From left, Virginia Burton Gray, Diana Earwood, Mercedes Miller and Joy Day were the panelists for the annual Women in Business Council Spotlight Luncheon hosted by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — Virginia Burton Gray may have inherited her commitment to community service from her grandmother.
Joy Day still considers herself a “farm girl.”
Mercedes Miller had to look in a few places before she found a job that she felt was her destiny.
Diana Earwood said she is her own biggest obstacle.
Each of these women found success in their chosen professions, and they gathered at the Pristine Chapel Lakeside on Thursday to impart some of their wisdom during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Council Spotlight Luncheon.
“I hear a lot of young ladies say, ‘Oh, I want to be just like you,’ all the time,” said Miller, executive director of the Georgia International Convention Center. “Don’t be like me. Be better than me.”
The luncheon’s four-member panel told attendees to not let obstacles stand in their way, and to not be afraid to serve their community.
That sense of community service was a point driven home by Gray, a former Clayton County commissioner, and Day, the mayor of Jonesboro.
For Day, politics has been a second career. She spent more than 30 years as an educator in Clayton County Public Schools. After she retired, she ran for mayor in 1995 because she thought there were areas where the city could be improved. She took office in 1996 and has been mayor for nearly 14 of the last 17-and-a-half years.
One of the influences Day said that has kept her grounded over the years is her upbringing on a farm in Thomaston. She was the second of four children born to parents who took direction from the Bible.
“One of the ideas that my mother and father drilled into all of us at an early age is found in Luke 12:48, which says, ‘For unto whomever much is given, of him shall much be required, and to whom men have committed much, of him shall they ask more,’” Day said.
Gray also said family helped shape the woman she became. She talked at length about her grandmother, whom she saw as someone who was heavily involved in her community by starting clothing closets and food banks. She also got involved as a volunteer at Southern Regional Medical Center, because her daughter was a candy striper there.
But with the foundation she received from her grandmother, Gray went on to become Clayton County’s first black commissioner in 1997, and served on the governing body until 2008. More recently, she served as the interim director of the children’s shelter, Rainbow House.
“I credit my grandmother with instilling the public service in me,” said Gray. “However, it wasn’t an immediate acceptance. It had to grow on me with age and maturity.”
But Miller said it is also important for women to find the career they were meant to be in. She was talking about destiny, or “favor” as she called it. She said she found her “favor” in hospitality, which is something she said she fell in love with after attempting a career in finance after college. After trying a few hotel jobs, she said she finally found a place at the convention center, where she worked her way up the career ladder from a marketing job to the highest management level.
Miller was humble in explaining why she felt her faith in “favor” has helped her through life.
“Favor is unmerited, undeserving grace from God, and when I say I have ‘favor,’ I mean ‘favor’ is chasing me wherever I go and it’s about to knock me down,” said Miller.
Meanwhile, Earwood said she didn’t go into the career she intended to go into, but she uses the tools she picked up in college to find success at her job. She is the general manager of Destiny Organics LLC and Bonnie’s Food Services Inc., and vice-president of Sutherland’s Food Services Inc. The businesses are all in Forest Park, but she said she didn’t plan to go into the produce industry.
Earwood actually studied Spanish and sociology in college, which she said people do not generally view as fields that prepare a person for a career in the produce industry. But she said those fields inadvertently prepared her for the career she has. She said the Spanish, for example, comes in handy when dealing with her employees who speak the language.
“I get an awful lot more done if I’m able to to tell them something in a way that they can understand,” said Earwood.
Overall, the women on the luncheon’s panel told attendees they alone should take responsibility for the paths they take in life.
“Remember the past, but always look to the future,” Day said. “Take responsibility for your own pathway. Don’t spend too much time looking back and blaming others for your actions. You are responsible for your outlook on life. You are responsible for your professional growth and the decisions we make in our lives as adults set our pathway.
“Someone once said, ‘Life is like a sandwich,’” she added. “Birth is one slice of bread and death is another, but what goes in the middle is up to you. Is your sandwich tasty, or is it sour?”