A fitting tribute to women

I was in the neighborhood Hallmark store looking for a birthday card when I stumbled upon one of those refrigerator magnets designed to amuse and inspire. “Life is tough,” it said. “Women are tougher.”

Immediately I thought of the 11 honorees who were celebrated at the YWCA 2011 Tribute to Women, held today in the massive Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel & Spa.

All of the women honored have made remarkable and inspiring contributions to our community, some despite staggering challenges. But Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb and I attended the event this year out of respect for two very specific women: Phoenix Mercury President and General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale (who was named “Sports Leader”) and Frances Mill-Yerger, Ph.D. (who was named “Health & Science” leader).

Meyers Drysdale with DJ and Drew.

We have some history with these women. Meyers Drysdale and two of her children, DJ and Drew, appeared on our July 2009 cover and the corresponding “A Conversation with…” interview. Despite her demanding schedule, this formidable athlete and legend in the sport of women’s basketball spent an unhurried few hours with us in the Mercury locker room, graciously and warmly engaging each of us in conversation. I came away a fan for life, knowing I’d been “In the presence of a true champion.”

“Sports gives you the understanding that we all fail sometimes,” Meyers Drysdale said in a video interview that aired during the luncheon. “It teaches you how to be a good teammate. How to work well under your coach. These are all important lessons in life. If you never try, if you never attempt, you’ll never know where you could have gone.” In simply undertaking the effort, she said, “you are going to run across so many positive things.”

Frances Mills-Yerger, Ph.D. and MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb.

Mills-Yerger is the founder of Workshops for Youth and Families, a program that fosters personal leadership and resilience in youth and families. Though my sons were never able to attend Workshops, both of MaryAnn’s two children did. And we’ve both heard countless testimonials from parents (and young people) who attest to its value and significance in their lives.

What I didn’t know about “Dr. Franny ” is that she fought non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the early 1990s, at the same time she faced the not-insubstantial challenge of completing her Ph.D. “I’m a warrior,” she said in her video interview. “I decided I was not letting go of this program. There’s an old Japanese proverb: ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight times.’ I never missed a Workshop while I was in treatment.”

Mills-Yerger also appeared in our magazine, in a story that apparently ran so long ago the article is not even archived on our website. So as MaryAnn and I approached her after the luncheon, this good-natured warrior accepted our congratulations and then announced, “It’s time you did another story!” I’d say she’s right.

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