Donna Shalala, Olga Sánchez Cordero, honoree Hillary Rodham Clinton, Donna de Varona
Conference co-chair Gracie Cavnar & Bob Cavnar
Gala co-chair Lauren Rottet
Gala co-chair Susie Criner, Beth Wolff
Ann Drake, IWF president Teresa Weintraub
Anna Eastman, Abby Eastman
Conference co-chair Gracie Cavnar, honoree Hillary Rodham Clinton, conference co-chair Annise Parker
Darian Ward, Deborah Duncan, Alicia Smith
Maha Khan, honoree Joanne King Herring
Marilyn Johnson, Stephanie O'Keefe
IWF-Texas Houston chapter prepares to welcome the global members to town with a reception at the MFAH two nights before the gala.
The woman who has been a force in Presidential politics and shattered glass ceilings, Hillary Rodham Clinton, arrived in Houston for an historic visit sandwiched between the Houston Astros’ World Series run and the 40th anniversary of the fabled National Women’s Conference. (That milestone in the women’s movement was marked by a commemorative evening at the University of Houston anchored by another power woman, Gloria Steinem.)
The occasion for the former U.S. Senator/Secretary of State’s personal appearance was, appropriately, a power conference attended by some of the world’s most dynamic and influential women. Diverse fields and regions of the globe were represented at the International Women’s Forum World Leadership Conference. The three-day think tank and empowerment gathering discussed critical issues for the planet — from extreme weather, to world health, space travel, and economics.
Landing the conference in Houston was a coup. IWF, founded in 1974, numbers among its by-invitation, selectively vetted members a cast of Fortune 500 CEOs, astronauts, philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, former members of the U.S. Presidential Cabinet, activists, and trailblazers.
Co-chairing the convergence at the Hilton Americas-Houston were two illustrious Houston female leaders no stranger to the spotlight: Recipe for Success founder Gracie Cavnar, and immediate past Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker.
Cavnar in an exclusive email interview for PaperCity, revealed how the epic conference came to be in Houston.
“I have been a member of IWF-Texas since 2002,” Cavnar writes. “I launched the Houston Chapter in 2013 and threw our hat in the ring to host the 2017 conference a few months later. I said in my pitch letter that Annise Parker would be my co-chair. Annise was a founding member, but I waited until she finished her third Mayoral term before I let her know that I had given her another job! In her opening remarks at the conference last week, she said that co-chairing this event with me as been like being a Chihuahua chained to a Husky!”
Cavnar continues, “I invited 90 women to cocktails at the Coronado Club during the fall of 2012 to introduce them to IWF and extend an invitation to become a founding member of our new Houston Chapter. Forty-two women accepted my invitation, and we had our first gathering in early 2013. Since then we have grown to 95 amazing women leaders as members in Houston.”
A Big, Historic Night
Flash forward to the conference, with a crescendo that included a Friday night Gala attended by many generations of women, grandmothers to preteens with their moms. While approximately 800 flocked to the conference, the ticketed black-tie gala brought out even more members of the community, approaching 1,000.
Clinton appeared not just to give a speech — one that was both honest and uplifting about the work to be done for the women’s movement worldwide — but to be inducted into IWF’s International Hall of Fame. As such she joined a lofty list of past honorees, including Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks, Chilean author Isabel Allende, Vietnam Memorial architect Maya Lin, and Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher. The timing, closely following upon the release of her new book, What Happened, proved also that Hillary Clinton is authoring a resounding next chapter in her life.
Introducing Clinton were former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, who served in the Clinton cabinet, and most movingly, the Presidential candidate’s childhood friend from Chicago Ann Drake, who is now chairman/CEO of DSC Logistics. Both Shalala and Drake are IWF members.
Also being applauded were nine Women Who Make a Difference honorees, from points around the globe including Jordan’s Reem Atalla Habayeb and Jamaica’s Minna Israel, reinforcing a message of diversity. Houston’s own Joanne King Herring stood out upon the dais for her timeless energy, and figure-skimming red ballgown. (The film Charlie Wilson’s War details only one small chapter in Herring’s remarkable life of grit, purpose, and glamour.)
Hillary Clinton’s Big Talk
As for Clinton’s message to the mostly female audience, the takeways:
“You’re part of a vast network of problem solvers. I want to be on the side of the problem solvers. Not the problem explainers or problem exaggerators.”
“We cannot give up or give in when people are not treated justly.”
And perhaps, most significantly:
“I hope we remember how important it is to bring young women along with us.”
Delivering remarks in a dynamic, forceful manner, Clinton also came off as warm and real. She joked about wearing a boot after a recent household injury, and rebelling against doctor’s orders to come to Houston anyway. And she began her speech praising Houston’s resilience with a nice “Go Astros” greeting — immediately winning over the crowd.
Chairing the night were architect Lauren Rottet and philanthropist Susie Criner, of Gulf Coast Entertainment.
David Caceres Band contributed music, highlighted by the finale, a New Orleans-inspired number that had the Houston delegation leading a Second Line out the Hilton-Americas’ ballroom.
In the Crowd: IWF Texas-Houston members including Barbara Davis, Leisa Holland Nelson, Alicia Smith, Kitty Rabinow, Rice University’s Y. Ping Sung, Anna Eastman with daughter Abby Eastman, Opening Night co-chairs Barbara McKnight and Clare Sullivan Jackson (who curated the reception two nights earlier at the MFAH that welcomed global IWF leaders to town), Barbara Paull, Melanie Gray and husband Mark Wawro, Lynn Mathre, Donna Alexander, Susan Pye, Mary Kelly, Natalye Appel, Beth Wolff, Susan Bischoff, and Sheryl Rapp, joined by supporters co-chair husband Bob Cavnar in a signature kilt, Lorraine and Ed Wulfe, Angela Shah, Sylvia Forsythe, Melody Faircloth of Rottet Studio, Rottet’s sister Lynda Wood, Kim Padgett, Whitney Bossin Burns, Jane Mosbacher Morris, and Criner’s daughter Annie Criner Eifler.
Power Women Pow Wow
Cavnar looked back on the historic days in Houston at IWF’s World Leadership Conference and says,
“The entire week was a powerful celebration of both women from around the world and of Houston.
For instance the 12 women at my home dinner table [at the Dine Around] Thursday night included Donna Shalala (former Secretary of Health), the woman who founded Kashi, one from Jordan who has worked for emancipation of girls and was a cabinet minister, and another from South Africa who has put together 100 women who give away $1 million each every year to charity.”
Cavnar underscores, “The gala was simply the icing on a very big, important cake.”