Since 1948 Gallup has conducted polls to find the most admired men and women in America. Newsweek followed the lead and conducts polls of its own. In America it seems we admire the “First Lady” whomever that may be every year. We add on some others from time to time such as Mother Theresa, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher. Oprah has made both lists however she leads in the Newsweek poll.
My list doesn’t include Oprah or any of the First Ladies. The women I admire haven’t made national news, lead a country, or had their pictures in Newsweek.
I don’t believe any of them are wealthy or have achieved fame. I believe they all would be surprised to be on anyone’s most admired list. Nonetheless, they are on my list and I would love to share them with you. I think the list will be in chronological order since it would be difficult to number them according to admiration.
Mama Pearl came into my life when I was seven years old. She lived around the corner from my house in a very small neighborhood. Her daughter Carol was to become my best friend for life. I spent as much time as I could at her house. I ate dinner with them, took vacations with the family, and slept over every chance possible. Mama Pearl taught us how to pull taffy, do the Hula, and how to put playing cards on the spokes of our bikes. She taught me how to use lipstick and shave my arms and legs. Is that TMI? You see, my Grandmother didn’t believe in those things. Mama Pearl often convinced her to allow things that without her may never have happened.
She loved God and took her children to church every Sunday. Her husband wanted no part of church. Of course he was usually hung over on Sunday mornings. I had to go to my church on Sunday mornings but Grandmother would let me go with Mama Pearl on Sunday night. She sang in the choir and I loved to listen to hear sing.
When Carol started first grade Mama Pearl went to school and got her cosmetologist license. She tasked me with making sure Carol got on and off the right bus every day. Mama Pearl trusted me. Grandmother didn’t trust me to do anything. After working in a local shop for a few years, the owner retired and Mama Pearl bought the shop. I never knew women could own a business.
Mama Pearl ran the beauty shop until she was in her late 70’s. She sold the business and they invited her to work at the shop as long as she wanted. She worked until a couple of weeks before she died. So many people loved her. Her funeral service was standing room only. This was in sharp contrast to my Grandmother who I am told had only three people at her graveside service.
I was able to be in the hospital with Mama Pearl during her last days. She died with the same love for God, love for others, and dignity she had during her life.
People ask me why I called her Mama Pearl. I was 18, in college, and decided I was an adult. I stopped in to see her at the shop and made the mistake of calling her Pearl. The look she gave let me know I was in trouble. “Young lady” she said, “You will never be old enough to call me Pearl.” And from that day on, she was Mama Pearl.
Rev. Ann Vincent Adkins I met Ann in 1981. She was a student at the Seminary my husband was attending. She taught an aerobics class on campus. I decided to try the class since I had little interest in most of the other classes open to the “seminary wives.” She was a strong woman, outspoken, self-sufficient, and going to be a minister. I had never met anyone like her. I had never met a woman minister before.
During class one night she tripped and in a rather loud voice she said, “Oh Damn.” After class she checked in with me. She wondered if I was upset with her use of such profanity. I told her my rather naïve understanding of ministers. She laughed and said we needed to talk. As she turned she told me that God still loved you even if you said “damn.”
Our friendship grew from there. She helped me come to an understanding of God’s love I had never known. She helped me learn to fight back and stand up for who I was. She taught me to believe in myself for the first time.
When I started having problems with alcohol and drugs she tried to help me. She had already discovered Al-Anon. She learned to stop helping. She was the last one I called on the night I tried to end my life. She told me she couldn’t take this road with me any longer. She gave me the number for the area Hotline and pleaded with me to call. I did make the call that night. And that lead me to Jan and sobriety. Ann is now a United Methodist minister serving in Cumberland, Md.
Dr. Jeanette Fisk Everyone who knows me knows the name Jan. She came into my life in March of 1987. She had her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and served as contributor and editor of The Maryland Psychologist. She was the first woman in Maryland to receive national certification as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her list of accomplishments is long.
I met her as my therapist and after leaving therapy we became friends. We shared an amazing friendship for 20 years. She was my unofficial sponsor for my twelve-step program, my coach, my confidant, spiritual adviser, and best friend.
She genuinely cared about people. She accepted people where she met them without judgment. She struggled with her relationship with God but believed that no matter how much struggle was involved the love of God would always break through. She fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves and she taught those who could fight to stand strong. She touched the lives of many people during her life.
She died very suddenly in March of 2008. I miss her smile, her voice, her humor, and her friendship.
Charlotte Anderson I met Charlotte in 2000. She has served as the director of our local Hotline for over 25 years. Very few people in the Charleston Tricounty area do not know Charlotte. She is genuine, loving, compassionate, wise, and enthusiastic about life. Her passion is helping others.
I often share a story of going to my new gynecologist. Karen is also an amazing woman. We had a brief conversation about my life, my job, and so on before the uncomfortable procedure women know all too well. As she started the exam she began a bit of small talk, usually designed to make the patient feel more comfortable in an awkward situation. However, her conversation began with, “So how is Charlotte doing?” Seems Karen had been a Hotline volunteer at one time.
Charlotte gave me my dream job. I had prayed for God to show me a way to work with and help people. I didn’t have the right kind of degree or credentials. I applied as Volunteer Coordinator for the Hotline and she took a chance on me. She has been a mentor and friend for the past eleven years. She has been instrumental in growing our local hotline to become a 2-1-1 certified and AAS/AIRS certified center. She works long hours but still finds time to volunteer at other agencies. She is loved and respected by all that know her
I am so grateful for the women in my life today. I grew up with very few models of what it meant to be a strong, powerful woman. I understood my role as a woman to be “less than.” I went to college and was married before the end of my first semester. I was congratulated for going to college and getting my “Mrs.” Degree. I was a good subservient wife. They said Jesus expected me to put everyone’s needs before mine-always. I was told God created woman to serve man. I didn’t see any of that when I read the Bible but I was told I was wrong. I was told I was even wrong to ask the question.
The women in my life today are from many walks of life. I have friends who are professors, pastors, teachers, business owners, community leaders, activists, homemakers, in the military, and more. I have friends who are singe, divorced, happily married, widowed, gay, single moms, liberal, conservative and any other label you may find.
But what makes them important in my life is who they are, not what they are or what they do. They believe in the uniqueness of each person. They are women who are willing to share their experience, their ideas, their stories, and their love. They are the women I admire.