Selected as the president and CEO of OKC’s National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 2017, Natalie Shirley is the first female leader in the museum’s history. Before taking the helm, Shirley served as president of Oklahoma State University’s OKC location, and as Gov. Mary Fallin’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development. She was also in Gov. Brad Henry’s cabinet as the Secretary of Commerce and Tourism. 

She now serves on several boards, including the Oklahoma City Chamber and United Way, and was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt to the University of Oklahoma’s Board of Regents. An Oklahoma native, Shirley received her Bachelor of Arts from OSU and her law degree from OU. Shirley lives in Oklahoma City and has six children. We caught up with Shirley and got her thoughts on … 

… an ideal day on the job.

A great day would see a balance among internal meetings, external meetings and visiting the exhibits and talking to museum patrons. That day never arrives, but hope springs eternal! The thing I look forward to every day is the opportunity to talk with our frontline team, volunteers and guests. Reviewing financial statements or accreditation documents are important, but interacting with people is my favorite part of the day.   

… being dubbed ‘the first.’

Being the first female anything doesn’t hold any particular cache for me; being the best at whatever I get to do is what is important to me.

… what drew her
to the museum.

What I am privileged to do in this job, and in every job I have served since moving back to Oklahoma, is to lift it up to the position it deserves.  Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, an enterprise can struggle a bit. I get to come in, dust it off, find the best people (internal and sometimes external) to fill the jobs, and then provide a vision, so the light can shine through.

…her love for Oklahoma.

I am passionate about Oklahoma and its people. My parents were Oklahomans and they instilled a love for its people in me. Oklahoma often seems to be at the bottom of all the good lists and near the top of the bad lists. All of us have a role in changing things for the better, and I am determined to do my part.

… days off.

You can find me on a run, in my garden, with my heartthrob husband, Bill, or one of my six children. I am a total lawn and garden snob, and so early in the morning, late in the evening or that rare weekend day, you can find me pulling weeds, planting flowers or right now, picking strawberries. 

… feeling grateful.

I have never worked a day in my life, no matter who signs my paycheck. I have gotten to work with some of the most amazing people in the world and participate in some of the most incredible projects right here in Oklahoma. 

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