Mary Ellen Ponder


A conversation with Mary Ellen Ponder, Chief of Staff for Mayor Francis Slay. A native St. Louisan, Ponder got into politics when a lobbyist took her under her wing during an AmeriCorps fellowship in Kansas City focused on young people. She began working on campaigns for politicians who focused on issues for young adults and teens. Ponder joined Slay’s staff after he recruited her to work on his 2009 re-election campaign as deputy campaign manager, and then became his chief lobbyist before working on his next re-election campaign. After then serving as his director of operations, Ponder became Slay’s (and St. Louis’) first female chief of staff in February.

Ponder’s days begin early: By 7am, she’s finished her work emails and prepped for her meetings. Back-to-back meetings fill her day with issues relating to operations, relationship-building and legislation. The payoff though, she says, is working on issues that directly impact St. Louisans—especially the city’s young people.

What is your current frame of mind? Very positive and forward-looking.

Where are you happiest? My happy place is sticking my feet into a body of water—especially if there is sand underneath.

What is your favorite smell? The changing of the season, like from winter to spring. It’s hard to describe the smell, but I love it.

What is one word that describes you? I would say “determined.”

What did you eat for breakfast today? A cold Jimmy Dean Delights breakfast sandwich. I left it in the microwave too long. It was horrible.

What trait do you admire most in others? I would have to say courage.

What or whom is the greatest love of your life? My husband. We’re newly married, so it’s fun to say “my husband.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’d be taller. I wouldn’t have to wear such tall heels.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Probably getting this job.

If you were to die and come back as a person, who would you be? Nadia Comaneci. She got the first perfect 10 in gymnastics history. I wanted to be her when I was little.

What is your most treasured possession? It would have to be a letter from my father.

What is your greatest extravagance? Mani-pedis.

What is your greatest fear? Heights.

Who are your favorite writers? I like Hunter S. Thompson a lot; of course the Brontë sisters; and I’d have to say T.S. Eliot.

What are your favorite hobbies? Reading and swimming.

Where would you like to live? If not St. Louis, then the French Riviera or the Mediterranean.

Who are your heroes in real life? It’s corny, but both of my parents.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be? Frederick Douglass.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She’s partially what made me want to get involved in politics.

What is something interesting that you have just learned? I learned today that we will be introducing some legislation to reform our business code and make it easier to start a business in the city. I thought we’d have to wait another few months, but it seems to be ready.

What are you most looking forward to? Well, going to France for the first time ever. I’m going to go to the Riviera between Christmas and New Year’s for my honeymoon.

What is something that you still want to learn? I still want to learn about the financing of development deals. I know the basics, but I want to learn the ins and outs.

What is one thing you want to do before you die? Visit every state in the United States.

If you could say something to your younger self, what would it be? “Hold on.”




Photo credit: Wesley Law

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