By Simona Barca
Betsy Fischer Martin is the quintessential American success story. An American alumna, professor, and former executive producer of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Fischer Martin has done it all.
Born to an opera singer and a Presbyterian minister in New Orleans, Fischer Martin came to American University in the fall of 1988 to pursue her love of politics. Along the way she discovered a new passion she had never been exposed to before: news media.
Her passion for politics and media took her through 21 years at NBC, where she gradually worked her way up from a research position to the senior executive producer of “Meet the Press.”
After “hanging up [her] TV hat” and leaving NBC in 2014, Fischer Martin kept an active and various profile before returning to American as an executive in residence.
Now she is back where it all started. She is the executive director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University’s School of Public Affairs.
The Women and Politics Institute provides practical guidance and training for women who want to be involved in the political arena.
Rachel Kershaw, a graduate student at American who works for the Women and Politics Institute, says she is astounded by Fischer Martin’s resourcefulness in bringing guest speakers to the Institute’s events.
“I’ve been impressed with her since the day I met her,” says Kershaw.
Among students, faculty, and partners of the Women and Politics Institute at Fischer Martin’s welcome party, was also world-renowned journalist Wolf Blitzer.
Such a guest not only left Kershaw and others like her starstruck at his being there, but also struck by her network and connections.
Fischer Martin does not only leave an impression on students but her colleagues and superiors as well. Vicky Wilkins, the dean of the School of Public Affairs, is always impressed by her resourcefulness and thoughtfulness in how she fulfills her role as the Institute’s executive director.
“The thing that really strikes you about Betsy is her thoughtfulness. She’s someone who’s really thoughtful and has sound judgment,” says Wilkins, who often finds herself following Fischer Martin’s advice in various situations.
And her sound judgment and advice are not limited to professional settings. Nicole Nason, her best friend and recently appointed administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, fondly recalls the day they graduated from college and were getting dressed for the ceremony:
“I took my gown out of the plastic bag, kind of shook it out a few times and started putting it on,” she laughs.
But best friends are there to stop these kinds of tragedies. Fischer Martin did not let Nason leave their Centennial dorm without an ironed gown.
“My mother still tells me if it wasn’t for Betsy I would have a wrinkly gown in my graduation pictures,” Nason says.
This kind of preparedness seems to be a running theme with Fischer Martin.
“I think that’s kind of the news component of me,” she says, and is something she learned from one of her mentors at NBC, Tim Russert.
It’s a good thing, she says, but she can sometimes get caught in a time-sucking cycle of continuous preparation until the very time of the event she is preparing for.
But Fischer Martin is not just a robotic machine of organization, preparation and getting stuff done.
She loves cooking. Crawfish etouffee and red beans and rice are her go-to dishes, a testament to her New Orleans roots, but she hates grocery shopping.
“I always forget something or they’re always out of something or I’m not sure exactly how much of something I should buy,” she says.
Instead she loves getting the boxed kits with pre-measured ingredients for whatever dish she wants to cook for her family.
And if a career in politics, news media, and making a mean crawfish etouffee isn’t enough, it’s good to know she also played competitive racquetball in high school.
“She’s a mover and a shaker,” says Kershaw, “she just does it all.”
And she encourages the same in the people around her.
“She’s the quintessential AU success story,” says Wilkins, “an amazing combination of brilliance and kindness.”