National NOW Foundation Times >> Fall 2008  >> Article

Dr. Dorothy I. Height at the Intrepid Gala
Dr. Dorothy I. Height at the Intrepid Gala

Beautiful Celebration of Six Intrepid Women

By Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

Photos by Pam Risdon of Risdon Photography

On July 17, the National Organization for Women and the NOW Foundation held their fifth annual Intrepid Awards Gala at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

A full house of social justice activists, elected officials, media executives and NOW supporters celebrated six courageous, fearless and bold women from a variety of fields. Veteran newscaster Maureen Bunyan emceed the event and introduced, to a standing ovation, special guest Lilly Ledbetter, the courageous plaintiff in last year's Supreme Court equal pay case.

Kim Gandy (left) with Eleanor Smeal
Kim Gandy (left) with Eleanor Smeal

NOW President Kim Gandy presented the first two awards of the evening. Civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy I. Height, chair of both the National Council of Negro Women and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, received the first award. At age 96, Height has a storied background, having marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and organized with Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Church Terrell, and our own Molly Yard.

Height told the crowd: "This is a historic moment in our country when women can make the difference." Invoking the words of Harriet Tubman, she added, "and I say to you what she said to the people she was taking from slavery to freedom -- 'Look backward, move forward, and keep going.'"

Katie Couric, accepting her Intrepid Award
Katie Couric, accepting her Intrepid Award

Linda Chavez-Thompson, the second honoree of the evening, was the first woman and first person of color to be elected to one of the AFL-CIO's three highest offices and the highest ranking woman ever in the U.S. labor movement. Chavez-Thompson is now the federation's executive vice president emerita.

Speaking of her 40 years in the labor movement, Chavez-Thompson said: "I wonder, sometimes, if I was fearless. There were many times when it was kind of scary, because I had so much on my shoulders. I had so many beautiful union women who were saying 'you're going to be the one who is going to do this for us.' I did the best I could . . . We need more women standing up for women, and that's what I tried to do."

NOW Action Vice President Melody Drnach presented the Intrepid Award to the first (and still only) woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, Janet Reno. Reno remains active in retirement, despite Parkinson's disease, serving as a strong voice for policy reform to prevent wrongful convictions.

Hon. Janet Reno (right) brought her sister, Maggy Hurchalla, to the podium to share in her honor.
Hon. Janet Reno (right) brought her sister, Maggy Hurchalla, to the podium to share in her honor.

Reno thanked NOW for the award, saying: "[I]t comes at a great time when I am shaking, rattling, and rolling, and it makes me realize that you can continue to contribute sitting on the sidelines, but doing it with the public, the people, the nation in mind."

Latifa Lyles, NOW's Membership Vice President, presented the Intrepid award to Marna S. Tucker, trailblazing lawyer and first woman president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents.

Tucker described the courage of the women lawyers she met in China during the Tiananmen Square protests and spoke of the progress we've made in the U.S. over the last 40 years: "Together, we organized. We did the hard work…the demonstrations, the politicking. We gave up our vacations, we nursed our babies in ladies rooms, at interminable meetings. Let there be no mistake, the women in this room and thousands like you, changed our little corner of the world, but more than that, you lit a beacon for the rest of the world."

Upon accepting her award, Marna Tucker spoke of experiencing a toasting custom in Beijing that emphasizes the unequal status of the toasters.
Upon accepting her award, Marna Tucker spoke of experiencing a toasting custom in Beijing that emphasizes the unequal status of the toasters.

NOW Executive Vice President Olga Vives presented the next award to journalist Katie Couric. Anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, Couric is the first female solo anchor of a weekday network evening news broadcast. Couric proudly described herself as a feminist and won frequent applause from her many fans in the room.

"In this year's presidential primary season, sexism was tolerated by too many men and women. All candidates deserve tough media coverage," said Couric. "But no candidate should be disrespected simply because of gender. Sexism in our society needs to become as repugnant as racism. Coverage by the media should focus less on what women are wearing, and more on what women are saying."

Linda Chavez-Thompson, accepting her award.
Linda Chavez-Thompson, accepting her award.

Feminist Majority Founder and former NOW President Eleanor Smeal presented the final award of the evening, honoring NOW President Kim Gandy for her 35 years of service to NOW. Smeal told stories of Gandy's early days in NOW and paid tribute to her hard work, dedication and passion for the women's movement.

Gandy, visibly moved by the award, acknowledged all the amazing women gathered that night, concluding, "I thank you from the very bottom of my heart for this great honor, and for all that you do for women."

Everyone agreed that the event was a smashing success and would be hard to top next year. But that won't stop us from trying!

Read more about the honorees and see more photos.

Editor's Note: This is an abbreviated version of an earlier web story.