Whaley says she made that decision because she “thought the mayor of Dayton should matter.” In running for office, she set out to change the position so it could serve as the voice of the community. 

Whaley was an underdog. She wasn’t from Dayton, and she wasn’t a legacy candidate. In the first poll, she came in last place. But after a grassroots campaign rooted in listening to community leaders and knocking on doors, she won her primaries with more votes than all the other candidates combined. Whaley says that type of community is what she loves about Dayton: “a it’s a very inclusive and welcoming city.” 

During her time as Mayor, Whaley has learned leadership is a skill that takes constant work and listening. As a woman mayor, she’s loved being able to bring new perspectives to a town hall where only six women have ever served as elected officials. For Whaley, her gender shapes her approach to leadership because being a woman has socialized her to think differently: “women mayors have a very different perspective, especially when we get together about how to solve a problem, or how to move forward.”

But Whaley acknowledges that leadership in a city like Dayton is about more than just moving forward. Whaley believes that leadership requires being open about and learning from the mistakes of the past. For a city like Dayton, Whaley explains there’s no moving forward without acknowledging and repairing Dayton’s past of “segregation and redlining and exclusivity instead of inclusivity.” Whaley isn’t interested in restoring Dayton to a pre-recession glory that “only worked for half our population.” Instead, she intends to “make sure that we're building a kind of Dayton that's even better than before.”

For that reason, Whaley is most proud of passing legislation to support “high quality preschool in the city” in 2016 when Dayton residents voted in favor of a ballot measure increasing taxes to support preschool for every four year old. Whaley sees this as proof that Dayton is a “community that is betting on its future.” To Whaley, being able to bring Dayton toward that future is “the honor of a lifetime.” 

When Whaley thinks of her own future, she knows she wants to continue doing work that adds value to the lives of the community that she loves and believes in. While speaking about what she has to look forward to, she says she “thinks of women 60 and 50 years ago at the front end of the women's empowerment movement” and feels grateful for all the opportunities that their legacy has afforded her. When asked what she hopes women 50 and 60 years from now will think of her legacy, Whaley laughs and says, “I hope it’s funny to them that this was ever a big deal. I hope women in leadership just isn’t a story anymore.”

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