By Jason A. Smith
As the nation marks the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, a group of notable women in Henry and Clayton counties are set to be honored by a state lawmaker.
Sen. Gail Buckner will host 27 honorees in the Senate Chambers of the State Capitol today, at 10 a.m., in a Legacy of Leadership program. The event coincides with the 90th anniversary of the Women's Suffrage Movement victory, on Aug. 26, 1920.
Buckner said she created today's recognition event to celebrate the triumphs of women, regardless of their roles in the community. "With Aug. 26 being Women's Equality Day, it seemed like a good time to recognize women who are working diligently to make their communities a better place to live and work," Buckner said. "Many of the women are unsung heroes who work as public servants. They're behind the scenes, working day to day, helping others in our community."
The senator added that although she spearheaded the project, a team of individuals assisted her in creating the list of those who will be recognized.
One of the women on the list is Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, who said she is "honored" to have been chosen, and reflected on the journey taken by women to secure voting rights.
"Many women went through the Women's Suffrage Movement and were jailed, or suffered physical abuse ... all because they felt that women had a right to take part in the voting process," Mathis said. "Without their sacrifices, I'm sure that women wouldn't be able to take part in the political process, either as a voter or as a candidate."
Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon also appears on the list. She described Buckner's selection of her as "humbling," because of the rewarding nature of her job. "To be honored for doing something that you love, it's almost like cheating," Wynn-Dixon said with a laugh. "I'm enjoying making a better quality of life for the citizens, bringing economic growth and jobs, partnering with different organizations and the school board."
The Riverdale mayor added that she is "elated to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Once we got a right to vote, many doors opened," she said.
Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey, who was chosen as a Legacy of Leadership winner, has led her city as mayor for 11 years. Although she will be unable to attend the Capitol ceremony, Lindsey said she appreciates the distinction given to her by Buckner. "I'm quite honored to be selected," she said. "I'm excited to be considered in that group."
Not every woman scheduled to be awarded is a government official in Henry or Clayton. Michelle Deraney, president of SCB-TV 15, was also awarded a spot on the list. For Deraney, the occasion causes her to look back on her career, and the interaction she has had with Sen. Buckner through the years.
"It is an honor to be recognized, especially by Sen. Gail Buckner," Deraney said. "When I first started my career 23 years ago at a local newspaper, I covered stories that included her accomplishments."
Deraney hopes her achievements will inspire young ladies, including her daughter, Christina. "Having a daughter of my own, I feel that with every step I take in my career, I'm paving the path for my daughter and other young ladies of her generation," Deraney said.
Mildred Sharkey, a retired high school mathematics teacher in Clayton County, and the former president of the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics, learned Wednesday she, too, had been chosen to be honored. Sharkey is presently the chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Georgia Mathematics Educational Trust Foundation.
She expressed gratitude to Buckner on behalf of the others on the list. "It's a very nice honor for Gail to bestow upon us," Sharkey said. The retired teacher, in light of the Suffrage Movement, said she would like to see more women become politically active. "I'm very happy to see more women involved, in an arena larger than their immediate family," Sharkey said.
Judy Neal, the former director of the Georgia Children and Youth Coordination Council, was also selected for Buckner's list of notable women in the Southern Crescent. Neal said while she "deeply" appreciates being recognized, she places value in another aspect of today's event.
"My joy today is not about individual recognition, although I deeply appreciate Sen. Buckner including me," Neal said. "Instead, I am honored to be included by her in such a diverse and creatively talented group of Henry County women. Looking around, I realize there is not only talent among the group, but more importantly, charitable hearts."