MY FATHER WAS IN THE SERVICE. So my mother stayed with my grandparents in Illinois [while he served], but I grew up in Winter Haven, Florida. I lived there from a very young age, and it’s a great place to grow up. It’s a mid-sized town, and it had a lot going on. I grew up around Cypress Gardens and all the fun things around there. It was just a good family town back then. That was a wonderful place for my family to raise a family. My father was involved with the phosphate industry. He worked in Bartow, and then ultimately, he was made the chief engineer of, and helped build, the Port of Tampa.

I’M NOT SURE AS A CHILD THAT I WANTED TO BE ANYTHING BUT A GROWNUP. I think there were a lot of things I [maybe wanted to be] — at one time it was a typical nurse or a teacher. But I never had, as a young child, any really true aspirations other than I just wanted to be grown up. Of course, obviously, as I grew up, things changed [laughs]. Then I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be an adult. I was like, OK, I can go back to being that child again. I was with my grandparents a lot, and I had aunts and uncles. My baby sister was not born til I was 8. So I was kind of an only child for eight years. Then all of a sudden, I had this little tiny baby sister crawling around. Life took on a different look from that point.

PEOPLE WOULD PROBABLY BE SURPRISED TO KNOW THAT UNTIL THE AGE OF 10 OR 11, I WAS VERY SHY. I did hang around my grandparents a lot. When I was out in public with my grandmother, I was always hanging onto her dress. I really don’t think I became myself until about 10 or 11. Then they couldn’t shut me up [laughs]. And then [my husband] Les and I rode motorcycles, when we lived in Milwaukee, pretty much every summer all over the United States and parts of Europe. I mean, people don’t picture either one of us riding a Harley-Davidson. We would go with a group and really got to see the world. [People wouldn’t imagine me] with my leathers and my helmet on, riding on the back of a motorcycle. It took a lot of courage and a lot of getting used to.

IT’S BEEN KIND OF SURREAL [TO SEE THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA’S GROWTH OVER THE DECADES]. It was fairly small, being the third state school back then and always compared to the University of Florida and Florida State. Now to see the College of Business and the College of Medicine and athletics — it has turned into one of the largest universities in the United States. To see the space, the actual facility, the growth there is phenomenal. When I’m on campus, there’s some days when I’m thinking, I can really get lost here. I used to know it blindfolded. But it’s not just the physical space. It’s the students and how they have grown with their experiences and their confidence. I think that’s what amazes me more than anything — just the confidence that these kids have today. My generation, if we had that confidence then, I don’t think we projected it in the same manner they do today. They’re sure of themselves. They come out and many of the kids, especially in the College of Business, they can get up and do these [elaborate] speeches in front of strangers and just be so prepared. I think that’s what is the joy of it. In our case, we have had so many scholarship students over the past 20-something years, and we stay in touch with a lot of those students. We know them, we go to their weddings, and we see their kids that have been born. It’s like a whole evolution. Seeing the growth of a university really being born and coming to that place where it is today [has been] wonderful.

MY PASSION FOR HEALTH CARE GOES BACK TO THE TIME THAT LES AND I LOST OUR SECOND CHILD. She was a newborn at Tampa General in the NICU. All those years, I struggled with, “Why did this happen to me?” Of course, we still had our oldest daughter. I never really felt like I had come to terms with it — or I had, but in a different way. Then when we merged our company with a company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we moved up there. I had been involved with the American Cancer Society and a lot of other health organizations, and after several years there I was asked to join an organization related to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. I saw the opportunity of [creating] new neonatal intensive care units. I got very involved with that, and then I got very involved with children’s hospitals all over North America, so it really became a passion, especially in the pediatric area. Then when we moved back home, I told Les, I really feel like I want to do something for [our daughter] Jennifer in Tampa. Of course she had been in Tampa General and in a wonderful facility. But NICUs age, and it is so difficult for all those infants. They’re kind of in a cave. They’re all in one space, and all the machinery is going off constantly, and [there’s] people [everywhere]. So I decided with a lot of help from people at TGH, that we would build a state-of-the-art NICU that would have individual rooms for each child. A parent could be there, siblings could come and go, with it all being safe. But you had your privacy and the babies were contained in a special place, which was healing and made this a much better environment for them. So that was my dream: to make this NICU the very best. We celebrated our 10th anniversary [last year], and it’s still one of the strongest NICUs in the southeast. I’m so proud of them. I’m so proud of the people who work there — the doctors, the nurses. It’s just been incredible.

I HAD A SITUATION ABOUT SIX YEARS AGO, PERSONALLY, WITH MY HEALTH. And I started thinking about other areas that need some attention [philanthropically]. One was women’s health. That’s when I got a challenge from the dean [of the USF Morsani College of Medicine]. Dean [Charles] Lockwood said, “Pam, you know what, let’s do something about it.” So we did, and after about 3½ years, we were able to open our doors [to the Pamela Muma Women’s Health Center] in February 2019. Women’s health has really become a passion. I think there are so many women today that are taking care of everybody else except themselves. There are so many issues unique to women, and it’s so difficult to get appointments and to just navigate the system. So the women’s health center now allows our clients to never have to navigate that health system. All their appointments are made for them in all specialties. We have everything done in one place, so it’s a one-stop shop. We strive to have test results back the same day. It’s become a dream. I feel like health care should be everybody’s priority. It turned out it has become mine. I’m very, very proud of all the people who work there and their dedication and persistence. I think we’re making strides every day to make improvements to help women. And of course, now the men are saying, “Oh, I want one,” and I said, well, you need to find a man that can help you. I’ve got my hands full right here [laughs].

ONE ORGANIZATION I’M INVOLVED WITH THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT BUT THAT I DON’T KNOW THEY REALIZE HOW IMPACTFUL IT IS IS JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT. [It’s] an organization that has been around for 100 years. It teaches K through 12 financial responsibility and literacy in the free enterprise system to the students around the globe. In most cases, if it weren’t for Junior Achievement, the way the school system runs today, [most students wouldn’t learn] financial education in school. We start very early on in kindergarten and work our way up. We have a two-building campus in Tampa where fifth-graders come to BizTown, and then the eighth-graders go to Finance Park. There’s two separate curriculums. They have six weeks of in-school training before they spend the day  in the fifth grade and then again in the eighth grade, and now we do have a virtual program for a 12th-grade refresher. It pretty much teaches them how to manage their finances, about the free enterprise system, and financial literacy. To me, it’s one of the most important organizations. My father always drilled into me for years how important it was to be financially responsible, starting with a job, knowing how to pay your bills and take care of yourself. So when I became involved with Junior Achievement, it was just a perfect fit. I have spent the last 33 years on the board of Junior Achievement.

OVER THE YEARS, THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY [STORIES THAT HAVE MOVED ME]. The day we moved into the [new TGH NICU] years ago, there had been a little boy who was actually from Lakeland, Florida, near Winter Haven, where we grew up. He’d been in the NICU for I think about two months. The baby had cried and cried every day. And as they’re wheeling him out of the old section into the new section, he got into his new room and his mom and dad were there, and that was the first day he finally stopped crying. The parents could not believe that of course, and the nurses were just excited and happy, because they’d have this sense of [relief]. But it’s the joy that you get from it. From seeing the scholarship students succeed and watching them go on to be successful, thriving adults. I feel the joy in my heart when I see these families bring that baby home and know that it has a chance. There’s joy in my heart when I see one of our scholarship students graduate and know that he or she is going to become a successful person.

THE ACHIEVEMENT IN LIFE THAT I AM MOST PROUD OF IS VERY, VERY SIMPLE — being married to the same man for 56 years. There’s a lot of give and take. … But that is what’s made my world.

I LOVE TRAVELING TO ITALY. We were going to spend six weeks there last summer until COVID took everything down. But Les and I love to be there. I mean, from the countryside to all the romantic spots and the food and the people. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but where I live. But it certainly is fun just to go away and to see that culture and just to visit the beauty. Italy is very varied from the northern to the southern part. So that’s where we love to go.

I LOVE TO COOK. I love to cook just about everything, but normally Christmas dinner [is my specialty]. Growing up I was always hanging onto my grandmother’s skirt, so when she was in the kitchen, I was right there following behind her. She was very good at southern food, and her grandparents were from Germany. But I add a little bit of a southern culture into it. So I like Christmas dinner, which I’ve been making for years for the family and the grandchildren. I do my grandmother’s and my great grandmother’s homemade noodle recipe, which is made from scratch with flour, rolled out and cooked in the beef juices from the meat that I’m cooking. Then I make both of their desserts. One is a chocolate pie and the other one is a coconut cream pie, which you make from scratch. That’s what everybody wants on Christmas, so I make it every year.

IF I COULD WAKE UP TOMORROW WITH A SKILL I DON’T CURRENTLY POSSESS, IT WOULD BE TO PLAY PIANO LIKE A CONCERT PIANIST. When I was a child, I played the flute. because it just kind of required — you know, being in band and all that. My dad said, why don’t you pick out an instrument? I said, oh well let me do that one, it looks interesting. I had no clue what I was doing. But I did the play the flute, and I played it fairly well. Then my baby sister played the piano. I can read music, and I can sit down and just hit and miss, but I would love to be able to sit down at my piano right now and just play. It’s such a skill and it’s just so much fun to sit around a piano with family and friends.

THE BIGGEST ITEM ON MY BUCKET LIST WOULD BE TO WATCH MY GRANDCHILDREN WALK DOWN THE AISLE AND TO WATCH THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES GROW. There’s other things. I haven’t seen all of the world that I’d like to see. But I’ve done so much. I think my biggest joy would be to know that they’re happy and healthy and married and starting a family.

MY PERFECT DAY WOULD PROBABLY BE GETTING UP IN THE MORNING — AND YOU KNOW, I DON’T LIKE TO GET UP REAL EARLY ON SATURDAY. Saturday is my day when I don’t have anything on my schedule unless it’s on the phone or football or something [fun] going on. But I love Saturdays, and I get up leisurely. I take my coffee, I go sit on my back porch, I read the paper, and I talk to my friends that I haven’t talked to all week. Les plays golf, and then he’ll come home and we’ll go somewhere and have lunch. I can sit by the pool the rest of the day and go out to dinner. It’s just total relaxation. Every other day of the week, I’m kind of go, go, go. That’s my perfect day and it’s very simple, but it’s just not having to do much of anything.

The post The InterView: Pam Muma appeared first on Tampa Magazine.

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