NAR's 2010 President: Fresh Off the Ranch

2010 NAR President Vicki Cox Golder is aiming high when it comes to the interests of REALTORS®. Her vision for success involves the talent and strengths of every NAR member.

January 1, 2010

Neither economic turmoil nor menacing desert wildlife will hamper Vicki Cox Golder's pursuit of opportunities and influence for the nation’s REALTORS®.

Vicki Cox Golder accepts a certain amount of risk every morning when she grabs her local newspaper. It’s not the threats posed by the latest economic headlines she’s bracing for. Golder’s got a more immediate hazard in her crosshairs.

The 2010 president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® can never be sure when a rattlesnake will obstruct her path as she strolls down the rocky mile-long driveway. Golder typically clips a .38 caliber handgun to her waistband before heading out from her rustically elegant Santa Fe–style home nestled deep in the foothills of Arizona’s Catalina Mountains outside Tucson. Surrounded by her posse of three canines, including the pit bull Brutus who, by her count, has killed 41 rattlers himself over the past two years, Golder is vigilant in spotting poisonous vipers laying in wait, but she’s never fearful. Two or three times a year she shoots one dead and then goes about her business.

Having successfully eluded snakebites during her 35 years of desert ranch living, Golder, CRB, who turns 59 this month, clearly is undaunted by formidable challenges. On days when she walks without a gun, she picks up a large rock at the first hint of trouble. "It’s all about preparation," she says.

The maxim has resonance far beyond her dealings with the venomous creatures who share her 6,000-acre property, along with the prickly pear cactus and ambling herds of beef cattle. Golder, NAR’s 102nd president, is a problem solver and planner extraordinaire whose finely honed sense of when to delegate responsibilities and when to take matters into her own hands bodes well for an association juggling a wide-open range of priorities during these still-dodgy economic times.

"Our industry is sometimes more reactive than it should be. When Vicki gets an inkling of a change that’s needed, she’s all over it. She surrounds herself with really great people and she’ll lead with a passion that will make it a great year for NAR," says Holly Eslinger, the current president of the Arizona Association of REALTORS®, who has known Golder for 20 years. Eslinger credits the new NAR president with being a key inspiration for her own leadership pursuits at the state level. "I marvel at what she has been able to accomplish and how she has raised the level of professionalism for us all."

From the effects of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct to the still-surging foreclosure rates, the challenges facing the real estate industry have never been greater, but the opportunity to have a significant impact is what excites Golder about taking the helm of the 1.1 million member association. Her presidential theme, "On the Rise," bespeaks her can-do spirit, and encompasses her vision for real estate professionals, consumers, and the economy as a whole. While she’s poised and ready to serve as NAR’s top spokesperson on issues of national importance, Golder insists that members shouldn’t rely solely on NAR leadership for successful real estate advocacy. "We truly need each and every member to get involved if we want to keep our issues front and center in the years ahead," she says.

One of her primary goals is to boost member participation when NAR puts out a Call for Action on a key legislative issue. At the REALTOR® Action Center Web site (, the association provides a direct communication link to lawmakers, including a prewritten letter addressing NAR’s position on whatever issue is at hand. All members have to do is sign it and send it to Capitol Hill to make their voices count. Currently about 9 percent of members respond to such missives. "While that’s certainly not bad for the average association, it’s not enough for an organization that is looking to keep real estate issues front and center in the minds of the nation’s lawmakers," she says. Golder hopes to boost participation rates to 15 percent in 2010.

To help achieve that goal, she's setting her sights on broker-owners through NAR’s Broker Involvement Program, which enables brokers to distribute NAR Calls for Action to their agents using the brokerage’s name and logo. "Brokers have the clout to get their agents to listen and respond," says Golder. Currently, more than 2000 brokers are active in the program, representing some 200,000 agents. "I’d like to see us get 6,000 brokers into the program, which would reach 500,000 agents by the end of the year," she adds.

Strengthening Arizona’s Voice

In her home state, Golder has already demonstrated great success in boosting the legislative clout of REALTORS®. After serving as president of the Arizona Association of REALTORS® in 1994, Golder later took on a central role in rebuilding the government affairs program for the group. She spearheaded the creation of a grassroots liaison system in which 8,000 members played an active role in lobbying state legislators on real estate–related matters, explains Tom Farley, CEO of the Arizona association. "Before Vicki got involved, we had virtually no voice in the state capitol and now we are among the top five groups in the state in terms of access and power," says Farley, who worked closely with Golder on the government affairs restructuring.

The opportunity to influence policy on a larger scale is what drew Golder to pursue the NAR leadership path. She chaired numerous NAR committees, including Political Communications (now called REALTORS® Political Involvement) and Issues Mobilization, starting in the mid 1990s. Her decision to seek the presidency was solidified during a 2003 car trip from Sedona, Ariz., to Tucson with Judy Lowe, who was Arizona’s association president at the time. "She had my undivided attention for six hours, and Judy assured me I had the support of the region, which was essential," Golder says.

Lowe, who is currently Arizona’s real estate commissioner, remembers the trip well. Central to Golder’s thought process was careful consideration about how her presidency would benefit NAR members. "No matter what post she’s seeking, she has always focused on its impact on stakeholders. She is very member-driven," says Lowe. Eslinger concurs: "She’s much more concerned with what she can give to the organization than what she gets out of it."

The Winding Path to Victory

Golder's commitment to the organization is front and center at her office. The ubiquitous REALTOR® "R" has been painstakingly carved onto the thick oak door that leads visitors into offices of Vicki L. Cox & Associates. The compact adobe-style building is where Golder’s five sales associates, including her sister Dawn, 51, currently keep the business humming during her frequent travels. Located at its present site for 29 years, the business sits on a prominent intersection near the bottom of the winding five-mile-long dirt road that leads to the home that Golder shares with her husband Lloyd, 84, a developer and rancher she met soon after she got into the real estate business in 1973.

The two had an inauspicious early encounter—a real estate negotiation that went nowhere. Golder had a buyer who was interested in a small parcel of land that Lloyd Golder owned. The tough-as-nails developer wouldn’t accept what he considered a lowball offer. But he was sufficiently impressed by the young sales associate’s confident style that he called her two days later to discuss—over dinner—the possibility of listing other properties with her. Within two years they were married.

Well before her first meeting with Lloyd, Golder had already established her niche as a land and ranch specialist. "With the market as bad as it was back then, land seemed to make more sense than residential. A guy I knew from our local [REALTOR®] association told me that land was easier to do and it was easier to make more money," she says, sitting around the long wooden table in her airy dining room.

Golder’s sales talent was evident from the get-go. Within her first four months in the business, she had five transactions in escrow for the now-closed Grantway Realty in Tucson. "My first sale was an FHA deal on a house," she recalls. "It’s so empowering when you make that first deal." But she became enamored with putting together investment groups focused on land syndication. "For about two years all I did was syndicate properties," she says. By the time she was 25, Golder had her broker’s license and had opened her own office, just across the street from her present location.

But her early success was hard-won—and born of necessity. Golder had a completely different life plan in mind when personal tragedy intervened. When she was 19, her father, Victor, a construction contractor, died of a heart attack; a year and a half later her mother, Mary Shirley, was killed in a car accident. Golder’s grief immediately transformed into action. As the eldest of five sisters, she obtained legal custody of her three youngest siblings: Mary, then 15, Dawn, 13, and Denise, 11 (who passed away in 1999). "It wasn’t a hard decision. But I had to battle it out in court. I had relatives who wanted to take one sister each," says Golder. "My goal was to keep the family together."

And she did. Golder, then married to an Air Force officer, was raising her infant son, also named Victor. After her father died, she moved back to Sierra Vista, Ariz., from a military posting in Portsmouth, N.H., to be closer to her family. Golder was set to enroll at the University of Arizona on a full scholarship to become a pharmacist when she got word about her mother’s accident.

Mary Shirley’s death forced a sudden reordering of her priorities: Golder shelved her college plans, resettled into her parents’ home—her husband commuted every other weekend from Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson 70 miles away—and focused on providing support and structure for the clan. The second-eldest sister, Shelly, 18 at the time, also lived close by. The close-knit community of Sierra Vista, with a population then of about 15,000, pitched in with everything from clothing donations to free dental work and eyeglasses for the girls. Although strain from the uncommon arrangement ultimately led to her divorce, Golder never wavered in her commitment to her sisters. "Quite honestly, I was in a state of shock the first year. I had to make all these decisions at a very young age." That included figuring out how to earn a living. A real estate license provided the answer.

About 18 months after her mother’s passing, Golder—a Fort Atkinson, Iowa, native who at age 7 moved with her family to Arizona where her father found bountiful construction work—decided that small-town life was too confining and that she and her sisters should start afresh. "We moved to a little mobile home by the highway on the outskirts of Tucson," she says.

To save money, Golder sewed clothes that, she concedes, were met with mixed reviews by her sisters. And she came up with other economical ways to keep the home running smoothly, including teaching her teenage sister Dawn to cook for the family.

It wasn’t long before Golder bought her first home in downtown Tucson. "It had a pool for the girls, which was great. But as I became more familiar with the neighborhoods, we sold that house and moved to the best school district in town," she recalls. "I wanted the girls to have the best possible education, so we moved into a really large apartment there."

A Community Pillar

Golder’s interest in the school system—and the larger community—went far beyond assessing its usefulness to her family. Imbued in her was a strong volunteer ethos, driving her to solve problems and work to improve the quality of life for those around her. By 1989, Golder had two sons of her own, and she was elected to the Amphitheater Board of Education. She served as chairman for half of her eight years on the board. In the early 1990s, she started a service organization to support the elderly called Catalina Helping Hands. "We initially provided transportation to people who needed a ride to the doctor and then added a food and clothing bank and other services," Golder says. For years, she prepared Thanksgiving meals for poor families in the Tucson area and personally delivered the feasts to their homes. She and Lloyd also created the local fire district, which serves a section of unincorporated Pima County with fire and ambulance services. Golder has been the board chair for more than 20 years.

Indeed, Golder’s track record of community involvement is nothing short of head-spinning. A few years ago she simultaneously served on 22 "commissions, committees, boards, work groups, and not-for-profit organizations," chairing more than half of them, according to her Web site.

"I’m very organized. There’s no doubt about that," she says. "My morning walks help me to figure out the priorities of the day. But I also rely on my old-fashioned executive planner."

As her NAR duties have increased, she has pared down her other activities to just a few that she’s incapable of turning her back on. She will continue to head the local fire district board and she plans to stay on as a state board member and head judge for Odyssey of the Mind, an international education program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students. "I got involved for the benefit of my younger son Lloyd IV," who’s now 31, and works as a contractor focused on green construction, she explains.

Golder turned over the day-to-day operations of her brokerage to her sister Dawn Doubek in 1996 so that she could run for the Pima County Board of Supervisors. "It was a close race and the only one I ever lost," she notes. "What made it especially hard was that people later told me they assumed I would win and just didn’t bother to vote." Doubek continues to serve as designated broker at Vicki L. Cox & Associates, a business arrangement that has worked seamlessly. "I have complete trust in her," says Golder. "She has made the life I have now possible. I can travel for NAR knowing that the business is in good hands." Doubek is similarly effusive in her admiration of the sister who got her through her toughest years: "Vicki has always encouraged me and given me the tools I need to succeed or, if I needed it, a shoulder to cry on."

Golder and Doubek have resisted overtures through the years from major companies like Coldwell Banker and Tucson’s Long Realty. "We like the independence and small-town feel of our business," says Doubek, noting that the company has diversified its interests beyond Golder’s land and ranch specialties. "We are a full-service company that handles all kinds of property."

So as the industry juggles a phalanx of challenges posed by the still-fragile economy, Golder is primed for center stage. A former high school track star who still regularly hits the weight room in her home gym, Golder has the strength and stamina to serve NAR members well. As she recalls her years as a competitive water skier in the 1980s, Golder may not immediately catch the relevance to her newest leadership post. "I did ten-mile endurance races around Lake Mead," she says. "It was great fun, and I never ended up in the water." Indeed, Golder seems the perfect choice for these precarious times: a strong-willed leader with a caring sprit who maintains her footing through choppy waters. It doesn’t hurt that she isn’t afraid of snakes either.

Update: The Lowe’s Program for REALTORS® is no longer available through the REALTOR Benefits® Program. For questions, please call NAR’s REALTOR Benefits® Help Line at 800-627-5233.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.