Just in time for Mother's Day, an Oklahoma City mother was honored recently as the national Young Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc.
Carrie Leonard, 38, was given the title at a “Mom-to-Mom” conference last weekend in Washington, D.C. The title was a result of having been nominated by her friend, Sandy Meyers. The organization accepts nominations for the honor each fall.
“I am completely shocked and very excited. It was a really neat experience,” she said in a phone interview. “I also think it's really neat for Oklahoma to be recognized as well. When I went to that conference, I was so proud that I was from Oklahoma.”
Leonard, who is the daughter of Gov. Frank and Cathy Keating, is the proud mother of four children: Catherine, 9; William, 8; Matthew, 2; and Mary Frances, 10 months.
Leonard attended the conference with her husband Ryan Leonard, 40, and her oldest daughter, Catherine. At the conference, Leonard gave a speech about her views on motherhood, the importance of sitting down together as a family for dinner and communicating with your children.
“Take time to get to know your children, their successes and their challenges,” she said. “I feel like if you start communication at an early age, you'll have a great relationship for years to come.”
“Mommy, I have never been so proud of you,” her daughter said to her after her speech. “I didn't know what it felt like to cry when you're happy.”
This was the highlight of the conference for Leonard, she said.
Leonard holds degrees from the University of Virginia and University of Oklahoma College of Law. She's an active volunteer, having devoted much of her time to Christ the King School, the Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences, Lyric Theatre, Friends of the Mansion, the Junior League of Oklahoma City, Girl Scouts, the Annie Oakley Society and the American Heart Association.
In January, Leonard decided to quit her job as the director of development for White Fields, a home for neglected and abused boys, in order to spend more time with her family.
“I've learned that I can't balance it all perfectly,” she said. “I think that every mother has to be able to figure out what best works for her. I really loved my job and was passionate about my job ... but I loved my children more.”
During her time at White Fields, Leonard said she learned that the little boys there are really no different from her own little boys. The only difference, she said, is that her own children have involved and active parents.
The boys at White Fields inspired her “to do more at home and in the community because there are so many children that need a voice and need an advocate,” she said.
Through receiving the title of Young Mother of the Year, Leonard said she hopes to bring attention to the organization which recognizes the importance of motherhood and offers educational programs and community outreach.
“We're all doing the same job and working really hard. I did not win this because I'm the best mother,” she said. “I am very proud to say that I am representing moms.”
“When it's all said and done, I just hope that I have four happy, healthy and well-adjusted kids. That, to me, will be my biggest accomplishment.”
Leonard credits her own mother, Cathy Keating, for teaching her how to be a good mother.
“My mom is the greatest mom in the world,” she said. Frank and Cathy Keating live in Washington, D.C. “My mom has the biggest heart and she is my true and one inspiration. If I could emulate anyone it would be her. She's pretty fantastic.”
Also from Oklahoma City, Kathy Walker was the state representative for the organization's Mother of the Year category. The national Mother of the Year designation went to Ruby Graves Cheves of Georgia.