The room now nearly emptied, and having shaken more than a hundred hands, Joan Brannick stands holding a rose she has received, a gift from the UCC's Executive Council to acknowledge her retirement at the end of the year as executive vice president of the UCC's Pension Boards. She has a smile and a ready posture that says, "I'm ready to take on another room—and perhaps another 21 years—if necessary."
When asked about the emotion of this moment, Brannick responds briskly, "Years ago, I learned that as a woman in a man's world, you don't make excuses. You don't cry."
New programs, benefits
And Brannick certainly has nothing to cry about. Neither do the 14,834 clergy and laity enrolled in the plan. Under her leadership as executive vice president, the coffers of the Pension Boards have grown from $1.5 billion to $2.3 billion.
Programs and benefits also have grown. Brannick oversaw changes in programs and computer systems to help the Pension Boards increase its responsiveness to members. Improvements include toll-free phone access and enhancements to the health, dental, pharmacy and annuity plans. Even as she leaves, she is planning a major announcement this December about enhancements to the annuity plan.
"Many of these enhancements are made possible by our new computer system," she says.
Brannick began with the Pension Boards as director of member services in 1979, and worked her way up to become its administrative vice president (second in command) in 1986. She became the Pension Boards' top executive in 1995.
In a field in which few women in the nation have risen to run such a powerful financial engine, this is no small accomplishment. According to the Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, Connecticut Conference Minister, "Joan works in that difficult crossroad between national church leadership and the New York world of high finance. It is a cross to bear. As women, we must carry out our ministries with all the excellence and faith we can muster. Those who might take pot shots at us because we are women are not able to do so when our record speaks for itself unquestionably."
The Rev. Ralph Quellhorst, Ohio Conference Minister, says that Brannick's record does indeed speak for itself. "She has done a fine job of managing and seeing that the investments and assets of the clergy are safely cared for," he says. "She has also worked to build collegial relations with the Conference Ministers. She paves the way for other professional women by her example."
The Rev. Martha Cruz is one of the professional church women that Brannick hired into the Pension Boards.
"Joan Brannick is a woman of tremendous humor and compassion, who has lived out her Christian faith and calling by ministering to those who so faithfully serve the church in all its settings," says Cruz, director for member communications. "She is not only a role model for women in the church, but a strong advocate as well. Through her ministry, she has helped open many doors for women throughout the UCC—both now and in generations to come."
Brannick's pastor, the Rev. Wayne L. Owens, describes her as "a faithful and active member at our little 45-member Community UCC congregation in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. On the rare weekend that she is not traveling to meetings or churches throughout the denomination, she drives more than 40 miles to attend," says Owens.
Brannick says that she was willing to travel more than her predecessors in order to "put a human face on the Pension Boards by becoming more accessible to members."
According to the Rev. William F. Dalke III, director of conference relations for the Pension Boards, Brannick was "deeply involved in the life of the United Church of Christ, not just health insurance and pension plans. As she attended meetings throughout the denomination, she was not just an observer. She was an active participant."
In addition to being an able administrator, Brannick also has been a social advocate. She has been an ardent advocate of "health care for all." She strengthened the Pension Boards' sensitivity to socially responsible investing, widening input from the covenanted Ministries and hiring Amy Muska O'Brien as director for corporate and social responsibility. O'Brien works collaboratively with various settings of the denomination and the Pension Boards.
When asked what was the best advice she has ever received, Brannick says firmly with a smile, "It is important to do the job right. It is equally important to do the right job."
Given the growth of the pension funds, the increased accessibility of the Pension Boards and the respect of her colleagues, Brannick can retire knowing that she succeeded in taking that advice.
Ron Buford is advertising manager for United Church News.