Posted by Carrie Condran LaBriola on May 11, 2020
Mary Liu had a difficult start in life, but it seems to have just made her stronger. She was born in Hong Kong, moved to the United States at two-and-a-half, and grew up in San Francisco. Her cleft lip and palate led to bullying and low self-esteem.

“I had a lot of shame about my cleft. I had a hard time dealing with it,” she recalls. “I went through a lot of personal development work as an adult to get to where I am today.”
After attending San Francisco City College and San Francisco State University with a major in business, Mary worked as a bookkeeper, but was laid off and decided to go out on her own, starting her own accounting consulting business at the age of 23.
After 20 years, she changed careers and started a travel business with her sister, which she sold to her sister after 10 years and went into the real estate business with her husband, James. The couple, who are celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary this year, live in the Oceanview neighborhood of San Francisco and have two adult sons, a new daughter-in-law, and a grand doggie named Riley, the corgi.
When asked about her hobbies, Mary cites badminton, ballroom dancing, and family game night, but says, “Travel is #1. When I retire, I will be volunteering and traveling full time.” Alliance for Smiles is the primary beneficiary of Mary’s volunteering. She has been a mission director and gala chair and recently was named the organization’s Volunteer of the Year.
At the urging of Alliance for Smiles founder and Club Past President Anita Stangl, Mary joined the Rotary Club of San Francisco in May 2019 “because I thought it would be a great way to learn more about Rotary, since it’s such a big supporter of Alliance for Smiles,” she says. “I like the people I’ve been meeting, definitely like-minded people who are willing to help others and with a mindset of giving back. I knew I would like the community even before I joined because of the 4-Way Test — if this is their core values, then they’re in alignment with mine, so I knew I would love Rotary.”
In the short time she’s been in Rotary, Mary has become a member of the standing committee for RYLA and the Club’s Youth Services Committee, serves as the Interact advisor at Lowell High School and volunteered to jumpstart the Club’s vocational services activities, which led to her becoming Vice President for Vocational Services and serving on the Board. She manages the Club’s Business Connections Zoom network and serves on the planning committee for the District 5150 Rotary Means Business event taking place virtually in July.
Mary will become the Club’s President-elect on July 1 and serve as President in 2021-2022. “I didn’t seek the position, but was asked by the Nominating Committee,” she says. “I was honored to be nominated, but I didn’t feel I was ready; I like to get to know a lot about an organization before committing.” But, after talking to four of the Club’s past presidents and several Board members she decided that, with time to learn and with support from the Presidents’ Council, she would be ready in two years.
The reason she is so comfortable stepping into a leadership role is her past experience leading other organizations, including the San Francisco branch of a worldwide women’s business networking group headquartered in Dallas. Mary served as executive managing director of the group’s San Francisco branch, growing it from 20 to 200 members in three years. She also served as President on both of her sons’ Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) during their elementary, middle, and high school years.
Mary has won numerous awards for her entrepreneurship in innovation, training, and leadership. She says her biggest professional accomplishment was overcoming her fear of public speaking by practicing, letting go of the fear, and having faith until, two years later, she spoke on stage to an audience of 18,000 people at the Rams’ football stadium in St. Louis.
She says one of her goals as President is “to have more members taking advantage of the grants that are available on the Club, District, and International levels.” Of her growing involvement with Rotary, both on the Club and District level, she says, “I’m loving every single minute of it.”