Leading on Capitol Hill

Bronwyn Lance ’90

A photo portrait of Bronwyn Lance '90

Photo by Lisa Weaver

Photo by Lisa Weaver

After nearly 20 years in the House and Senate advising lawmakers on policy, strategy, and messaging, Bronwyn Lance ’90 this year became the first woman in the history of North Carolina’s 11th District to be named chief of staff.

It’s a notable feat, as women are still underrepresented in senior staff positions in Congress. “Capitol Hill is still in many ways a man’s world,” says Bronwyn.

In January, she joined the office of Rep. Chuck Edwards, a three-term state senator and McDonald’s franchise owner. Edwards captured national attention after narrowly defeating Madison Cawthorn, the youngest freshman in Congress, who saw opposition from his own party.

The 11th District includes Asheville and spans southern Appalachia, where some communities still lack high-speed internet access. As a seventh-generation native of western North Carolina, Bronwyn has deep knowledge of the district. She’s also come full circle with her new role. In the early 1990s, after a stint teaching English in Lisbon, Portugal, through an institute affiliated with the U.S. embassy, she served as legislative assistant and office manager for Rep. Charles Taylor, who represented the 11th District from 1991 to 2007.

“I didn’t know a soul in D.C.,” she says. “My parents couldn’t afford to help me live up here. I came up on a Greyhound bus.”

Over the years she’s also served as a senior staff member for senators from Virginia, Georgia, and Wyoming, including Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chair of the Senate Republican Conference. Bronwyn has also served as the Republican spokesperson for the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In between political roles, Bronwyn advised NATO on humanitarian-response issues, including the Kosovo crisis and military exercises, and worked as an editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the Virginian-Pilot.

Now, as Edwards’ chief of staff, Bronwyn has set up his office and hired staff. She’s excited about helping the congressman address constituents’ concerns. “I love the strategy of politics,” she says. “This is my dream job. It’s truly a privilege and an honor to help the congressman and my friends, families, and neighbors—everyone in this part of the country that hasn’t been as wealthy—and to wind my career down where I started.”

“I’ve been really fortunate in my career in the House and Senate to have worked in every facet—administrative, communication, legislative, and the state side,” she says. “The chief of staff really has to have a finger on the pulse on all these things.”

For Bronwyn, the daughter of a Southern Bell Telephone worker, financial aid made Wellesley possible. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She traces her interest in politics to the College, where she studied political science and history. “Going to Wellesley completely changed the trajectory of my life. It gave me the confidence to go and do this and to sometimes be the only woman in the room,” she says.

“Politics is like playing 3D chess all the time,” Bronwyn says. “The stakes are very high, and there’s not a lot of room for error. My own personal views don’t matter. What matters are the views of the member.”

She says that when considering diversity initiatives, higher education institutions should take into account diversity of thought and viewpoint. “When we’re all thinkin’ alike, nobody’s thinkin’,” she says.

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