As a kid, Ann-Marie McGaughey admits, she was a book hog. Her favorites were C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but, nudged a bit, and with a rueful “That’s embarrassing,” she’ll confess to mass consumption of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. That’s why the 38-year-old McGaughey, who directs the Mergers and Acquisitions group at McKenna Long & Aldridge, was thrilled to see her own daughter develop a major thirst for Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books. But she derives even more satisfaction from helping other children discover what books can do.
McGaughey attests to the power of reading. It gave her the ambition to go to college — the first person in her family to do so. “I always liked to read, write and talk. A lot,” she adds wryly. “[Being a lawyer] seemed a natural career path for me.”
For most of her childhood she lived in Ohio, where she attended Bowling Green State. She made her way to Georgia by attending Mercer Law School and to Atlanta as a lawyer working for McKenna. In January 2003 she was named partner; in 2004 she became team leader of Mergers and Acquisitions. That year her group handled around 200 transactions, totaling more than $2 billion. Of course, like most lawyers, McGaughey has to field questions from her parents about areas of the law where she’s less than expert. “When my mom was finally ready to sell her business, I told her, ‘Now this I can help you with.’”
McGaughey has two children of her own now and says, “I realize that not all children have the same opportunities.” Not content to simply cut a check, McGaughey organized the firm’s holiday sponsorship of a class at Atlanta’s Cook Elementary, a Title One school. One class became three, and the holiday gift giving gave way to more general contributions during the school year. “You see the kids. They crave the attention.” McGaughey laughs. “It doesn’t hurt that you’re bringing a bunch of gifts.”
Last year McGaughey involved McKenna in an organization that provides older elementary school kids with more lasting gifts. Through the Everybody Wins Power Lunch program, McGaughey and 20 other lawyers and staff read with an at-risk child for a half hour once a week at Cook Elementary. “You really become attached to these kids,” McGaughey stresses. “You know that in their school day [thanks to this program], they get one-on-one attention. Hopefully, you encourage them to read. I think a lot of kids, they just don’t have the opportunity. It’s not that they don’t like it.”
This past year McGaughey’s reading partner was a fifth-grade boy named Maurice. “He would smile the whole time — when I walked in, while he was reading, while he walked me out. You would’ve thought I was Santa Claus. He hugged me on his last day, asked me if I would come to his [fifth grade] graduation.” She couldn’t — Everybody Wins rules preclude mentors from having outside class contact with mentees — but a smile slides into her voice as she says, “I think I had an exceptional kid.”
McGaughey is also involved in a program to help improve reading skills on a macro scale. The Children’s Museum of Atlanta, on whose board of directors she serves, is inaugurating a literacy program called “Read It!,” with storytellers, donated books and a board on which kids can pen narratives. “It’s all about helping kids learn to read and love to read,” McGaughey says.
The pace and pressure of corporate law can unbalance a life, McGaughey notes, and sees programs like Everybody Wins as a way to maintain balance. “I enjoyed it on Thursdays, knowing I was going to spend time with Maurice,” she says. She recounts a time when they were reading and the story mentioned a 4-year-old boy. “Maurice looked at me and asked, ‘You said your son was 4, right?’ I said, ‘That’s right, Maurice! He is!’ Something in the book was about moving. He said, ‘You know, I moved from St. Louis.’ We started talking about his family. As much as I thought I was helping him, he really helped me appreciate what I had.”