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Meet the President: Deborah Tatum Gilmore

by Dianna Kawell

As Deborah Tatum Gilmore, ABR, GREEN, GRI, PMN, SRES, of Marietta, GA, begins her journey as Women’s Council of REALTORS®' seventieth national president, she realizes that as much as real estate has changed since the organization was founded in 1938, some basic principles remain the same. 

And volunteerism and industry involvement remain essential ingredients for success in real estate. In 2010, Gilmore plans to spread the word about how industry involvement, especially with Women's Council, has grown her business and enriched her personally. 

For the Inaugural Leadership Luncheon on November 14, Gilmore chose to be installed as president by the woman who introduced her to Women's Council and invited her to participate in her first meeting, Chasmin Sokoloski.

"Honestly, I didn't know at first if I wanted to be in a women's group, but she invited me," Gilmore says. "When I walked into the meeting, there were women and men and not just REALTORS®. There were attorneys and banking industry professionals — people who I do business with every day. That’s when I decided to join because I found exactly what I was looking for — that professional network for my business."

Since that first meeting in 1990, Gilmore has mentored and been mentored by Women's Council members and real estate professionals across the country through her volunteer service, teaching and leadership. And she has come to depend on Women’s Council’s members for sharing business ideas, friendships and networking.

Image Deborah Tatum Gilmore with the 2010 leadership 
team; installed as president by Chasmin Sokoloski.

A Difficult Journey

Gilmore's first experience with leadership was no fairy tale but came from a dark place in her childhood that still affects her today. 

Gilmore describes her mother as a brilliant woman, also a nurse, with a serious mental illness. This illness caused her to have many breakdowns, which climaxed with an eviction and uprooting overnight Deborah and her younger sister from their beautiful home in Chicago. For about two years starting when she was 10 years old, Deborah and her mother and sister moved from one corner of the country to the next.

"Family would take us in sometimes, but not for long because they were scared of my mother and her outbursts," Gilmore says. She recalls altercations with landlords and being put out and also wandering train stations not knowing where they would sleep some nights. Gilmore remembers attending eight or nine different grade schools, which is where they got food. "We went to school, and that’s how we got a meal," she says. 

With a younger sister and seriously ill mother, "I knew I had to take the lead." Gilmore often took over to make decisions for the family’s basic needs and would sometimes go against her mother's wishes in doing so. 

It wasn't until she went to school years later to become a nurse that Gilmore fully understood her mother's illness after studying psychiatric nursing. "Just like a parent who has heart disease or diabetes, this is a serious illness," Gilmore says. "Before this happened, she was an intelligent woman with a successful career."

After two years of uncertain living arrangements, Gilmore says her mother was finally placed in treatment, and she and her sister found their way to family and a more stable life in Chattanooga, TN. In Chattanooga, Gilmore attended high school and met her husband of 35 years, Tony. They have a 31-year-old son Adrian, an attorney who works in the Bureau of Land Management in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Leadership Principles

Gilmore's early family struggles taught her some of the leadership principles she relies on today. For one, indecision is major leadership obstacle. "A big part of being a leader is taking charge and making the hard decisions," she said. 

A sense of humor is also a great trait for a leader to have, according to Gilmore. "During our personal struggles, my sister and I learned to use humor, which is good. If I had not learned to laugh, I would probably be quite socially unstable," she jokes. One of her favorite quotes on leadership is, "Connect your memories to your leadership goals and values, and reflect on your past and connect it with new experiences."

Other important factors in leadership include transparency (especially within your leadership team), mentoring future leaders and knowing when it’s time to move on and let them take the lead, she says. "Step up and get the job done," she says, "but when it’s over, it's over."

Mentoring starts early with any leadership relationship, according to Gilmore, who says she speaks frequently with her leadership team and with full transparency. "It serves me no good to keep secrets, especially from the leaders who will follow after me," she says. Gilmore respects each leadership team member acknowledging that they are individually professionals and accomplished leaders in their own right. "It's wonderful to see that you have helped future leaders develop and put their own leadership skills into action as they plan goals and objectives for situations or organizations they are leading."

Volunteer Service

Deborah Tatum Gilmore

Gilmore has made a career out of serving others. Her real estate career was preceded by 25 years as a registered nurse in community public heath and psychiatric care. Gilmore relocated from Indiana to Atlanta, where she spent five years in the interior design field. The health care and design fields have helped her working with clients in real estate.

In Georgia, Gilmore loves working with buyers and feels that she excels at serving first-time buyers and seniors. 

"I treat every transaction like I'm the one buying the house and treat the person like I would expect to be treated," she says. "I try to make it a wonderful experience for the individual. After the closing, I want the client to take a deep breath and say they can’t believe how easy it was. That's what I strive for."

This goes hand and hand with Women's Council, according to Gilmore. "Early on in real estate, I wanted to know all the professionals in my area," she says. "That's the secret to making a smooth transaction for my clients — knowing all the professionals and how they work and their knowing how I work."

The best part of conducting business in the Women's Council network is that it's not a competitive environment, according to Gilmore. "I honestly feel that I can call up any member in the country for business ideas and they are willing to share. Women’s Council members never turn you away."

Women’s Council in 2010

As Women's Council's 2010 president, Gilmore personally wants to grow public relations efforts and really increase the organization’s reach and impact. 

Also, she wants to focus on the individual. "Since we are in a challenging position with growing the membership, like so many organizations right now, we must focus on the individual member and work on providing what can help them personally and professionally. And now more than ever, this leadership team is making a key effort to motivate chapter leaders to invite more new people to our meetings of varied real estate disciplines."  

Gilmore adds, when a member makes the effort to get others in the door and introduce them to Women's Council, the local chapters need to back it up by delivering relevant content and great speakers, and National WCR will provide tools to help through education and forums at national meetings and on WCR.org in the Chapter Tools area. 

According to Gilmore, Women’s Council is attempting to develop ways for a member to participate virtually ("the virtual member") to meet and connect with other members to develop timely business practices through social media, online education and networking tools. But the online experience will never replace the benefits of in-person networking for real estate practitioners. 

"We can use the Internet and technology to help get people there. But the face-to-face, person-to-person interaction is still what it's all about," she says. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Dianna Kawell is editor of Women's Council's eConnect newsletter. 

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