My heartfelt THANKS to the WBAI, President Matern, and the Nominating Committee for their vision in selecting my fellow awardees—and for the honor given to me…which I accept not for myself but as a symbol of recognition that the projects my colleagues and I have worked on are worthwhile. I am also grateful to the ISBA Women and the Law Committee for nominating me—Sandra Crawford and Diana Law in particular. I care deeply about this group of accomplished women and am touched by their vote of confidence.
I was asked to tell you about how I got here, what has impacted me during my life and career, and what message I have for you.
I’ve reached this point in my career because of a sense of purpose that seems to infuse me daily and maybe also because of good genes and my exercise regimen. For all of this, I am indebted to my determined mother who overcame extraordinary odds and fought depression by giving to others; several family tragedies that taught me to confront challenges; and the joy of motherhood followed by a divorce and a second marriage that added two young boys to my then-family constellation of two daughters at the very time I was in my second year of night law school and working full-time during the day.
I have continued this intense schedule since I discovered that I am able to do many things at once when I care enough about the goal I am pursuing and have the support of family and friends along the way. In this regard, I have been fortunate. Some of these special people are with me tonight: my two remarkable daughters, Erica and Alexis; my second—and last—husband Noel; dear friends Marty and Lois; my smart and fun-loving office colleague Patty; Candace, my first boss in the practice of law—and younger than I am; Carole, my high school cheerleader teammate; and Sandra, the chair of Women and the Law.
At any given time, there is a great deal to do to improve conditions faced by so many individuals and communities—I’ve chosen to focus on women. The best way to HELP, and feel nourished at the same time, is to find something that interests you, convene a few compassionate and dynamic people you respect, and begin a DIALOGUE about what kind of difference you’d like to make and FOR WHOM. The seed of an idea, when planted in the right soil and well-tended, will blossom into a useful project.
Ideas do flourish in the company of others, and in my case those others are often women who are receptive and brave enough to share their ideas and let them evolve into something else because of contributions from those with different perspectives. Implementing good ideas requires that we also share the workload, give credit where it is due, and maintain a sense of humor. When these elements converge, there is a contagious energy that, like FUEL, starts and maintains our engines and takes us in unexpected directions if we are up for an adventure.
***Where did the ‘Women Everywhere: Partners in Service Project’ come from? …a casual talk in 1999 among a group of women attorneys fed up with being undervalued by their male counterparts who brainstormed about how to improve the status of women in the profession. I asked: WHAT IF all women attorneys in Chicago decided not to show up for work one day? What would happen? How would the men react? That query progressed to talk of a citywide boycott by women attorneys and then, more constructively, to imagining what we would do on that day off since we needed to be useful, and then to defining a service project. This collaboration led to the creation of Women Everywhere, a service and education partnership that includes many minority and women’s bar groups.
***What about the Joint Task Force on older women’s issues? Being in my late 50s when I became the WBAI president inspired me to think about women in my age group (but poor and alone) and the financial, health care, housing, and post-retirement hurdles they face, particularly those women with limited resources. WHAT IF there could be a forum to examine these concerns and find solutions to problems faced by aging women? WHY NOT have the WBAI partner with others who have a special expertise in the area? From my conversations with Kerry Peck, then-CBA president and elder law attorney, the JTF was born. And shortly thereafter, Elizabeth Wells joined me and remains by my side as my co-chair. The Task Force is still going strong at 11, the age of my oldest grandchild, Andrew.
***On a lighter note, I returned to my office one day last week after hunting for a birthday card for my five-year-old granddaughter, Greta. I was surprised and distressed to still, in 2010, find cards only for princesses and sweet little girls, while all the boy cards flaunted action figures and power messages. I lamented this sad state of affairs to my neighbor Patty, and in an exchange about the need for better images for girls, we both said WHAT IF there was an alternative to that stereotypical greeting card? Surely the demand would be great so WHY NOT open a special card shop called “For Real Girls”? Unless that could be my business after retirement, the idea likely won’t go anywhere—but it could—and all because of an expressed gripe about the status quo shared with a well-chosen colleague.
Now for the message: YOU ARE IT! YOU ARE THE MESSAGE. Nothing meaningful and enduring can be accomplished in a vacuum or without the energy, participation and support of ALL OF YOU. Nothing I’ve accomplished has been in a vacuum nor would it have taken shape without many of the women in this room--who can claim credit for the successes of these projects. I am grateful for your support and I’d like you to stand up and be counted.
Since you are the MESSENGER as well, the second part of my message is: ASK ‘WHAT IF?’ AND ‘WHY NOT?’ AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN. Magic doesn’t always happen, but when it does, and you’re in the room, your life can change—and the relationships you develop in that room you will cherish for the rest of your life. That is what I treasure most—selfishly, I get great satisfaction from being and working with you, and these days, as I am aging, particularly those of you who are younger—because you make me feel young and re-energize me.
My next project just may be to partner with Dawn, Jody, and Linda, the three other amazing awardees you will soon meet. Imagine the flow of ideas in that gathering!
Again—Thank You. ■