About 240 people filled the conference room at Middle Georgia State University Tuesday for a sell-out luncheon to kick off the Women United initiative launched by United Way of Central Georgia.
Women United is an organization of women from all over Middle Georgia who “want to support each other, empower each other and evoke change in our communities,” said Christy West, a member of the organization’s steering committee. “We don’t stand idly by and expect this to happen. We lead the effort with our unique abilities.”
The worldwide initiative focuses on education, financial stability and health, and the local group joins a network of more than 70,000 members in six countries.
The keynote speaker was entrepreneur, philanthropist and business owner Nadine Bryson Gramling, who said she began her career in 1964 as an 18-year-old secretary at Southeastern Metals in Jacksonville, Florida. Two decades later, she was president and a major stockholder of the company. By age 39 she had earned the nickname “Lady of Steel.”
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She grew the company from $10 million to $110 million and sold it in 1997 to Gibraltar Steel.
Growing up in Lyons, Georgia, “We were poor but I never knew I was poor,” she said.
Gramling said she learned failure at an early age when she and her friends tried out to be cheerleaders and everyone was selected except her.
But then the basketball coach told her she was going to be his basketball star. Gramling — fairly short — was surprised. Her claim to fame was scoring 48 points in one game, and the school wound up retiring her jersey.
“When you fail, ... there will be another door opening,” Gramling said. “You just have to look for it.”
Playing basketball taught her to be a team player. Toward that end, she said, it’s important to build relationships with people no matter what job you have — from secretary to owner of a business — and to have a good attitude.
“If someone says something to you, don’t be so sensitive,” she said. “If they don’t treat you right, move on.”
Ten years after she sold the steel company, Gramling founded Bryson’s Upscale Resale in Jacksonville. The business sells new and used furnishings and accessories, and she owns dozens of residential and commercial properties throughout the Southeast.
United Way President and CEO George McCanless told those gathered that “women have always been a part of the DNA of United Way.” He mentioned three important women in his life — his grandmother, his mother and his wife — and the significance each one has had in his life.
“I have seen the powerful and transformational impact that three women can have on one life,” McCanless said. “I can’t wait to see the impact that hundreds of women can have on untold numbers of lives in our community.”
Three awards honor service in Middle Georgia
The luncheon was also an occasion to present awards to two women and an organization serving in the 14 Middle Georgia counties that United Way reaches.
The awards and the winners are:
▪ Unsung Hero Award, Marlene Humphry. The award recognizes a woman who has made significant contributions to her community, to those in need or to someone unable to do things for themselves. Humphry has been a community volunteer since 2007 and has served with the Byron Lions Club, the American Association of University Women, Temple Beth Israel, Daybreak and Macon Outreach.
▪ Glass Ceiling Award, Lynn Murphey. The award recognizes and honors women who have not only achieved personal success but have made it possible for others to more easily follow in their footsteps. Murphey is vice president and market leader for Middle Georgia Cox Communications, Southeast Region. On Monday Murphey was named program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation beginning Jan. 30.
▪ The Outstanding Organization Award, The Mentors Project of Bibb County. The award recognizes an organization that has made outstanding contributions to support women or youths through the development and/or provision of a high quality and innovative program, project or specific service. The Mentors Project, led by Executive Director June O’Neal, provides role models for public middle and high school students who need support outside their family to help them reach their full academic, social and personal potential.