Strong Women who Inspire, Part 2

(This is the second part of last week’s post.  As contrasted in this photo of a South African Goddess of strength and resilience and Maillol’s sculpture in the Louvre Garden, there are many diverse forms of strong women.  Read on!)


A feminist for years (yes, as a product of the 60’s), I tend to surround myself with women who are smart, strong and successful. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of extraordinary women in the wine profession. And, I am forever grateful for the few molecules of their star dust which fell on me during my professional career.  I would put all of these individuals on a special pedestal as they share similar characteristics. First, they were all pioneers who achieved success and respect in a world dominate by men.  Second, they were doggedly focused on achieving their professional goals through excellence. Third, they were not afraid to support and encourage other women.  My all-star team of strong women includes: Zelma Long; Cathy Corison; Eunice Fried; Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW; Margaret Stern; Dorothy Gaiter; Madeline Triffon, MS; Michaela Rodeno, and Jancis Robinson, MW.

In my quest for identifying strong women who inspire, I also queried male friends.  Charlie Cushing, naval architect and running buddy, chose Eleanor Roosevelt, writer, activist and wife of our 26rd president, Theodore.  Charlie gave her enormous credit for not only dealing with a difficult marriage but also for keeping a laser-sharp focus on important issues such as women’s rights and racial equality.  In fact, Eleanor completely changed the role of First Lady which prior to her, was limited to domesticity and being a good hostess.  As “First Lady, Eleanor was the first President’s wife to write a daily news column; she drafted and oversaw the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and according to Charlie, “she participated in birth of the United Nations and also spearheaded the elimination of segregation in the US military,” to name just some of her many accomplishments.  

Without a moment of hesitation, Harvey Shapiro—my spinning pal and copyright lawyer—selected Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan youth who defied the Taliban in her mission to allow girls to be educated. Harvey reminded me of her remarkable story.  “At the age of 15, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.” Harvey was moved by her “spirit, grace and courage against enormous odds” as she worked against the Taliban’s imposition of strong Islamic laws to remove women’s rights to have an active role in society.

A number of other men cited their mothers and grandmothers as strong figures.  This was reassuring as it illustrated that men really do value the importance of raising children something I had wrongly assumed men took for granted.

The strength of women as mothers can also take strange twists.  Michelle, an insurance industry executive, selected her mother, then also gave credit to her father for teaching her the importance of unconditional love.  She explained that while growing up, her father had a serous drinking problem. Subsequently, it fell on her mother to keep the family together—financially and emotionally—something she did with both joy and grace.  For 40 years her mother took care of her father, then one day she suffered a massive stroke.  “At age 65, my father stopped drinking, learned to drive and became her caregiver, taking over the household and her care.” Michelle gave credit to both of her parents for teaching her “the lesson of strength and love.”

To end this musing on strong women, it would be an oversight not mention the iconic Oprah Whitney.   More than one person suggested her name during my research.  Why Oprah?  My Italian class pal, Joan Ross, explained our country’s adulation with a string of reasons: “Born with no obvious advantages; overcame abusive childhood experiences; relied on herself but knew when to ask for help; developed a formidable sense of self; provides thoughtful responses to social issues; exhibits great self-confidence (despite Trump's tweet); and generates enthusiasm among those who need a role model.” Then Joan concluded and I totally agree, “Despite all this, she should not run for president, IMHO.”

Oprah’s biggest contribution as a strong woman is in encouraging us to live fearlessly and to strive to achieve our highest potential. She is everyone’s imagined Fairy Godmother which is why I saved her for last. Oprah’s unique combination of tremendous successes as an entrepreneur coupled with her compassion and humility touches all of us.