by Kristin L. Wolfe
As Marina Escobar stands in her now empty garden, except for a few lingering bushels of sage and parsley, she embraces the clean slate. It represents a time to reassess, reflect, and start anew. Something 2020 forced on all of us as a whole but for Escobar, personally as well.
After more than a decade as a top media executive at Disney and ESPN, some might say “at the top of her game,” she’s now semi-retired and reimagining her life. With over 30 years leading teams in broadcast graphics and visual technology, she and her teams received numerous accolades including Best of Disney and multiple sports Emmys.
Escobar is also an advisory board member for the Center for Sport, Peace, & Society helping global leaders develop solutions to socio-political challenges through sports. She is a mentor alumni of the Global Sports Mentoring Program and a 2017 honoree for Most Powerful Women in Cable. Although being connected and networking is in her nature, she’s hung up her TV gear, so to speak, and replaced it with shovels, seeds, and butterfly nets.
“I’ve always been so busy that I’d forgotten to notice and nurture the beauty around me. My parents, my family and my garden.
Granted, Escobar has always had a greenthumb; gardening is not new to her, but after working in television and media on and off for over three decades, she’s now able to devote more time to it than ever before. She has fully entrenched herself in everything green, from soils and plants, to insects, even stakes, trellises, and garden beds. But she’s never too far from television. With her husband and one brother in the industry, Reuters and CNN, respectively, not to mention her eldest son’s father who works for CBS, the world of broadcast media is still always on her radar.
And, as a leader in her field, and as a Latina, one of few–but a thankfully growing demographic– she has become a mentor for numerous young women in the field, often encouraging them to find their voice and use it: “Put yourself out there, be vigilant”; and “Network. Surround yourself with a diverse and a trusted tribe”; “In short: Be Badass.” She still welcomes conference and speaking engagements, especially those which empower young women starting out in business, in STEM, in diversity and inclusion and of course, in broadcast media. Escobar believes hiring women in senior positions on boards can motivate other women. The ripple down effect helps retain top talent and in turn helps companies to innovate faster.
Former mentees and co-workers have described Escobar as…
“Someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps to bring it out.”
“You have taught me how to be strong, even in the face of changing times. Your quick texts and words of encouragement mean more than you know. You understand when life seems to be falling apart; you’re one of the few leaders that will regularly check in; and that has really helped.”
“Your dedication to your family and your powerhouse moves at work are truly inspirational. You are an incredible leader and an even better person, who I’d love to work for one day.”
Such praise is not lost on Escobar. As a young Latina raised in Little Rock, Arkansas at a time when being different in any way stood out like a sore thumb, those feelings of being “other” and the pain attached to the bullying for that distinction always remains close to her heart. With that, she’s often told her three children, to be mindful of kids sitting alone at lunch, for example. “That was me,” she recalls, sitting alone with her unrecognizable lunch brought from home. Add to that, darker hair, eyes, and skin, and the Spanish she spoke with her family, in an area not well known for its diversity, she was perpetually cast aside. Although, still sometimes a fight, the platforms for Latinas are surging and doors are opening. Escobar has been very much a part of the cracks being made in that ceiling. She encourages young women to use “your voice, your life experiences, your cultural differences and your failures as fuel to forge your own path, not the path someone else paved for you based on their assumptions. Don’t abandon who you are.” And she reminds them to “pull up and champion other women” as they climb.
Despite taking a few steps back from the “rat race” and now getting up to make family breakfast instead of catching an early flight for a business trip, this new chapter is not just about watching the direction of the sunlight so her next harvest is plentiful; there’s another challenge in her family’s path. At 85, her mother is battling the unimaginable spiral that is Alzheimer’s.
From a true matriarch with countless life lessons told in her signature soft voice, whose grandchildren gathered around the counter as she patted arepas, or stirred Colombian chocolate with her wooden molinillo spoon, her life is no longer her own. Escobar, her two brothers and sister-in-law, now spend much of their time alternating care for her parents, of course their mother especially, and do so between Connecticut, New York City, and Florida, each sibling living in a different place. Understandably, this is difficult on their father, Ramon, who turns 90 in March. To this day, he still wakes up next to his wife as he’s done for more than 55 years.
Grappling with watching a beloved, revered parent, become almost unrecognizable has consumed Escobar and her family. “Everyday I find her precious memories fleeing quickly. This past year was extremely difficult due to Covid. I wasn’t able to visit as often and was afraid she wouldn’t remember me. We’re all grateful to live in the moment. I miss her story-telling but I’ve learned to value just her talk and broken sentences. I cannot imagine how she must feel. I’m sad for her and my dad. He misses his wife. I miss my mom and she’s not even gone.” Music, however, is one thing that brings her mother back and offers the family a flashback to happier times and a moment to really savor now, given the circumstances. Turn on Piel Canela by “Bobby” Capó, and she is right there in tune and glowing as she once did.
And, music is something that accompanies Escobar in the garden. “I’ve been asked several times to share my secret for a lush and bountiful garden. Music! With my pruners and portable speaker in tow, I frequently play Colombian music to honor my parents. I was told once to dance like no one is watching. Well, I do and I’d like to think my plants enjoy it.”
Food, of course, is another subject that keeps Escobar’s mother ever present. It’s one reason why spending hours in the garden to hours in the kitchen to recreate the beautiful dishes from her past, is like her mother is still there, singing, dancing and delivering nourishment to her family. In between stints at TV networks, Escobar helped manage her family’s restaurant La Pequena Colombia in Jackson Heights, Queens. She described working alongside her mother as “an opportunity to learn from the strongest woman in my life. She taught me to believe in myself and to always follow my passions.
Despite coming to the country with a dream but no formal education, her determination to make sure we mastered two languages and were all educated was brilliant decision making.”
So, press play on Seed Your Soul, Escobar’s next chapter, which brings all that matters to her and her family to the forefront. How does she do it? By recognizing the exquisite simplicity in a harvest; by nurturing a butterfly’s all-too-brief life span; by soaking up the smiles on her kids’ faces; or by relishing the soft lilt in her mother’s voice. These are what have now become paramount to Escobar; it’s something she uses to cultivate each and every day.