Being an honoree of the YWCA’s LeaderLuncheon 2013 was, without doubt, one of the highlights of my life. I was honored along with three outstanding women: Dee Jay Mailer, Lorenn Walker and Dr. Sylvia Yuen.
It began many months ago, with a huge surprise, when Jerry actually disabled my car in order to make sure he got me to Cafe Julia on a Tuesday afternoon. I arrived and my entire family was there and I thought, “Oh, my, a retirement party.” Then I saw that Toby Porter, Kyle Kagamida, Melissa White and Amanda Stevens were also there. Hmmmm…Then four well-dressed women from the YWCA came in with lei and the amazing news that I had been chosen as one of the four YWCA LeaderLuncheon honorees for 2013. I almost lost it. Really. I started to cry, which is what I do when I’m super-happy. I was just totally surprised.
Then there were months of “What to wear?” We were asked to wear something persimmon, the YWCA’s logo color. Yikes! I don’t own anything persimmon except a Hino & Malee anorak I use for travel. Not appropriate. While I always favor dresses for such occasions, it was suggested we not wear a dress because we would be sitting on a raised stage in an armchair. With help from personal shopper Susan Fusuma, I found some great Akris persimmon pants at Neiman Marcus and fell in love with a jacket that was way, way out of my price range. Even after it went on sale. Sigh.
I had some hand woven hemp from Japan that was hand dyed with persimmon and I tried to make a jacket with it. After weeks of struggle, I gave up. It just unraveled too much to manage, especially with the style I had designed, which involved buttonholes. In the end, I went shopping in my closet and found a beautiful hand painted silk jacket by Keiki Fujita, a friend who lives in Berkeley and studied with a kimono painter in Japan.
The YWCA asks the honorees to invite just three to five people to the reception prior to the luncheon. We met there with YWCA board members and members of the Academy, women who have been honorees in past years. It was great to see so many friends among them: Carol Ai, Denby Fawcett, Louise Ing, Sharon McPhee – and so many more!
Just one of the many thoughtful things the YWCA does for the honorees is to assign each of us a board member to help us with any details or special needs on the day of the event. I was so lucky that Gwen Lau, President of Hawaii Community Reinvestment Corporation, chose me! The YWCA took Gwen and me to lunch a few months ago so we could meet. Gwen was incredibly helpful, gracious and kind throughout the day. I never felt at a loss as to what to do or where to be. Gwen was right by my side. She even provided everyone at our table with a bag of potato chips. That’s because she remembered that I sometimes have to eat potato chips to get enough salt in my system to raise my blood pressure. (Low, low blood pressure is a common side effect of spinal cord injuries.)
My biggest concern, of course, was what to talk about to an audience of 750 people. Since I was nominated by folks I had mentored, it was an easy choice: the important of mentoring. I asked everyone in the audience to get involved with mentoring, whether on the giving or receiving side. The thing is, though, that when I mentor I feel as though I receive more than I give. I think I actually kept it under three minutes. Then I had to add two brief phrases: Malama Palama Settlement and Wear Aloha!
One of the recipients of the YWCA’s Dress for Success program, Yvette, gave a touching talk that had all of us in tears. She was formerly addicted to drugs and was incarcerated. She spoke about how much it meant to her to put on a suit and go to an interview. She is now a medical assistant and doing really well in her career, and her life.
It meant so much to me that so many people came to the Sheraton to honor me. My very best friend, Cheryl Tipton, flew over from Maui to be at the LeaderLuncheon. And she’s wearing a swing coat I designed, of forest Irish linen with a Marimekko applique. Sorry you can’t see the applique in this photo.
I am hopeless at makeup so it was an amazing gift that my friend Liz Dahl did my makeup for me at Etch Salon before the luncheon. As a bonus, Richie Miao, another long time friend, blew dry my hair!
That’s Noriko Namiki beside me, the interim director of the YWCA. Handing me the trophy is Shelley Wilson, who co-chaired the event with Signe Godfrey. The trophy is simply beautiful!
I’m so fortunate that my whole family lives here, my mother and both siblings. They all came to support me.
LeaderLuncheon was an event I will treasure always. What an amazing honor!
– Paula Rath