Top Female Achievers 2013
Top Female Achiever Lauren Thom
Portraits by MARYLOU UTTERMOHLEN
There is no novelty in there being worthy achievers who are female. There is, however, plenty of challenge in determining which ones to single out. Our list isn’t necessarily claiming to present the best of the year, rather these are people who have been doing good works year after year and for whom, as far as we know, the best may be yet to come. We will appreciate them then as we appreciate them now.
All selections were made by the editorial staff of New Orleans Magazine based on independent research and recommendations.
Maria Teresa Blanco
Louisiana’s Act Early Ambassador, Assistant Professor, Community Liaison and Early Childhood Specialist at the Human Development Center, LSUHSC
For 17 years, Maria Teresa Blanco worked for her family’s export business until her 30-month-old daughter was diagnosed with autism. According to Blanco, information on autism wasn’t as readily available 20 years ago as it is today.
“I was at a loss at how to help her, and most of the professionals I came across could offer little help or hope,” Blanco says. “Health care providers and educators only saw a diagnosis and suggested I consider institutionalizing her.”
Blanco faced an uphill battle not only with her daughter’s disability but also with the lack of understanding from educators, medical professionals and the community. She was determined to help her daughter become as independent as possible and live a full, self-determined life, so Blanco decided to go back to school to learn more about early intervention. In 2006 she earned a master’s degree in early childhood special education from the University of New Orleans, and she’s currently working on her doctorate in early intervention.
“I try to impart that sense of advocacy to parents,” Blanco says. “I want [parents] to realize that they are experts about their children and equal partners in their treatment and education.”
Blanco is an assistant professor, community liaison and early childhood specialist at the Human Development Center at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. She was selected to be Louisiana’s Act Early Ambassador by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The “Learn the Signs. Act Early” campaign aims to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need.
“Have high expectations for children – even children with disabilities – because it will encourage them to strive and it will help you find ways to help them achieve their goals,” Blanco notes.
She is also working on revitalizing the early intervention programs at HDC that will provide services and support for families and children with disabilities or who are at-risk and help them achieve their potential.
Today Blanco’s daughter is nearly 23, living in a college dorm and working a part-time job. Although her daughter still faces the symptoms of her disability, she’s coming into her own.
“Empowering her is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
– Minh Dang
Mentor: My parents. They struggled to rebuild their lives after the Cuban revolution, here in a new country. They embraced this city and the opportunities they found here. They didn’t let anyone place limits on what they could accomplish. They taught me to love unconditionally and to have high expectations of myself and of the people around me.
Defining Moment: The latest was when my daughter moved into a dorm. Every time she achieves one of her goals, it changes me. It reinforces the belief that she can do what she sets her mind to in spite of her disability, and I learn more every day about how to support her to make it happen.
Advice to Young Women: Do what you love. It makes the long hours and deadlines bearable.
Goals: Finishing my Ph.D. I’m also excited about the national focus on early childhood care and education. As the dialogue continues around providing quality childcare and early education for all children, the Human Development Center is working to ensure that children with disabilities and those at risk have access to high quality environments.
Favorite Things About What You Do: The most rewarding part of what I do is collaborating with parents to develop intervention plans for their child, and helping them implement those interventions in their homes and in their communities. Seeing the excitement and joy families experience when they teach their child something new is my goal. Knowing that I had a hand in empowering a family to support their child gives me great satisfaction.
Founder and President of Gambel Communications LLC
As they begin their careers, many young professionals are encouraged to volunteer, with the hope that working to help their communities will lead to jobs in their chosen professions. But sometimes, there’s a twist in the story: volunteer work lets people sample new careers.
That is what happened to Betsie Gambel, veteran public relations expert and founder of Gambel Communications LLC. After graduating from Sweet Briar College, Gambel taught English literature at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.
Meanwhile, she volunteered for the Junior League, where one of her duties was editing the group’s magazine. “It was the perfect fit,” Gambel says of the job. “I loved to write and edit.” She also took on more marketing and public relations assignments for the league, and realized public relations was the field for her. She began work at one of the city’s major firms.
Life for Gambel, and thousands of others, took a turn for the worst in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina’s floods pounded New Orleans. She worked out of town for a while, but returned to become active in committees that formed to help put the city back together.
In December of that year, as she prepared for a Christmas visit to her son in South Carolina, Gambel was gripped with horrible pain. The city’s health care facilities were in shambles, so she made the drive then had her son take her straight to the emergency room. There, an oncologist told her that tests hadn’t pinpointed a reason for her pain – maybe kidney stones – but unfortunately did show she had stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hospitals in New Orleans were still crippled from the storm, so Gambel went to Houston and lived with a cousin. She underwent treatment at M.D. Anderson; fortunately, it was successful and she remains cancer-free.
The double whammy helped Gambel decide to take a step she’d long contemplated; she opened Gambel Communications in her home in 2009. Within three weeks she had four employees, and the company has grown ever since. Today company offices are on Metairie Road.
The firm handles public relations for such iconic New Orleans brands including the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Hotel Monteleone and Camellia Grill.
Gambel says her company specializes in helping small businesses grow and in forging partnerships between for-profits and nonprofits. She completed a “mini-MBA program” through Goldman Sachs, which helped her plan out the company’s next five years. This year, she was named Women in Business Champion of the Year by Louisiana Economic Development and the U.S. Small Business Administration for Region VI.
Retirement doesn’t loom on the horizon, Gambel says. “I can’t imagine ever retiring, as I’m so passionate about what I do and love every single day.”
– Judi Russell
Mentors: My parents – I absolutely turn to them. My father is an entrepreneur and architect, and my mother is such a loving person. Also, my network of girl friends, from college to volunteering (those people know who they are). It’s a strong female support group in all fields.
Also, Sister Shirley Miller from the Academy of the Sacred Heart. Whatever I was facing, I would go to her.
Defining Moment: After Hurricane Katrina, public relations became more important than ever because there were very limited media opportunities. And then I had cancer. That changed so much of my decision-making. I had always wanted to open my own firm and these two tragedies caused me to say if not now, when?
Advice to Young Women: Surround yourself with successful people. Look for a company with energy and teamwork, and immerse yourself in every aspect of the business.
Goals: My goal is to continue to grow my business while grooming the next generation of women to be business and community leaders.
Favorite Things: I love putting people and ideas together and finding the answers to peoples’ problems. Plus, every day is different. I have such a variety of clients in every industry. I learn something new every day. You know what’s going on with the city.
Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ashé Cultural Arts Center
“My dear New Orleans, I was born here, I live my life here and this is where I will someday die,” Carol Bebelle wrote in a piece for NPR.
“Add me to the loooong list of New Orleans believers, well wishers and mojo makers who are wanting, working and willing you into a new era of New Orleans brilliance!”
And that list has gotten longer – Bebelle’s ongoing dedication to revitalizing New Orleans has inspired others to join. After more than 20 years working in the public sector as an administrator and planner of education, social and health programs, she realized there were some persistent roots to these problems in communities.
“We invest so much money, time and energy in the attempt to solve modern problems. And often, the solution strategy has a fatal flaw – there’s no assigned strategy for the cultural fertilizing that is needed to nurture the growth of the intended change,” Bebelle says.
Coming of age during the civil rights era, Bebelle came to appreciate that race mattered and that racism wasn’t always intentional.
“I learned that racism had been an acculturated value and behavior,” she says. “I also realized that creating a new cultural awareness and foundation was necessary to neutralize and replace the cultural triggers we have to racism.”
Bebelle recognized that the power of culture and creativity combined could unleash progress, improvement and economic inclusion for much of the under-represented members of the New Orleans community.
In 1998, Bebelle and Douglas Redd founded Ashé Cultural Arts Center in Central City. Ashé is a West African word meaning “the ability to make things happen.” The center has become a pivotal force for the revitalization and transformation of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
Ashé’s mission is to use art and culture to support community development by providing opportunities for art presentations, artist support and the creation of partnerships that amplify outreach and support efforts. It is an initiative of Efforts of Grace, Inc., a nonprofit organization that creates and supports programs, activities and creative works emphasizing the contributions of people of African descent.
“We use art as our tool because of the power it carries to move past our defenses and to touch us,” Bebelle says.
Mentors: I have been blessed by many people who have generously invested in my development. I would like to acknowledge Joesph Carmichael, Willie Zanders, Claude Reese, Sheila Webb, Linetta Gilbert, Kalamu ya Salaam, James Borders, Bill Rouselle, Tayari kwa Salaam, Gregory Rattler Sr., Mtumishi St. Julien, John O’Neal, Linda Usdin, Juana Guzman, Roy Priest, Steven Bingler, Jennifer Henderson, Tom Bailey and Jerome Smith.
Defining Moment: One day I realized I made life choices that were expected of me. I’d never put myself to the test, and I’d never challenge myself to decide what I wanted out of life. After some serious considerations, I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone and toward an unknown something. It was scary and exciting at the same time. That moment led me to the life I live today.
Advice to Young Women: Be open to considerations. Say “yes” until and unless you feel the need to say “no.” Fill your life with variety and balance. Seek yourself early and learn to connect with and love whomever you find there. Be gentle with yourself and remember mistakes are lessons, too. When life’s pressures appear, respond with good thinking.
Goals: To be present to the joys of life. To take better care of myself. To write and create more. To build the strongest institution possible.
To make Ashé Cultural Arts Center and our work an internationally known brand.
GAYLE M. BENSON
Gayle Benson’s life might seem like a fairy tale: married to a high-profile businessman, she entertains, travels and meets famous people all over the world. But Benson’s feet are firmly on the ground. A New Orleans native, she had a humble beginning. “It isn’t stuff that makes you happy,” she says.
Benson is also a believer in helping oneself. “If you work for it, you respect it more,” she says. Work she did; from an early age, she dreamed of being an interior designer. After a short marriage, she turned her attention to business. Along the way, she married a man with two children. The marriage didn’t last, but she raised the two children and kept putting in the hard work to make her business grow. She did a lot of renovations, a lot of hotel projects, and as her reputation as a designer grew, so, too, did the business.
Her Catholic faith remained a strong part of her life, and when she did the readings at a 7:30 Mass on a Monday morning, she caught the eye of Tom Benson, who was there commemorating the anniversary of his wife’s death.
“I wasn’t interested in getting married again,” Gayle Benson says. But he was, and four months later, he proposed. The couple has been married for nine years. Benson asked his wife-to-be to give up her business interests, which she did; since then, she devotes a good part of her time to the couple’s many philanthropies. Education and health care are two of their priorities, and their efforts benefit such varied entities as the Audubon Zoo, the Dominican nuns in Nashville, the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio (where the couple has a large ranch) and Ochsner Foundation.
Naturally, the New Orleans Saints play a part in her life, and as the wife of a team owner she travels and entertains widely. But Benson remains down-to-earth. “The only person who intimidates me is God,” she says. The couple enjoys getting away to the San Antonio ranch, and in June and July they cruise the coast of Maine.
They also like spending time at home. “You need down time to relax and regroup,” she says. “I enjoy being quiet.” She has also learned how to manage life on such a busy scale. “It’s gotten easier over time,” she says.
Friends remain very important to her. “I make appointments with myself to spend time with my friends,” she says. “I’m always available on the phone.” She also likes to write notes and letters, and she exercises 90 minutes every day.
She also makes sure her husband enjoys life, whether his team wins or loses. “It’s not the end of the world,” she says. “We have so many things to be grateful for.”
Mentors: Over the years, I’ve considered many people that have come into my life as mentors. My parents were very strict and disciplined. They taught me many lessons, but the most important were the values they instilled in me. Many nuns and priests played an important role in my life, and I was blessed with a Catholic school education.
Defining Moment: From a young age, I had a vision of making everything beautiful in this world and loved being surrounded by beautiful things. My dream was to become an interior designer, but my parents told me that wasn’t a real profession. Years later, I started an interior design firm, which was very successful, that I ran for 30 years prior to meeting my husband, Tom Benson. Before we married, Tom asked me to sell all of my real estate and business, since he had planned on us being much too busy for me to be involved in anything other than his world and our foundation.
Advice to Young Women: Work hard, stay focused, never compromise yourself or your values. Always take the high road in life. Help others, volunteer and always be ready to share your talents.
Goal: To leave this world a better place for our future generations to enjoy as I have enjoyed it.
Favorite Things About What I Do: I am blessed to have a loving husband and I enjoy the many friends we share. I enjoy working with our foundations and the many philanthropic endeavors we hold dear.
CEO of Fleurty Girl
Firecracker. Risk taker. Entrepreneur. Those are the words that come to mind when describing Lauren “Fleurty Girl” Thom.
Growing up in Kenner near the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Thom says she remembers as a young girl sticking her fingers in her ears every time an airplane passed over.
“There was never a dull moment,” Thom says while reminiscing about her childhood.
The same holds true today as Thom juggles her duties as a single mother of three and being CEO – and an occasional T-shirt folder – of Fleurty Girl, a local retail chain with New Orleans-inspired merchandise ranging from apparel to home décor.
“I want [people] to feel the passion. Feel the love and pass it on to others. I want people to want to visit our city, to long for Fat Tuesday and the sound of the streetcar,” Thom says.
After graduating from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, Thom stayed in Baton Rouge to work first as a radio disc jockey then a news reporter. Cutbacks in her field forced Thom to find a new career that she hoped would bring her home to New Orleans.
“I wanted to wear T-shirts that expressed the culture I missed so much, and I wanted them to fit a curvy girl,” Thom says. “No one offered that, so I made my own.”
Thom took her homesickness for New Orleans and turned it into a business. Taking her income tax refund check in 2009, Thom invested the entire $2,000 into printing New Orleans-inspired T-shirts for women. Just six months after launching her online store, Thom opened the first Fleurty Girl store on Oak Street in New Orleans and moved her family in the back of the converted shotgun house. Today, Fleurty Girl is a multi-million dollar company with five retail stores.
“I’m most proud of our customers’ love of the Fleurty Girl brand,” Thom says. “I love that we share that love and turn it into something that gives back to New Orleans.”
And give back Thom does. She is a board member for Evacuteer, an organization that recruits, trains and manages volunteers every year to evacuate the city in case of a hurricane, and she’s also a committee member for Sean Payton’s Play It Forward Foundation.
“I feel like I was made for this,” Thom says.
Mentor: Jan Ramsey of OffBeat Magazine. Not just because she’s a fellow redhead, but she followed a vision and started OffBeat. I’m so proud of her.
Defining Moment: I’m thankful for so many moments that truly I never dreamed would happen. From Drew Brees wearing our #NOLALOVE shirt when he signed the biggest NFL contract in football history, to raising more than $100,000 for local organizations. It all makes me so proud because I’m just a girl from Kenner who didn’t grow up with much. I remember sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car driving down St. Charles Avenue and staring into the houses at night wishing one day I’d get to have a life like that. We opened our headquarters on St. Charles Avenue in January, and I pinch myself every day when I walk into the building. I can’t imagine there’s bigger than that ahead of us, but I’m always proven wrong on that.
Advice to Young Women: Don’t be afraid to go for your dreams. I was a single mother of three with no time and no money, and I built a multi-million dollar company out of a tax refund check.
Goals: See my kids more and work less. It’s about time.
Favorite Things About What You Do: Hearing the stories about what Schwegmann’s or McKenzie’s mean to people. People don’t just come into Fleurty Girl and buy a T-shirt, they always have a story about why they want the particular one they came in for. That part about this never gets old.
BETH ARROYO UTTERBACK
Director of Broadcasting and Executive Producer of WYES-TV, Ch. 12
Busy? Yes. Bored? Never. New Orleanian Beth Arroyo Utterback never dreads going to work; instead, she says, “I’m always looking forward to ‘What are we going to do next? What are we working on?’” To meet her, one would think she had her whole life planned out since childhood. Utterback grew up in a family heavily involved in theater, acting and singing, and the children participated in repertory theater from an early age. Utterback says, “It was a magical way to grow up,” and her upbringing fostered skills she uses to this day, including discipline, confidence and hard work, even with a rigorous schedule. Utterback also worked on the WDSU-TV show “Mother Goose on the Loose,” which starred her mother, Verna Arroyo.
The shift from involvement in stage productions at an early age to overseeing television programming and production as an adult was a natural trajectory. In her senior year at Ben Franklin, Utterback was selected for an executive internship at WDSU, which exposed her to all its departments, but she decided against news production after shadowing coverage at a murder scene. On May 25, 1981, Utterback began the first day of the rest of her life; that was the day she began working at WYES, where she has been for 32 years, and also the day she met Terry Utterback, her husband of 27 years. Utterback graduated summa cum laude with a degree in drama and communications from the University of New Orleans and received the Chancellor’s Medallion – all while working full-time at WYES.
Utterback worked her way up through the ranks at Channel 12 to become their director of broadcasting and executive producer.
Utterback’s Emmy award-winning department is responsible for everything one sees, hears or reads about WYES; She oversees several departments including Programming, Local & National Productions, Promotion, Operations, Outreach and Special Projects. She also serves as executive editor of WYES’ Dial 12 magazine, which appears in New Orleans Magazine. She advises others, “do your best, work hard and choose something that you love ... and it helps to keep a good sense of humor!”
One of the biggest motivating factors for Utterback is the quality programming WYES provides to the public, which is unlike that offered elsewhere on television. Instead of short segments, WYES provides viewers with in-depth analysis (i.e. “Informed Sources”), historical documentaries (i.e. New Orleans in the ’50s), and cultural series (i.e. “Chef John Besh’s Family Table”). These programs showcase New Orleans area culture to local and national audiences, and archive it for future generations. WYES also makes art forms like opera, ballet and theatre more accessible. Utterback says, “Tickets to live productions of Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Rigoletto are often expensive and out of reach for some, but if you watch WYES, you’ll have the best seat in the house.” Creating a balance of great local, national and children’s programming is at the heart of Utterback’s efforts.
– Megan Snider
Mentors: First, my family, especially my mom, Verna Arroyo, have given me inspirational love, guidance and support. Theater directors, Ty Tracy and Ned Poché, and my teachers at Hynes and Ben Franklin were instrumental to my young life. My UNO professor, George Wood, who gave me a card with a raw oyster on it that said, “The world is your oyster, Utterback,” which hung on my wall at WYES for 22 years until (Hurricane) Katrina washed it away. Mike LaBonia, former WYES President, who believed in me and taught me so much.
And my dear late friend, Brandon Tartikoff.
Defining Moment: May 25, 1981, the day I started at WYES and also the day I met my wonderful husband, Terry Utterback, who was asked to “show the new girl around.” It was also my birthday! So many good things happened to me on that day!
Advice for Young Women: Have confidence and do your best. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good education. Choose a career that you love and keep a good sense of humor. Remember life is short, so aim to maintain a good balance, and make time for true personal connections with your family, friends, mentors and community.
Goals: Professionally, to expand upon the great local and national shows WYES produces and keep our programming and services going strong. Personally, to spend more time with my family and friends, and to always try my best and to do what is right.
Favorite Things About What I Do: I love WYES and my coworkers who are more like family to me. I love working on our diverse WYES productions and with independent producers. It’s fulfilling to watch a full program grow from a simple idea. It’s never boring!
Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center
Like many a Newcomb College student before her, Patty Gay fell in love with the city of New Orleans when she moved here from Baton Rouge in 1961. Gay considers herself fortunate to have gotten to know the city through the eyes of fellow Newcomb students who were also natives. She graduated in ’65 with a degree in history, and has been active in preserving the city’s neighborhoods ever since.
After graduation, Gay was a volunteer with the Junior League at a time when the organization was active in raising the awareness of the value of New Orleans’ older neighborhoods. She became involved in setting up the Preservation Resource Center in 1974 and became president of the board in ’78. She has been executive director since ’80.
“We were set up to be a true resource to people who wanted to preserve houses,” she says. Since then, the PRC’s accomplishments have been many, including: restoration of 604 Julia St., one of 13,1832 town houses in what was once a skid row; publication of Preservation in Print, which began in 1975; carrying out a study promoting the preservation of the Warehouse District in 1983; publicizing the city’s architecture with an exhibit of a 1840s cottage at the World’s Fair of 1984; and lobbying to save federal rehabilitation tax credits.
Some people associate New Orleans architecture with Uptown and Garden District mansions, but the PRC works for the preservation of all neighborhoods in the city, Gay says. The organization spends half its budget on its “Rebuilding Together” program that helps low-income families. It also promotes the iconic New Orleans shotgun-style home during Shotgun House Month.
Preserving New Orleans’ unique stock of historic architecture is an ongoing job. “Every building is valuable,” Gay says. A particular struggle is managing the city’s thriving tourism business so it doesn’t overwhelm the French Quarter. One way to do this is to keep tourists informed about other areas they ought to visit, such as the Chalmette Battlefield, the Oak Street neighborhoods and Algiers Point.
“Rampart Street and St. Claude would love to have more visitors,” Gay says. Another is to make sure the French Quarter stays residential so it doesn’t become merely an adult theme park.
Other essential parts of Gay’s job is lobbying in Baton Rouge for rehab tax credits and meeting often with neighborhood associations to help them achieve their goals.
The PRC’s efforts help combat crime in New Orleans, says Gay. “We bring hope to neighborhoods,” she says. The organization works with neighborhood associations, giving them the energy to address crime and other problems.
In her free time, Gay likes to cook, travel and read, especially about other places in history. She also encourages cities and towns across America to take part in the preservation movement. “Any city can make itself attractive to visitors,” she says.
Mentors: Roulhac Toledano and Mary Lou Christovich, who started New Orleans Architecture books through the Friends of the Cabildo, and Diane Manget, who introduced me to the importance of zoning and planning as well as preservation. Stanton “Buddy” Frazar was also an inspiration, especially in how an organization can make a difference.
Defining Moment: When I became the volunteer and founding co-editor of the first Preservation in Print, asked, or rather coerced, by Elizabeth Keenan. This meant jumping in head-first into the cause of historic preservation, which I have never left.
Advice to Young Women: Whatever your profession, make time for at the least supporting historic preservation through your neighborhood association. Volunteering for something you believe in often leads to employment and even a lifelong career, as in my case.
Goals: May 2014 is our 40th anniversary. How can we have a real campaign to show what has happened in the past 40 years?
Favorite Things About What I Do: Working with people all over the city who are so civic-minded and dedicated to making better neighborhoods and a better city. It’s hard to express in words the joy of seeing a vacant and blighted property restored to beauty, and occupied by a family. Also, meeting people all over the city, and world, who care as we do about their cities and who understand the importance of the historic built environment in the quality of life for all.
SISTER CARLA DOLCE, O.S.U.
Prioress of the Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans
At age 80, Sister Carla Dolce has a resume that would put many business leaders to shame. A New Orleans native, Sister Dolce entered the order of Ursuline nuns at 21, and since then she’s worn a multitude of hats.
“In the order, you go where you are sent, like the army,” she said.
For her, that meant teaching and serving as principal and president of Ursuline academies in several states. She has also done mission work in a variety of neighborhoods, keeping in mind the importance of asking people what they thought their communities needed, then helping them achieve it. She worked with Cuban immigrants in the Parkchester neighborhood of New Orleans, and with other minorities who were having trouble getting their landlords to make necessary repairs to their apartments.
All the while, she has lived by a simple motto: “The most important thing in life is that love is put into the world. Unconditional love, the way God loves us.” Helping others isn’t a matter of what we want to do, she says. “We need to serve and listen. We want to walk with them.”
At present, Sister Dolce serves as prioress of the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans. She lives at the convent on State Street, which is adjacent to the National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Ursuline sisters brought a statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor to New Orleans when they came from France. The shrine that holds the statue today was erected in 1928, and has served as a place of prayer and refuge for countless people.
“The hopeless come. The desolate come,” Sister Dolce says. “It’s a welcoming place of worship and prayer, especially to those who hope and trust in Mary.”
Many New Orleanians know of Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s connection to the victory of the United States over the British in 1815. The War of 1812 was raging, and the faithful believe the victory is owed to prayers to Our Lady.
“Gen. Jackson said the victory was won through the intercession of God,” Sister Dolce says.
Now the ravages of time – and the city’s tropical climate – are waging a battle of their own against the building, and a campaign to raise $2 million for its repair is under way. The goal is to have the shrine restored in time for the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans in 2015. About $975,000 more is needed to reach the goal, and Sister Dolce has thrown herself into the battle.
“That’s where my heart is now,” says Sister Dolce. “As vocations to the sisterhood dwindle, it’s essential to draw in lay people to ensure the shrine’s future.”
The shrine remains a place of prayer, whether during Mass or when individuals in need of “prompt succor” visit. The shrine helps so many, she says, who come praying for help with illness, job loss, family problems and all the other heartaches life can bring. It is essential that the building is kept in good repair so the shrine’s doors can remain open to the despairing for many years to come, she says.
As for Sister Dolce, she’s hoping to retire in New Orleans, and to keep herself busy helping with the shrine and with Ursuline Academy.
“There is always something I can do.”
Mentors: My brother, Carl Dolce, was three years older than I. He served as a superintendent of the Orleans Parish School Board. Also, a Dominican sister – a firebrand – asked me to help her go into neighborhoods, without an agenda, to ask people what they needed in order to accomplish what they wanted to with their lives.
Defining Moment: When I was 5 years old, I saw the body of a cousin who had died young. I was very angry with God. I knew that I, too, would die and I determined that my life would mean something.
Advice to Young Women: Listen to people, and walk with people. That’s what I’m doing. My prayer is that people experience the unconditional love of God. [Young women] are responsible for their lives. Have a deep sense of dignity and self-worth.
Goals: We look forward to a future in which nuns and lay people collaborate and the rescue mission of the [National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor] continues. We want to repair the shrine so lay people can take over. The mission of the shrine will continue, but we have to entrust the mission of the shrine to all of us.
Favorite Things About What I Do: The chance to meet people. I pray a lot at night. I thank God for my life and I pray for people. I let go of negativity at night, and open up to God.
Chorus Master, Music Coordinator and Education Director for The New Orleans Opera Association
Carol Rausch is a firm believer that you arrive where you are meant to be; she says you should “grow where you are planted.” Many years ago, she struggled with her career choice of how she would use her piano training. Today, she has no doubt that she uses her training as it was always intended – to support opera production and spread opera in and around New Orleans.
Rausch’s first experience with opera was attending a production of Carmen. Her family adored music, and growing up, Rausch took piano lessons. The first generation of her family to attend college, Rausch attended Indiana University and The Ohio State University. On a Rotary Foundation scholarship, she studied in Brussels, Belgium, where she learned she wanted to play piano collaboratively instead of as a soloist. After receiving her degree, Rausch worked her way up through the ranks by accompanying singers and then choruses, acting as chorus master, conducting, and working in music administration.
In 1994, Rausch became the first female chorus master at The New Orleans Opera Association (NOOA), a role she occupies in addition to that of music coordinator and education director. Concurrently, she heads the opera program at the Loyola University’s School of Music.
In the summers, she acts as the chorus master and music administrator for the Chautauqua Opera in upstate New York.
Music isn’t only important to Rausch; it’s important to New Orleans. Rausch believes that a youth’s involvement in an artistic or musical experience leads to good things later in life. Though music and art programs are usually the first to be cut in times of financial strain, Rausch says that participation in these programs creates better problem solvers and enables teamwork. Accordingly, The NOOA is offering two upcoming productions, La Bohème and Noah’s Flood, both of which include a children’s chorus. For spectators, Rausch says, “If you need an emotional fix, opera is your thing,” and for participants, like Rausch, the tactile sensation of playing an instrument and creating sound is restorative.
Through NOOA, one of the oldest companies in the country, Rausch champions opera through traditional and non-traditional formats to engage the public and educate them. To that end, Rausch adopted a New York series called “Opera on Tap,” which presents free performances at non-traditional venues, such as the Rusty Nail bar on Constance Street.
Though Rausch may not have been able to predict where her career path would take her, she could not be happier with it. She lives the mission statement of NOOA as she builds on its heritage and continues to produce opera of high quality. Rausch constantly describes herself as lucky, but as in many operas, fate and passion may have had a role in her achievements.
Mentor: Ralph Berkowitz, my professor at Indiana University. When I was deciding what to do with my music, he reminded me that “the goal is not to become famous; the goal is to serve your community and cultivate music within it.”
Defining Moment: The year I spent in Belgium on fellowship. I was struggling to decide what to do with my piano training, and at times I felt like giving up. Though I was there to study playing the piano, I caught myself attending the opera all of the time. That experience solidified for me that I wanted to play piano collaboratively.
Advice for Young Women: These days there are women chorus masters, women conductors and women running opera companies. A lot of trailblazing has been done for you. There is a place for you now, and the sky is the limit.
Goals: To continue to serve New Orleans and spread its heritage of opera, which is more than 200 years old, by engaging different people in the opera through events like Opera on Tap. And, at Loyola and Chautauqua, to help guide musicians to balance music in their lives, to keep it satisfying.
Favorite Thing About What I Do: Not everyone can make a living in music; I feel very lucky that I am able to support myself by working in music. When filling out the declarations form while returning from travel overseas, it’s very rewarding to get to write “musician” as my profession. Also, music is emotional in a way that other jobs are not, and it has gotten me through some difficult times.
ADELAIDE WISDOM BENJAMIN
Philanthropist and Activist
The words “donor” and “philanthropist” don’t begin to describe Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin’s contributions to New Orleans. This former debutante and Queen of Carnival, along with her family, has undoubtedly given monetarily, but such titles fail to convey that she’s a trailblazer, activist, businesswoman and champion for New Orleans education and music.
After graduating from Louise S. McGehee School, Benjamin earned her Bachelor of Arts in English at Newcomb College. After her debut, Benjamin felt a desire to prove to herself and to others that she was much more than a socialite from a privileged family. She recalled thinking, “I can pull my weight. I can matter. I can do something.” Benjamin became the first woman in her Tulane Law School class after having to ensure the dean that she was there to get a law degree – not to get a husband. She excelled and made law review, and she became the only female associate at Wisdom, Stone, Pigman & Benjamin.
After she had children, she left the legal practice and became very involved in their lives and the Junior League. Throughout her life, she has maintained her love of music; she sang in the New Orleans Symphony, the Chorus Concert Choir and the Trinity Episcopal Church Choir. She said, “it feels so beautiful to be a part of a choir where all the voices are coming together, to feel the voices blending and to know your voice is one of them.”
Benjamin’s most proud civic accomplishment remains her rescue of the symphony from closure. In 1984, she read that the symphony was to close over financial mismanagement. Her first thought was that she didn’t want to live in a city without a symphony. She said, “it’s a talent pool for the ballet, the opera, children’s concerts in schools and church ceremonies. If you want to take music [classes] at Loyola, someone from the symphony will teach it. The symphony is part of New Orleans culture, and the city is richer because of it.”
Her second thought was the realization that saving the symphony was a task for her – not her mother’s – generation. Her concerns quickly led to board membership, and two months later she was president-elect. She had intelligence and legal training but largely learned on the job how to lead, be diplomatic but assertive and handle businessmen and the media. She became adept at fundraising, and at the end of the fifth year, the $4 million debt was gone, and she turned over a solvent symphony.
The woman that “gave stubbornness a good name” was broken-hearted when her successor indebted the organization for $1.5 million after less than a year and a half of leadership, but she pressed on as board member of several organizations, including the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the successor of the symphony. She is also a member of the board at McGehee, an institution to which she feels forever indebted, and which recently named a hall after her. In addition, Benjamin served as the co-chair of Loyola University’s Capital Campaign, which raised $50 million. Her sundry other accomplishments are too numerous to be listed here.
Mentors: My father and my brother, both of whom thought anything I did was wonderful. And my dear husband, to whom I was married 55 years; he was always my champion, protector and biggest fan. Professionally, I learned a lot from working with women at the Junior League.
Advice to Young Women: At work, find somebody you can confide in and look up to, keep your eyes open, learn everything you can from her and do the best job wherever you are. Remember that you live in a community, and what that community is or isn’t depends on you and lots of other people like you. Find something that isn’t going the way you’d like it to, and think “What can I do?” There is no point in joining a board or doing anything unless you’re going to work and give it your best.
Goals: Though I lack physical strength, I’ve learned so much over the years and am happy to advise and share my knowledge. Also, one day I would like to serve food at the homeless shelter.
Defining Moments: The day I handed over the symphony with a solvent budget.
Favorite Things About What I do: Nothing has ever fallen apart on my watch, although I’ve taken over projects that could have. I’ve put myself heart and soul into everything I do, and I never let anyone down to whom I’ve promised something. I love music and my work with the LPO, McGehee, Metairie Country Day, Trinity Church and Loyola University.
CEO of West Jefferson Medical Center
Nancy Cassagne was born at West Jefferson Medical Center (WJMC) and grew up in Marrero along with her six older sisters across the street from the hospital. Little did she know that she would one day become the top executive at WJMC when the hospital needed leadership the most.
Cassagne became Chief Financial Officer of WJMC in October 2006 to fill a vacancy created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; she was then appointed CEO in February ’08. With more than 28 years experience in health care, government, nonprofit and utility organizations, Cassagne brings a financial focus to WJMC that was desperately needed post-Katrina and continues to be needed today given the impacts of federal health care reform. Her appreciation and respect for managing and saving funds stems from her father, who owned a small business.
“I can remember watching him count the cash and coins while making the bank deposit, so I’ve always had an appreciation and respect for running a business and for saving money,” Cassagne recalls.
Besides overseeing financial matters, Cassagne is leading WJMC through fundamental changes in the health care industry. She says that in spite of all the reform and the cost pressures, the most important thing is to never lose focus of taking excellent care of patients.
“Good health care involves coordination, skill and compassion,” Cassanage says. “If we continue to provide these to our patients, we have succeeded beyond any financial reward.”
Lately, she has also been focusing on efforts to partner with a larger health care provider and become a part of a larger system that will complement the community and the hospital’s mission and preserve needed services and the jobs associated with those services.
Cassagne says that all the long hours she works are worth it when a patient or family gives the hospital a compliment or even a hug of thanks to staff members.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” she says.
Although the community that raised her in this world has changed over the years, the place she calls home hasn’t. “There’s no place like home,” says Cassagne, who still lives in the same community in which she grew up. “New Orleans, in many ways, is like a big family – we can talk about each other, but we stand united to the rest of the world.”
Mentors: There have been many mentors in my life, but I will never forget my job at a firm in downtown New Orleans. Dianne, the top female in the office took me under her wing, and she stressed that you can still be a woman and be a strong professional. She had many other pearls of wisdom that I still use today. And of course, I learned so much from my mother and siblings.
Defining Moment: As a young girl, I saw my dad give my mother the weekly grocery money. I’m not sure why, but it was that moment that I thought, “I want to make my own grocery money.” [It] guided me to get a good education and work hard to be self-sufficient.
Advice to Young Women: Remember not to take yourself too seriously; we are all human. Admit when you make a mistake and move on.
Be honest, be a friend and be fair to your co-workers. Treat everyone with kindness. Work hard, but don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Volunteer, relax and don’t forget to smile.
Goals: To do my part to make the world a nicer place and to be a good role model for others.
Favorite Things About What You Do: I am so fortunate to be working with so many people who are passionate about helping others.
Being a part of the process that will ensure WJMC is here for generations to come and knowing how important we are to our community is very rewarding.
Writer, Host of “The Reading Life,” and President of the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans
To walk into Susan Larson’s Uptown home, which is covered in stacks of books from floor to ceiling, it’s no wonder that her late husband often teased her, saying “Go, and preach the gospel of the literary community.” After Larson moved to New Orleans in 1985, she switched gears from writing romance novels and began writing grant proposals for Tulane University. Then, having been a bookseller for independent and feminist bookstores, Larson took a job at the University of New Orleans’ trade bookstore.
All the while, she would read the book review section of The Times-Picayune and mentally edit it, as her dream was to be a book reviewer, work she had done at The Houston Post. When the The Times-Picayune’s book reviewer position opened, Larson aggressively sought the post. Her hard press worked, and for 21 years, Larson reviewed books for The Times-Picayune. “To write book reviews is the most fun in the world, because if you do it right, you’re telling people ‘What was it like to read this book – what did it feel like. What will this book do for you?’” Larson says. She felt lucky to hold her “dream job” for as long as she did, but when the paper could no longer promise her a book page, she knew she had to leave.
Larson is currently host of the WWNO (89.9 FM) radio show “The Reading Life,” during which authors read excerpts from their new books and discuss their work. She is also the president of the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, a group of publishers, editors, writers and readers. Larson is particularly proud of the WNBA-NOLA’s new project: The Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction, named for founding member and longtime mysteries reviewer Diana Pinckley. In addition, Larson serves as vice president of Literary Programming for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, which will present the prizes in 2014.
Larson keeps busy with books. She was a juror for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, first in 2009 and again in ’12, and she just finished updating and editing the second edition of her book, The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans, which will be out in September from LSU Press. She thinks her next endeavor may be writing a collection of essays about the reading life. “Just as people have sex lives and spiritual lives, people really do have reading lives, and they seek out different books at different stages,” says Larson. Whatever the future holds for Susan Larson, one can be certain that she will continue to be a literary missionary.
Mentor: Diana Pinckley, my best friend and colleague at The Times-Picayune. She was the smartest woman I’ve ever met, and I have her voice inside my head when I’m thinking of what to do next. Also, Bob Patton, my professor at Rice University, who said, “You’ve never really read a book unless it’s changed your life.” And, Grace Paley, a great writer and activist, who said in a beautiful, maternal, yet challenging way, “You should always have something for next time,” meaning, make sure that you are doing something important or something you’re proud of; if you can’t answer that question, if you aren’t making a difference – you’re not doing your job.
Defining Moment: When my husband, Julian Wasserman, died. I thought to myself, “I can either sink into this or move forward.” When you love someone that much and for so long, and you lose them, that’s a test, and there are some tests in life that you just don’t fail, and that was one of them. I succeeded in that great challenge for my kids, Casey and Dash. I am prouder of them than anything in my life.
Advice to Young Women: Stick to what you love, and don’t pay attention to what other people think. It’s the hardest thing in life to know what you want and say what you want, and it takes us a long time to get there, but it’s so important. Articulate your desire, and don’t be afraid of it.
Goals: As a member of the Board of the New Orleans Public Library, to do more and better work for the library. Libraries are great, democratic institutions, approachable for everyone. They house so much from computers used for job applications to archives documenting New Orleans’ history. When someone uses the library, everyone’s life is better; it’s a win-win for the community. If I sail out working on the libraries, I’ll feel I’ve done good work.
Favorite Things About What I Do: It’s unlikely that one gets to read for a living; it’s a pleasure, and so my work is a gift. I love that reading is discovering a new voice and finding something new. I especially love it when people tell me they’ve read something I’ve recommended.
NGHANA TAMU LEWIS, PH.D., J.D.
Professor, Criminal Defense Lawyer and Writer
Many students today choose to attend Tulane University because New Orleans offers them a wealth of opportunity to be active in community reform. Nghana Lewis, who holds Tulane’s Louise and Leonard Riggio Professorship in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, teaches students about the process of matching business interests with social issues. Lewis says she didn’t see herself as a social entrepreneur, but has become very active in health and education reform.
Like many other cities, New Orleans has a need for innovative solutions to the problems plaguing its public education and health care institutions. “We need to use our cultural resources to tap into the lessons of the past,” Lewis says. She explains to her students that finding answers to problems means listening to the people involved in the situations. She stresses the necessity of immersing themselves in the community to see what’s working and what’s not.
Lewis, a native of Lafayette, came to Tulane in 2005 and is currently an associate professor of English. She earned her undergraduate degree in English from Tulane, and her Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She received her Juris Doctorate from Loyola University College of Law and is a founding faculty coordinator of Tulane’s South Africa Summer Study Abroad program.
Teaching has always been important to her; in 2010, she received the Suzanne and Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellowship for excellence in undergraduate teaching. In her work as a criminal defense lawyer, Lewis says she strives to provide a voice for those who are often unheard due to poverty or lack of education. She is pleased that Tulane has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to New Orleans, requiring its students to contribute to the community rather than remain isolated on the Uptown campus.
Growing up, Lewis saw her parents and their friends actively participate in the civil rights movement. Her family also influenced her great love of learning. “If I wasn’t a student, then I was a teacher,” she says. “All my life, I’ve been committed to action.”
When she’s not working, Lewis likes to spend time with her family and children, but she admits, “I’m somewhat of a workaholic.” She hopes to involve her children in her work, so they can in turn make a difference in the world. Her strategy seems to be working; recently her 14-year-old daughter chose as a project topic “HIV/AIDS and the African-American Community.”
Mentors: My grandmother, Agnes Lewis, and my parents, Francis and Gwendolyn Lewis, have been my mentors since early childhood. I have also been inspired by Nina Baym, in the realm of scholarship and teaching, and the Hon. Mary Hotard Becnel, in the legal profession.
Defining Moment: In seventh grade, I attended Paul Breaux Middle School in Lafayette. Although I was in the gifted program, I made friendships with students enrolled in “regular” classes. I learned about poverty on the level of lived experience. I was awakened to my responsibility to use my comforts and privileges to enrich the quality of life for others.
Also, after Hurricane Katrina, my mother and I saw a car being pushed across the Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge by a man and a woman.
Inside were an elderly woman and two small children. We gave the family the gas we had in a container and our combined cash. The feeling of hope in the middle of tremendous despair that encounter afforded me will never be forgotten.
Advice to Young Women: My grandmother’s advice is time-honored and true: “Guard your reputation from harm as you do your life.” My other advice is “Be and do you and fear nothing and nobody.”
Goals: I am completing a book project called “Black Women’s Health in the age of Hip Hop and HIV/AIDS” and an article about stand your ground laws titled “On Whose Ground Did Trayvon Stand?”
Favorite Things About What I Do: What I like about teaching at Tulane is the opportunity it gives me to engage with young people at the starting points of their career developments. Practicing law affords me the opportunity to give the people I represent the comfort of knowing that they have someone fighting for them.
DIANE B. LYONS
CEO of ACCENT on Arrangements, Inc. and Founder of FestiGals Inc.
“My love of people and a passion for New Orleans have been my guiding forces,” Diane Lyons says. She is CEO of ACCENT on Arrangements, Inc., a certified meeting planner and a designation management certified professional.
Lyons began her successful tourism career in New Orleans in 1985, after leaving her job as a teacher. In the late ’80s, she saw the emerging need for a safe, exciting place for the children of working parents who were attending meetings and conventions, and in ’91, she created ACCENT on Children’s Arrangements, Inc. to meet this need. Lyons expanded the company to provide destination management services in New Orleans.
“I get to show off the best of the city on a daily basis: the best people, restaurants, venues and musicians,” Lyons notes.
She is deeply committed to the rebuilding of New Orleans one event at a time. Besides managing corporate events, in 2011 she established FestiGals, Inc. The nonprofit organization attempts to provide a fun, safe and enriching weekend for women to relax, enjoy high quality special events, and explore the cultural diversity and rich heritage of New Orleans while contributing to causes that benefit and empower women.
“I just read somewhere that women do extraordinary things so often that we think it’s ordinary,” Lyons says. “We’ve all been caretakers – taking care of our dolls, taking care of our families, taking care of our clients – but we don’t always take care of ourselves. FestiGals gives women the time and the reason to reconnect.”
Although Lyons loves to travel she says there is no better place than New Orleans. “Every day is a new adventure and there’s always something new to discover, even though I’ve been here my entire life,” she says. “New Orleans is always evolving and I like being part of that process.”
Lyons attributes the success of her business to her “supportive family and incredible team” at ACCENT on Arrangements, Inc. “Without the support of my husband and family, my incredible staff and all of the people with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work and grow with through the years, achieving success wouldn’t have been possible,” she says. “And it’s truly an ongoing process.”
Mentors: I have had many mentors in my life, and many of them were clients, but my greatest mentor was my mother, who recently passed away at just over 100 years of age. She was a woman who never saw a challenge she couldn’t overcome. She taught me persistence, the importance of strength and character, and how to adapt to life’s changes with dignity and grace.
Defining Moment: I have had many defining moments, but most recently, I realized that in a town that loves festivals there was no weekend to celebrate women. We have a festival for oysters, tomatoes and gay men, but nothing to celebrate everything feminine, so I created FestiGals, the original girlfriend weekend in the French Quarter.
Advice to Young Women: Lean in and don’t be afraid to commit to doing something you’ve never done. Listen, volunteer, get involved, work hard and give all you can. Professionalism, ethics and your word are all you have in the workplace; keep them sterling.
Goals: To be genuine. To enjoy my work and the people with whom I work. To always make time for family. To do good. To leave a legacy of great events.
Favorite Things About What You Do: Creating one of a kind New Orleans experiences every day. Meeting great people from everywhere.
JANET DALEY DUVAL
President of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, Law Clerk and Actress
“For God, for country and for Tennessee Williams.” This phrase, uttered comically by Janet Daley Duval when she was asked to perform at the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, sums up the principals that guide Duval’s life and have led to her many achievements. As the quote suggests, Duval strikes a vibrant and admirable balance of spirituality, professional and civic leadership and thespianism. Duval’s accomplishments demonstrate her whole-hearted dedication to New Orleans and its culture.
By the time Duval won the second grade elocution contest at Ursuline Academy, she had already contracted the acting bug, and in her teen years acted in plays at Sacred Heart Academy and Valencia, a co-ed social activity club. Though she yearned to pursue acting, her family persuaded her to follow a more practical path, and after earning a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Duval attended Georgetown University Law Center, where she earned her Juris Doctorate as well as a Master of Science in Foreign Service.
Duval entered and exited private legal practice over the years, but she knew her calling was in the court after having clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana for Judge Lansing “Tut” Mitchell and later Judge George Arceneaux Jr. In 1994, Duval returned to the Eastern District to clerk for Federal Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr., (her eventual husband) to whose docket the Katrina Canal Breaches Consolidated Litigation would be assigned. Understanding their great responsibility, Judge Duval, Janet Duval and fellow staff worked diligently for six years to achieve justice and closure for New Orleanians. Though she regrets that the Fifth Circuit overturned the Judge’s ruling, she believes the Judge’s team did the right thing and is proud of their effort. Outside of her work at the court, Duval served on the board of the Federal Bar Association and was involved in post-Katrina restoration efforts while acting as the vice president and then president of the Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses.
Even through such consuming work, Duval’s love for theater remained. Duval acted in productions of The Women and Proof at the Rivertown Repertory Theater in Kenner and did voice-over work for the Greater New Orleans Foundation and The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Duval’s focus on performance shifted after she attended a lively fundraiser for the Tennessee Williams Foundation; Duval felt drawn to its mission, and she, too, began to fundraise, joined the board and participated in the shouting contests. In 2010 she became the organization’s president, a role she currently holds. Duval is fully committed to the artistic and creative process and serves on the board of Le Petit Théâtre de Vieux Carré and is a member of its production committee. She is proud of Le Petit’s resurgence and its upcoming production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Duval was also a founding member of the Young Leadership Council and has also served as co-president of the local French Heritage Society.
Mentors: Well, I have three. First, my mother, who was a giving, loving woman fully devoted to her family. Second, Nell Nolan, my English and French professor at Sacred Heart, who balances intelligence, beauty and joy of life. And third, my late cousin, Marion Atkinson, who wisely told me, “If you’re not yourself, you’re an impossibility.”
Defining Moment: When I decided to be myself.
Advice to Young Women: Find your passion, and believe in it. If you do what really makes you happy, you’ll be successful. Also, it’s easy to get wrapped up in one area of your life, so in whatever you do – in family, in business – find balance mentally spiritually and physically.
Goals: I hope I leave New Orleans a better place than I found it; to be a good law clerk; to be a good wife, mother and grandmother. And, of course, to have a big juicy acting role directed by someone fabulous!
Favorite Things About What I Do: Giving back. Someone said, “Giving is one of the most guilty pleasures you can have,” because it feels so good. Though giving is not a duty, it’s what spirituality or karma demand of you. I have been so blessed with what I have been given. I also get to see things grow and succeed; I have mentored young attorneys and watched them develop professionally, and I have witnessed Le Petit rise like a phoenix from the ash.