First Spouses Convene at 2024 NGA Winter Meeting 

Over the years, the role of First Spouse has evolved considerably, with the spouses and partners of Governors often using their platforms to create and implement initiatives that champion causes that closely impact the residents of their states and territories. Each First Spouse has latitude to shape the role, and First Spouses often lead efforts to manage their state’s official Governor’s Residence, participate in ceremonial occasions and serve as ambassadors for their home state. 

The National Governors Association (NGA) maintains a program for the spouses and partners of the nation’s Governors. Each year, one First Spouse chairs the program and helps convene First Spouses several times each year, including at the annual NGA Winter Meeting. During the 2024 NGA Winter Meeting, Utah First Lady Abby Cox, who serves as the current chair of the NGA Spouses’ Leadership Committee, held two meetings for First Spouses to focus on the power of convening and Special Olympics Unified Sports, an initiative Mrs. Cox is championing in Utah.  

Power of Convening  

The first session Mrs. Cox led, titled “Power of Convening,” focused on discussing how First Spouses hold a unique position that can bring stakeholders together to help advance the goals of First Spouses’ initiatives. 

At the top of the meeting, Mrs. Cox spoke with fellow First Spouses about looking to their passions and learning from each other as they work to develop and implement initiatives that can help serve the people of their states and territories.  

Mrs. Cox then highlighted her work to launch a public education, awareness and resource campaign for the benefit of Utah’s foster children and families. Two guest speakers, one from a nonprofit organization and the other from the Utah Department of Health and Human Servies, joined the discussion to illustrate ways Mrs. Cox has been working to convene Utah’s foster care leaders from the nonprofit arena as well as the public and private sectors so they can come together to have a positive impact on the state’s foster children and families. Mrs. Cox shared that her work on foster care first began by holding listening sessions and inviting different foster care leaders to meet together, something that has helped the groups find more common ground and synergy while also helping to form the core principles and goals of Mrs. Cox’s initiative. Mrs. Cox noted the role of First Spouse can offer a unique opportunity for potentially disparate partners to work together for a shared cause.  

Delaware First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney provided insights into the First Chance Delaware initiative she created to help give children the chance to succeed. The First Chance initiative has three pillars: ending childhood hunger in Delaware, promoting early language skills, and advancing effective recognition of, and response to, childhood trauma. Mrs. Carney noted her initiative has aimed to use the convening and outreach powers of the First Lady’s office to bring organizations together, in addition to business and government entities, to engage in collaborative work to help achieve the initiative’s goals. Mrs. Carney shared that while her initiative does not have direct funding through the government, she has found funding and operational support opportunities from Casey Family Programs. Mrs. Carney also highlighted the “unifying power” First Spouses can have to bring together different groups and organizations who want to support good causes.  

Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear also offered examples of some of the convening efforts she has been leading to further her initiatives and help foster community connections. As First Lady, Mrs. Beshear has focused her efforts on supporting Kentucky’s children. She has also looked for opportunities to use her office to support the state’s residents during difficult moments, such as when deadly tornadoes hit Western Kentucky shortly before Christmas 2021. Inspired to support the children impacted by the terrible storm, Mrs. Beshear organized a toy drive for the children who had just lost everything. Mrs. Beshear shared the effort saw many groups and individuals from around the state and globe come together, with more than 100,000 toys and $200,000 in gift card donated to help children, underscoring another example of the power of First Spouses to convene different groups and people to advance a good cause.  

Mrs. Beshear also discussed the lasting impact First Spouses’ initiatives can have on their states long after they leave office. She spoke specifically of two initiatives her mother-in-law Jane Beshear started when she served as First Lady of Kentucky between 2007-2015, noting that the continuation of her predecessor’s initiatives helps underscore the long-term reach First Spouses’ initiatives can have on their states. 

Special Olympics Unified Sports 

The second session Mrs. Cox led during the 2024 NGA Winter Meeting focused on Special Olympics Unified Sports and featured Special Olympics chairman of the board Dr. Tim Shriver as a guest speaker.  

Mrs. Cox began the session by sharing her commitment to advancing Special Olympics Unified Sports in Utah. The Special Olympics Unified Sports project pairs people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same sports teams, helping to foster a fast and meaningful path to friendship and understanding. 

Mrs. Cox has been using her platform as First Lady of Utah to help expand Unified Sports opportunities in Utah by working to introduce the program to additional schools, expanding the program to include more sports, and partnering to host Unified Sports Experiences. 

After sharing an overview of the work taking place in Utah, Mrs. Cox invited Dr. Shriver to speak about the history of Special Olympics and the current opportunities the nonprofit organization offers for more states to partner in efforts to expand Unified Sports. 

Dr. Shriver shared a presentation to detail the history of Special Olympics and the role his mother,  

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, had in founding Special Olympics and, more broadly, changing the country’s and world’s understanding of the struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Dr. Shriver highlighted that his mother’s commitment to advocating on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities often involved considerable work at the grassroots level and in the background, similar to the nature of some of the work the country’s First Spouses lead, noting that these efforts can have a profound and lasting impact on our states and country. Dr. Shriver stressed that much of his mother’s work came from the heart, and he encouraged First Spouses to continue to find ways to tap into heart-based issues. He shared that he thinks value can be found in creating partnerships across institutions – and that forming partnerships with the government, business sector and faith-based organizations can help propel initiatives forward and help First Spouses be agents of change in the work they are committed to furthering in their states and territories. 

Meetings and Service Project with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden  

First Spouses who attended NGA Winter Meeting participated in several additional activities, including attending a luncheon First Lady Dr. Jill Biden held at the White House. While at the White House, First Spouses came together for a service project coordinated with the Parent Teacher Organization to recognize the good work of teachers by providing a note and care package to educators in each First Spouses’ home state. First Spouses also joined Dr. Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff on a visit to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Other meetings included a convening to raise awareness about states’ overdose prevention initiatives and a visit to the Library of Congress. 

To learn more about the work the nation’s First Spouses are leading, read NGA’s previous publication “Giving Thanks, Giving Back,” and visit the First Spouses section of NGA’s website.