Lori Houghton has always been a go-getter.
In 1991, after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Houghton landed a secretarial position for an information management corporation in Philadelphia. She worked her way up through the ranks of the company and, in 2000, accepted a promotion in Cleveland that saw her leading a $50 million division and 25 employees. Yet, with all her corporate success and accomplishments, she felt unfulfilled.
“I hated every single day of it,” Houghton recalled over a cup of coffee. “It was a really bad working environment, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.”
In 2002, she quit her job, moved to Essex to be with her partner, John, and found a sales position with LexisNexis. For three years, Houghton traveled across the country, spending countless hours on the road, and then, one day, while stuck at the Cleveland airport waiting to come home, she had an epiphany.
“I will never forget it,” Houghton said, gazing out her dining room window.
Stuck at an airport, Houghton looked at her surroundings, seeing mostly older, overweight people.
“I could see myself getting to that point,” she said. “I came home and called by boss, Tom, who I had known for 20 years and said, ‘I just can’t do it anymore. I quit!’ Knowing that I am not a risk-taker, Tom said, ‘Take a couple weeks to see if you really want to do it.’
So, she did but came to the same conclusion: She was done. But later that day, she found out John had cancer, and they had no health insurance.
Houghton’s mother jumped into action and called her daughter’s boss, asking to get her job back. Without hesitation, Tom said yes.
A year later, Houghton approached her boss, this time expressing she needed to be home to take care of her family. So he created a position so to allow Houghton to work remotely from her home in Essex. Thrilled by the opportunity, she settled into her new life, spent quality time with her family, had her son, Sam, and became involved with the community.
Houghton’s first step was launching the farmers market. She next became a village trustee, participates on advisory councils and is also involved with various committees and boards.
In the midst of all this activity, Houghton got the news her mother had died.
“My mom always taught us that we could do anything we wanted and that there was always someone less fortunate than us who we needed to be looking out for,“ Houghton said. “She died her way, and that was very motivating for me to see. She died at home, she was in control of her life.”
Despite her inspiration from her mother’s ethos, Houghton said some people might be surprised to know she struggles with self-doubt. She would come home from work and crawl into bed, thinking about everything she’d said and how she screwed up.
Houghton credits the Vermont Leadership Institute as a life-changing experience that helped build her confidence to run for state representative.
“I learned that I am a talented, smart woman, and that I can do this,” she said. “At the end of the program, I realized I had spent 10 years feeling like I have to take care of people. After John and then mom being sick, it was time for me. That’s what I got from the class.”
Five months after completing the program, Houghton ran for state rep in District 8-2 and won. She didn’t anticipate the race being a lesson for Sam, now 7 years old.
“He ended up being my campaign manager,” Houghton said with a smile. “I remember thinking, if I don’t win, if nothing else, I have taught him something.”
Surrounded by pictures of her healthy family and her dog, Biscuit, lounging by her side, the 47-year-old mom sat back in a dining room chair and lit up talking about how community members can get engaged right now.
“If we want to live in a thriving village, we need to support our local businesses,” she said. “We need to get out to the community events that are happening and not assume that someone else is going to do the work. If you want these things to continue — whether it’s an hour one time or an hour a month or one event — it doesn’t fall from the sky. People need to be engaged.”
With the morning light cascading through the picture windows, Houghton stood up to get ready to make the drive to the State House.
Reflecting on how her life would read in a headline, she said simply, “I have no regrets, and I only look forward.”
Editor’s note: Made in Essex is a feature in The Reporter highlighting local businesses in town. Each week, you’ll see a new piece by our freelancer, Cindy Chittenden, an eighth generation Vermonter who grew up in her family business, Chittenden’s Cider Mill in South Burlington. She worked in sales for 25 years but recently switched to a writing career. Cindy and her husband, Jason, live in Essex Jct. with their cats, Olive and Cannoli. Have an idea for a business Cindy should profile? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just see your idea in print!