Courtney Gregoire ’01 believes in serving her community.
It’s why she joined the Associated Student Body at Willamette and worked as a White House intern as a sophomore. It’s why she directed the National Export Initiative for President Barack Obama, and it’s why she ran for office as a Port of Seattle commissioner last year.
To Gregoire, Willamette’s motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born,” is more than a mantra. It’s a way of life.
“When I moved back to Seattle, my priority was to reengage with the public sphere,” says Gregoire, daughter of former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.
“I wanted to take my experience working on President Obama’s National Export Initiative and leverage that to help serve my home community.”
Working at the White House
At Willamette, Gregoire immersed herself in the university’s numerous offerings. She went on overnight hikes through the Outdoor Program. She joined the debate team, and she encouraged voter representation through her role as student body president.
She also worked as a White House intern during the end of the Clinton administration — a job that soon led to other, larger opportunities.
“A policy assistant left with very little notice, and because I had often offered to help with the smaller tasks of copying and filing, an administrative assistant recommended me for the full-time, paid job,” Gregoire says.
“That experience really taught me the value of supporting every member of the team, because you never know who might offer you the next great opportunity.”
When Gregoire returned to Willamette the following year, she distinguished herself further by becoming a Truman Scholar. Through the national program, college juniors committed to working in public service receive up to $30,000 in tuition aid.
Gregoire used the funding to help finance her law degree at Harvard University.
“I was really thankful that my professors and academic advisor encouraged me to apply for the Truman,” says Gregoire, who majored in politics. “I considered that personal attention the unique part of why Willamette helped lead me on a great path.”
Finding her Calling
Politics professor Richard Ellis says Gregoire’s leadership abilities shone as a student. She loved to argue and debate politics, and she was assertive and forceful without being confrontational or brash.
“She was committed to public service and to making a difference in people’s lives,” Ellis says. “On those rare days when she was not in class, the whole class seemed flatter and less animated.”
Familiar with Gregoire’s path since graduating — which includes working in D.C. as legislative director, chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and as deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Commerce — Ellis says Gregoire’s dedication to public service has never wavered.
“Obviously, in her life since Willamette, she has continued to make public service her trademark,” he says. “Imagine how much better our politics would be if all our public servants had Courtney’s razor-sharp mind, good sense, political acumen and passion for social justice.”
Gregoire’s passion for service led her to work with the Obama administration for nearly three years. One of her jobs was directing the president’s National Export Initiative at the International Trade Administration. The goal was to double U.S. exports in five years and support two million U.S. jobs.
Gregoire did direct outreach to small- and medium-sized companies in the United States, partnering with ports and other organizations to launch export seminars. She also traveled internationally to compare best practices and address trade barriers as appropriate. But she never did get the budget increase from Congress.
“With limited resources, I had to focus on collaborating and partnerships both with other federal agencies and the private sector — and that is where I found success,” she says. “That goes back to one of the principles Willamette taught me, that multiple heads are better than one.”
When Microsoft offered her a job as an attorney in 2012, Gregoire and her husband — who were expecting their first child — jumped at the chance to return to the Pacific Northwest. Not long after, Gregoire sought an appointment to a vacant seat on the Port of Seattle Commission and was re-elected to that position in November 2013.
Through her role with the port, Gregoire is charged with supporting international commerce and jobs, both at the airport and within the maritime industry.
“I believe the jobs supported by the port and related industries are absolutely critical to having a thriving, diverse, middle-class in our region,” she says.
Just recently, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma announced a new seaport alliance — a collaborative approach to attracting more maritime cargo to the region. This is something that has been talked about for more than 30 years, but suffered from roadblocks.
“I’m extremely proud that our two ports found a collaborative approach to competitive threats in the seaport industry,” Gregoire says. “There is still work to be done, but this seaport alliance is a tremendous example of putting politics and provincial thinking aside to strengthen our entire region.”