Mary Cownie
Mary Cownie

Age 30  |  Director, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Mary Cownie said she wasn’t seeking out a government job, but it’s not surprising that she was on Gov. Terry Branstad’s list of candidates. Her resume includes the noteworthy experience of serving as an “advance person” in the White House during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“Not only was I taking on large tasks, but there’s nothing to compare them to,” Cownie said. “It meant dealing with the White House press corps, the travel pool, local media – it was a very high-pressure, intense job, and you can’t afford to make mistakes.”

In January, Branstad named her director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Cownie returned to her hometown of Des Moines in 2007 and became the communications director of the Republican Party of Iowa. In 2008, she began a two-year stint at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino as a community relations specialist.

A year ago, she formed her own public relations company, Goldfinch Strategies LLC. But she set that aside to dive into her post with the state.

“The past couple of months have been hard, but I think it will only get easier,” Cownie said. “I have to evaluate what works and what doesn’t, what needs to change. Once I’m able to wrap my head around everything here and institute my plan, I think I’ll feel a lot better and I won’t be working crazy hours.”

Cownie has been active as a volunteer in Central Iowa. She served on committees of the American Red Cross Heroes of the Heartland, Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, Roosevelt High School, the Science Center of Iowa and the West Des Moines Leadership Institute.

She has been a volunteer teacher for Junior Achievement of Central Iowa and a board member for Young Variety, and was part of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute’s class of 2009-10.

Her recent schedule has made it difficult to do the running she enjoys. “Lots of times I’d like to go for a run, but it doesn’t happen,” she said. She also likes to cook and host guests. “I love entertaining and planning events,” Cownie said.

She’s married to Peter Cownie.