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An exit interview with Sue Idtensohn of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando

Idtensohn talks contraception, empowerment and retirement amid the current political attacks on reproductive rights

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

I found the job out of the newspaper. It was right after I stopped working for Chiles and Jeb Bush had come in. I had worked for Johnson & Johnson, it was my first job ever, and I was the first woman that they hired. I was the first woman who was selling birth control pills in this country. I was absolutely appalled – I've always been appalled, since I was born, about a lot of things; I've spent most of my adult life appalled – I thought wait a minute, why can't they have access to the pill so that they can control their lives. So when I saw this job as the director of Planned Parenthood, that was almost a full circle for me. Because I worked in Asia, I ran an institute in Singapore, I've done a lot of things. I kind of think of myself as a renaissance woman, because I've always thought that you have a limited amount of time, and you need to go for it. So when I interviewed for the job with the board at the time, I said, ‘My resume is very unusual, I've done a lot things. But I really believe that women have not been represented appropriately in this area and I think Planned Parenthood needs to have a presence.'

Was there resistance?

I think there was resistance because they didn't know what they were getting. I said to them, ‘If you want someone who is going to be a force in this community and talk about women's health and make it an important discussion and grow this facility, then you need to hire me. If you don't want to do that, please don't hire me. If you want me to just stay on West Colonial Drive in a little 2,000-square-foot cinder-block house and hand out brochures, please don't hire me. It's an injustice to you and an injustice to me.' They hired me. So I said OK, and I kind of dragged them and changed the board a couple of times. I said, ‘Hey, this is very important and we need to be proud of it.' At the time, this Planned Parenthood was the youngest in the whole federation. Planned Parenthood's 95 years old. There are affiliates around the country that have a long history. They have large endowments left to them. We just don't have that here yet. We will have it, because we've really established our footprint in this community. I tell people all the time that I am not confrontational, but I am very determined. You want to hook up with me, we're going to get stuff done. It is about representing women and families in the community; it's not about me.

So is right now the lowest of lows or the highest of highs for you? Or is it somewhere in between?

It's kind of somewhere in between. I am very proud of what we have done in this community, my staff, the board and me. It is very unusual that a nonprofit after 15 years is thriving and growing every year and being asked to contribute and be partners with other people and groups in the community. It's a hard slog, because Orlando is not a philanthropic community, it doesn't have a broad base of companies that are headquartered here. The two largest employers are headquartered out of California. Most of my donations come from 90 percent individuals that want to help us and make sure that we're here. I think with Jenna Tosh coming on, it's just a terrific transition. I couldn't be happier.

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