Patricia Pacey

Economic Empowerment

How a strong supply of mentors helped Patricia Pacey meet the demands of being the only female economics Ph.D. student at the time.

When Patricia Pacey (BA ’71, Ph.D. ’76) first came to the University of Florida, her aspiration was to be a high school math teacher. Growing up in a typical middle-class family in the 1950s and 60s, teaching was a common career route for women, and Pacey didn’t envision herself taking a different path.

In the final semesters of her math bachelor’s degree program, Pacey was a work study student for the chair of the accounting department, Dr. Williard Stone. It was Stone who first recognized her intellectual ability and encouraged her to consider taking an economics class. Needless to say, after that first class, Pacey was hooked.

Eager to learn more, Pacey scrambled to take enough economics courses to be eligible for the Ph.D. program. With that effort and encouragement from Stone, Pacey would become one of the only two women in UF’s economics Ph.D. program at the time.

“Florida changed my life completely,” she said. “It changed the way I thought and my dreams dramatically.”

While at one point in time there were two women in the economics Ph.D. program, Pacey would ultimately become a lone duck after the other female student decided to leave. Though it was challenging for Pacey being the only woman in the program, reassurance from another UF professor, Dr. Madelyn Lockhart, kept her moving forward.

“[Lockhart] would tell me that I could do it and that I couldn’t let her down,” Pacey said. “She really kept me going as the only woman in the program.”

A third faculty member in Pacey’s court was Dr. Roger Blair, who continues to teach economics to UF students today. It was Blair who Pacey says helped push her across the Ph.D. finish line by encouraging her academic career and becoming her advisor.

“Looking back [on being the only woman in the program], it’s weird. I wonder how I did it,” Pacey said. “I was pretty dogged then but also pretty naïve. I was also working full time at the UF Health Science Center while writing my dissertation, and Williard, Madelyn and Roger really pushed me.”

After finishing her degree, Pacey moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the newly formed Congressional Budget Office (CBO). While she was only there for a year and a half, Pacey recalls the excitement of getting to learn from the country’s elite in economics.

“[The CBO] would assemble all of the who’s who of economics, and the newly minted Ph.D. students like myself were allowed to sit on the sides of the room with all of these incredibly impressive people and hear what they had to say,” she said.

While Pacey had intended to stay at the Congressional Budget Office for at least a few years, a chance to go west and teach at the University of Colorado was too intriguing to pass up. She started her time teaching at the Colorado Springs campus before moving to the larger Boulder campus, where she would teach in different capacities, initially full-time and then as an adjunct, for 15 years.

Pacey’s reputation among students was one worth being proud of. Her former MBA student Judy Amabile said of Pacey’s microeconomics class, “It was a tough class, but she made it accessible. She inspired us with her knowledge and her bold personality.”

In addition to teaching, Pacey used her economics background to provide insights for companies as a consultant. While she never was drawn to corporate work, she did enjoy putting her skills to use as an economic consultant for legal cases and business and public policy projects.

“It’s like teaching, but to a jury,” she said. “Instead of telling them what to think, we gave them the facts and showed them why we thought the insights we provided were the right answer.”

It was this blend of expert insights and teaching through facts that would ultimately lead Pacey to the consulting business she’s run for almost 40 years, Pacey Economics, Inc.

The small firm consists of six economists who consult on matters such as evaluating damages for legal cases as well as providing impact studies, forecasting models and cost of living studies on public policy issues and business matters. Of all the projects Pacey has consulted on over the years, she’s most proud of her work in helping everyday people both outside and inside of her firm.

“I think [my career] makes me feel good for two reasons,” she said. “First, I get to help people who have been harmed for no fault of their own. Second, I am proud to find young people to work in the office and help them blossom into what they want to be. By and large, it has been a very rewarding career.”

From her own experience, Pacey understands just how important it is to have support and encouragement from teachers and mentors. The same way that her University of Florida professors encouraged her, Pacey aims to be an emboldening guide for her employees.

“I tell all the young people that work for me, ‘This is your first job, not your last,’” she said. “I want to help them grow their skills enough that it will allow them to move on to their next adventure, interest or passion.”

As for Pacey’s future plans, she’s slowed down a little, but continues to be the bold and knowledgeable leader she was noted as by her MBA students. She’s building a route to pass the baton onto her successors but doesn’t plan to leave until the it’s firmly in their hands.

Until then, in her free time, Pacey continues to enjoy her beloved home in Colorado and all of its outdoor activities, including snow skiing, hiking and biking. She also volunteers her time as a member of the Rocky Mountain PBS board of directors, and previously served on the state’s governing board for higher education, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Pacey is most looking forward to returning to her favorite pastime – traveling – once COVID restrictions lift.

“I have been to almost every continent – Antarctica, the Arctic, Australia,” she said. “I work really hard, and I play really hard!”

Above all, Pacey doesn’t think she would be where she is today without the love and support of her family, especially her husband of nearly 40 years, Chuck Neinas. Even with his own 50-year career in college sports with the NCAA, as Big 8 Commissioner, Executive Director of the College Football Association and consultant for universities in searches for football coaches and athletic directors, Neinas has been Pacey’s ultimate supporter, along with her stepsons, Andy and Toby, and their families, including six grandchildren.

“I couldn’t have invested the time and focus on my pursuits without the substantial backing and support from Chuck over the years,” Pacey said. “However, the plaque on my kitchen wall reads, ‘Behind every successful woman…is a man who is surprised,’ just to keep him on his toes!”