Tricia Purdy-Messinger

Tricia Purdy-Messinger is one of five Auburn alumni who will be inducted into the Auburn Alumni Hall of Distinction Class of 2019 in May.

Tricia Purdy-Messinger's interest in politics dates back to when she dragged her father to mayoral debates in Auburn.

At the debates, she found her middle-school-aged self fascinated with the topics of discussion. While she can't place his opponent, she remembers former Auburn Mayor Guy Cosentino was there because he won the 1992 election, and continued to be involved in her life.

After the election, Purdy-Messinger was in a production of "Anything Goes" at West Middle School. Cosentino not only attended, but also wrote her a letter congratulating her on her performance. Then, when Cosentino created a Mayor's Youth Commission, Purdy-Messinger joined.

"That was the beginning for me," Purdy-Messinger said of her interest in politics. "I've had many teachers that extend outside the classroom — and he was one."

Purdy-Messinger said her passion for politics intersected with her passion for health care to bring her to where she is today. For more than eight years, she's worked with UnitedHealth Group and in August became the company's senior vice president and head of external affairs. Purdy-Messinger works at the Washington, D.C., office of the global company.

At a May 17 ceremony, Purdy-Messinger will be one of five Auburn alumni honored by the Auburn Education Foundation for their academic, professional, personal and civic achievements by being inducted into the Auburn Alumni Hall of Distinction. Purdy-Messinger was nominated by her younger sister, Anne Marie Purdy.

"I think that Tricia deserves to be recognized for a whole host of things she puts forth in the world," Purdy said. She added that her family is very close to the Auburn community, and felt this was an opportunity to both recognize Purdy-Messinger and let that community know what she's been up to.

"Growing up with Tricia, she has always inspired me to be my best," Purdy said. "She's always been a role model to me."

Purdy-Messinger said her induction was a surprise, but an exciting one. As a 1996 graduate of Auburn High School, she attributes much of her success to her teachers in and out of the classroom.

It's not just college professors who've made a big impact, Purdy-Messinger said, it goes all the way back to kindergarten. She said she is still friends with both her her kindergarten and third-grade teachers. She's looking forward to reconnecting with the latter, Donna Riester, at the May ceremony.

Purdy-Messinger entered Loyola University in Baltimore as a pre-med student with an English minor. But she later realized that while her interest was in health care, perhaps it wasn't in medicine. She ended up graduating with an English major and a philosophy minor.

"I think that gave me a good foundation," she said.

Upon graduation, Purdy-Messinger moved to New York City and spent two years working for a law firm. But still feeling a "pull to politics," she said, she moved to the Washington area and became a health care lobbyist.

While Cosentino was one of her first teachers outside of the classroom, Purdy-Messinger said she feels "very lucky" to have had many people invested in her growth. In addition to her parents' support, she said William McKeon, a former New York State Democratic Party chair, was one of her mentors and life champions. When she moved to D.C., she said, McKeon wrote her letters.

Purdy-Messinger also credits her ophthalmologist since childhood, Dr. Charles Teitelbaum, as one of the most influential people in her life. Growing up, she was diagnosed with a chronic eye disease, and said she is lucky to have her vision today. Her experience as a patient of Teitelbaum's helped fuel her passion for being involved in health care. She said battling her eye disease and facing challenges as a child also helped teach her about resilience.

"Those people enabled me to overcome challenges and celebrate success," Purdy-Messinger said. "The choices we can make to overcome those things — that power resides in us."

In addition to her professional experience in health care, Purdy-Messinger finds further passion for her career in her experience as a mother: Her nearly 5-year-old son, the youngest of her three children, was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition known as Williams syndrome.

Now, her work involves leading federal and state advocacy, policy and political efforts, and social responsibility activities in support of UnitedHealth Group's mission to improve access to high-quality health care, reduce costs and simplify the consumer experience.

“When I reflect on what truly drives and motivates me, in small and in big ways ... it’s always been about impact. Making a positive difference," Purdy-Messinger said. "I'm very proud to be part of a company and a team so passionate, restless, mission-driven and focused on delivering a better health care experience every single day."

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.