Helene Combs Dreiling
Cheryl Miller interviews the 2015 Boomer & Shaker honoree.
Helene Combs Dreiling, 57, is both a leader and visionary in the fields of design and architecture. In a male-dominated profession, Dreiling became president of the 85,000-member American Institute of Architects in 2014. She is only the third female president in the organization’s 158-year history. Under her watch, the Branch House in Richmond has been transformed into the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, for which she serves as executive director. Early in her career, Dreiling worked for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. And, as a student at Virginia Tech, she was named campus “Woman of the Year” for academic excellence and exemplary student leadership.
WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
“I would tell myself not to get SO upset about failure and criticism. In fact, the times when I have learned the most are those times when I have been criticized by others or when something I’ve tried has been a failure.”
WHAT’S YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?
“Without doubt, being the president of the American Institute of Architects in 2014. … I learned more and grew more than I could have ever thought possible. Few people have the opportunity to serve at the highest level of their profession, so it was a great honor as well as an overwhelming responsibility.”
TO WHOM WOULD YOU OFFER AN INSPIRATIONAL WORD OR MESSAGE? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
“My advice would be to aspiring leaders, of any profession or field. I would offer to them that the hardest thing for leaders to learn is to be selfless, but [selflessness] can be acquired. Selflessness is learned through dedication and devotion to serving others.”
HOW DO YOU HOPE TO MAKE YOUR ORGANIZATION AN EVEN MORE INTEGRAL PART OF OUR LOCAL COMMUNITY?
“At The Branch, we believe that design defines culture and can elevate an ordinary experience to an extraordinary one. Everything around us, both large and small, has been designed: Once we help others begin to appreciate the importance of design, then we challenge visitors of all ages to begin to imagine a future enriched by design. This mission has the potential to transform our culture and society.”
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A POSITIVE OUTLOOK, ESPECIALLY IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGES?
“This will be my only one-word response: faith.”
WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO WORK TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR COMMUNITY?
“Margaret Mead said it far more eloquently than I could: ‘Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.’ ”
Cheryl Miller is celebrating her 31st year as news anchor at WTVR-CBS 6, and is co-host of Virginia This Morning, and hosts the Battle of the Brains high school academic quiz show.