When you look at the different careers and multiple awards that Linda Odum has accumulated over the years, it’s immediately apparent that these were earned as a result of her hard work, unwavering dedication and steadfast effort. But she’d be the first to admit the role that serendipity can sometimes play in forming major decisions.
“I’ve had a series of fascinating careers,” admitted Odum, who first came to Howard County in 1970, when she became director of early childhood education at the Columbia Association.
This followed an impressive “starter” career with the Department of the Treasury, a job that took her to Europe shortly after graduating from Baylor University. After spending a few years overseas and becoming a foreign service officer in the State Department, she returned to the U.S., settling in Philadelphia to work with anti-poverty programs in that city.
Coming to Columbia
Her work in Philadelphia and in Lancaster, Penn., as model city director, led to her being interviewed for and hired by the Columbia Association. Odum is understandably proud of her accomplishments with this group, as she helped lay the groundwork for the creation of a before-and-after school care network that is still in place today. Starting with a couple of schools, the program was gradually phased in countywide.
In addition, she supervised program standards for private daycare providers, oversaw the design and construction of facilities and developed parent cooperative nursery schools.
So how does serendipity fit in? A trip to Rappahannock, Va., resulted in the purchase of an apple orchard. At the time, Odum had young children and was interested in finding a way to work but have more flexibility. Realizing how much fun the real estate adventure had been, she thought, “Well, why not take a course in real estate?”
And so, the unlikely combination of being the mother of small children and buying an apple orchard on a whim launched a new career — she became a licensed Realtor in 1976.
In typical determined fashion, Odum threw herself into this new endeavor, and it wasn’t long before her leadership skills led to new heights in this field as well.
For example, she was a founding member of the Real Estate Master Club of Howard County and served as one of its directors in 1995–96. She chaired its Community Investment Committee for several years, and became a Life Member of the Howard County Million Dollar Club, a group of the county’s most successful real estate professionals. In addition, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Howard County Association of Realtors in 2003.
She currently runs The Odum Real Estate Group, with RE/MAX 100.
Focus on Philanthropy
Then came another one of those moments when fate lends a hand. The year was 2000, and a friend encouraged Odum and two other women to attend a meeting about philanthropy in Baltimore. The event proved to be the catalyst for the founding of a new organization in Howard County: the Women’s Giving Circle (WGC).
During the car ride home, Odum recalled that, “we talked about what was close to our hearts and brainstormed how we could make philanthropy more available to women and target it specifically for women and girls.”
From that discussion the basis of the Women’s Giving Circle took shape. Over the course of the next 16 months, Odum, with help from her two friends, Yolanda Bruno and Jean Moon, developed the organization and held its kick-off event in 2002.
At the time, the idea was relatively new. The basic premise is that a Giving Circle will bring together people who share a common interest, and that they will pool their time, talent and resources to aid that cause.
In this case, the interest was in “building a community of philanthropists and creating a permanent legacy to address the needs of women and girls in Howard County,” as the WGC web site explains. According to its 2010 Highlights summary, since its inception, the organization has received “over $900,000 in gifts and pledges” from more than 900 donors. These gifts have enabled WGC to support “180+ girls in our Journey Camp” and allowed participation in “35+ programs and events with 45+ sponsors and community partners.”
Making a Difference Has Its Rewards
Though her friend, Jean Moon, has characterized Odum’s leadership style as “powerful but quiet,” Odum’s efforts to improve the lives of women and children in Howard County have not gone unrecognized. In 2008 she was honored with the Soroptimist Women Making a Difference Award. (Soroptimist is another organization that works to advance women’s and girls’ issues.)
And just a few months ago, in March, Odum was inducted into Howard County’s Women’s Hall of Fame. Since 1996, the Howard County Commission on Women has celebrated the accomplishments of extraordinary women who have made a substantial and tangible difference.
Of the many awards that Odum has received, she felt this was “the best one ever.” Not only did it honor women who had made a difference, but Odum was impressed with the “broad range” of honorees, including “educators, social service workers, doctors, individuals in service sectors” and many others.
Odum, of course, will not be resting on her laurels. She will continue to concentrate on the important things in her life — her family, her business and her philanthropic efforts. Having spent so many years focused on women’s issues, she had one thought that she would like to “broadcast from the rooftops.”
“It’s important,” she said, “for young women to take personal authority” and understand that they have “the power and right to be in charge of themselves and their future.” Good advice, really, for anyone.