This year’s Mississippi Business and Technology EXPO will feature the first 50 Women Alumni Breakfast on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
The annual 50 Women program honors a group of dynamic business leaders for their significant contributions to the state’s economy and quality of life.
Not surprisingly, these powerful decision-makers continue using their talent and influence in their companies and communities long after the awards are handed out.
Consider two past winners of the Woman of the Year award, one a groundbreaking leader in education and another a successful entrepreneur.
Dr. Frances Lucas was president of Millsaps College when she won the top 50 Women’s award in 2003.
Prior to heading Millsaps, Dr. Lucas was Emory University’s senior vice president for Campus Life, the first woman to hold a vice-presidential job in that university’s 160-year history. At age 29, she was the youngest vice president for Student Affairs in the country and the first female vice president at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio.
After a decade as Millsaps president, she was named vice president and campus executive officer for The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, which was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
“When I arrived in 2010 many of the big FEMA projects were stymied, frozen in bureaucracy, so we unfroze them,” Lucas said. During her short tenure on the Coast, progress can be seen as a result of $26 million in construction projects. Four out of five buildings are open.
Said Lucas, “We have been able to work through FEMA, MEMA and insurance issues, and we’ve got our campus back.”
Lucas remembers the 50 Women awards ceremony where she and the 49 other honorees were recognized.
The award winner’s name is kept secret until the event, and Lucas recalled being surprised when she saw her parents, aunt and several campus colleagues at the banquet. “I had not known they were coming, and then I got the award,” she said.
She also laughingly recalls the event for another reason — her father’s reaction to her wardrobe choice. Her father, Dr. Aubrey Lucas, is the former president of the University of Southern Mississippi.
Frances Lucas recalled that her sister Carol called later on that day. “She said, ‘I just asked daddy if he thought you’d known you were going to get the award and he said, ‘She could not possible have known based on the outfit she wore for the occasion.”
It was boots and a skirt.
Apparently, she said, her father “didn’t think that was appropriate.”
Just for the record, Frances Lucas said, “Had I known I was going to win, I would have worn the same outfit.”
Rubye Del Harden, an energetic entrepreneur in Tupelo, has to stop and think for a second about how many businesses she runs.
“Two newspapers, a printing company, an online store that sells gift items, a ballroom dance studio, a consulting company and a dance camp,” she said, counting down the familiar list.
Since she was named Business Woman of the Year in 2000, Harden has added more businesses to her already hectic work pace. “I acquired an additional newspaper, started the dance camp and my consulting business has changed over the years. I’m doing more consulting now than I’ve done in the past because my schedule allows me,” she said.
She credits the managers and staff at each of the businesses for helping her keep the diverse enterprises going.
Harden said one of the things she remembers about the day she won the top 50 Women honor 13 years ago “was simply having the opportunity to mix and mingle with the other outstanding women from throughout the state. It was exciting to get to visit with them and to hear about them. I thought it was very inspiring.”
Harden said winning the award “reinforced what I was doing and how people saw what I was doing. To be recognized that early on in the 50 Women program meant people did respect what contributions I made in business and in community service. It’s nice to be honored with other people who are also making a difference in business and our communities throughout the state.”