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Women of distinction

"I'm Every Woman" blasted through the speakers at the Waterside Marriott last week as a parade of women strutted into the crowded ballroom.

Each of those women had been previously honored with the YWCA's annual "Women of Distinction" award. And they fist-pumped, danced and applauded along with the audience in support of this year's crop of honorees, 11 women from disparate fields.

I attended the ceremony at the invitation of a fellow mom of a kindergartener; our sons are in the same class. We see each other nearly every morning, exchanging waves and hellos as we hustle our boys into school, usually seconds ahead of getting tardy slips, sometimes seconds behind. We pass again on the way out, racing to get to work, cramming every hour of the day with tasks to be done and deadlines to meet before we speed home to our families and duties there.

Rarely do we, any of us, take time to acknowledge all that we do in a day, in a week, in a lifetime to make our families stronger and our communities better.

For two hours last week, 11 deserving women received recognition for their many contributions to Hampton Roads.

Among those honored was Susan Goode, who earned the award for her support of the arts. She serves on multiple arts commissions in Norfolk, gave money and time in support of arts facilities and serves as secretary for the board of the Virginia Symphony.

Yvonne Allmond works as a senior vice president at TowneBank in Norfolk and serves on the boards of the new YMCA in Norfolk, the Chrysler Museum of Art and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia.

Wanda Cooper started a law firm with her twin sister; their firm has been honored as a Small Business of the Year.

A wave of surprise rippled through the room at the end of Nicole Stuart's resume: She's president of Top Guard security, the region's largest woman-owned business. She grew the business from 140 employees in 1996 to more than 600 today. She has worked for the American Heart Association and she serves on the boards of Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton as well as First Book of Hampton Roads. She has sponsored scholarships for victims of domestic violence.

And she's a mom of five.

My fellow mom and I exchanged glances. Clearly we don't do enough, we laughed to each other.

It was easy to find inspiration in the accomplishments of these women. And that's the point of taking the time to honor women who found ways to make a difference in Hampton Roads.

The list of past honorees highlights generations of women leaders and activists in our region: former Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf; child abuse activist Betty Wade Coyle; state Sen. Yvonne Miller; the 1997 Old Dominion University Women's basketball team, coaches and staff.

The awards lunch falls during women's history month; I didn't even know it was women's history month until midway through my salad. Shame on me.

It shouldn't take an awards ceremony to prompt taking a moment to recognize the women who came before me, who made my life possible - from my mom, herself a mom of five, to Kay Tucker Addis, a past honoree who led this newspaper for eight of her 31 years with Landmark, who agreed to hire me.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Cynthia Romero, in explaining the purpose of the Women of Distinction awards, said the honorees were "ordinary women doing extraordinary things."

Each of the women honored last week carved time out of her own busy life to improve someone else's lot or to support worthy causes. They earned the distinction. It was nice to see them recognized for it.

Michelle Washington is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Email: michelle.washington@pilotonline.com.

Posted to: Michelle Washington Opinion

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