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Women share inspiring stories at chamber event

The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Council held its "Women in Business Spotlight Luncheon," on Thursday, at the Morrow Center, in Morrow, and, according to Crystal Black, vice president of the Chamber, it was the largest luncheon the council has held.

Approximately 150 people attended, she said. The event featured four women as panelists, who shared some of their personal and career experiences with those in attendance.

When asked why it is important to have businesswomen share their stories, Black responded: "People get to see another side of business women ... These stories are lessons we all can glean on."

Though the luncheon is open to men and women, it allows women, particularly those who are just getting their feet wet in the business world, to network with others who have been in business for a while, Black said.

The panelists included: Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Dixon; Coylitia Williamson O'Neal, vice president of community relations for Williamson Mortuary; Cathy Ratti, director of the Clayton County Department of Family and Children's Services; and Reda Rowell, director of development for the Clayton State University Foundation.

Rowell was the first speak. Before assuming her current position at the university, she said, she was director of Alumni Relations there.

Rowell said, aside from being employed at Clayton State University, she also attended the university, graduating with a bachelor's degree in business administration, in management, in 1986. She said she recently obtained a Master of Arts in liberal studies.

She advised audience members not to limit themselves in what they think they can offer companies. "You can do whatever anyone asks you to, as long as you learn how to do it," she said.

The next panelist, Coylitia Williamson O'Neal, of Williamson Mortuary, in Riverdale, told how she became involved in the family business.

When she was 15 years old, she said, she enjoyed her American history class in high school. She said she told her father she was going to major in history when she went to college.

Her father responded, "No you're not. You're going to major in business. You are going to major in something that will equip you to take care of yourself, and the lifestyle you've been accustomed to."

"Oh, OK, that's how it works," she said, as audience members laughed. O'Neal said her father purchased the property for the mortuary in July 2002, but died of pancreatic cancer in January 2003. His unfulfilled vision was left to the family to turn into a reality, she said.

"And so me, and my sister, and my mother were left trying to figure out how to carry on his vision," said O'Neal, almost in tears.

The family members relied on prayer to assist them in that troublesome time, which eventually paid off, she said. "I am a woman of faith, and I can tell you that prayer truly works," she added.

Cathy Ratti, of the Clayton County Department of Family and Children's Services, in Jonesboro, said she didn't find her career –– it found her. Ratti oversees a staff of more than 350, with responsibility for Child Protective Services, Family Support, and Foster Care and Adoptions.

"My career is with the government ... Often times, we are not recognized as a business," she said, "but I can assure you, we are a multi-million-dollar dollar business." She said, however, that she wouldn't be who she is today, without the support of her mother.

"I don't want to get all serious, you know, because ... once you are over 50, everything makes you cry," she joked with audience members, as they laughed loudly.

Evelyn Dixon, the mayor of Riverdale, said that in her past, she experienced many hardships while raising four children. But she got through the storm through perseverance and motivation, she said.

"Nobody takes your dignity, unless you allow them to take it ... It's not how you fall, but it's how you get back up –– after the fall," she said.