Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hooper: Tampa gala to honor Hispanic leader Matilda Garcia's many achievements

Jennifer Whelihan can't forget the first time she met Matilda Garcia.

She walked into a Hispanic Professional Women's Association luncheon and just the sight of Garcia, decked out in a purple head-to-toe outfit and sipping a martini, left an indelible impression.

"I thought, 'Wow, that lady is impressive,' " Whelihan said of Garcia, who turned 94 on Thursday. "She has something about her that you want to know, an aura. You want to be around her. She's what we're all trying to become.

"When she shows up, everybody's excited. They say, 'Matilda!' "

Garcia will show up when the Hispanic Professional Women's Association holds its annual scholarship banquet tonight at the DoubleTree Westshore. Organizers have themed the event "The Golden Latina Awards," and more than 15 leaders will be feted with red carpet treatment. Visit for information.

Of the leaders, perhaps none has been more influential than Garcia. A Hispanic representative with the Social Security Administration for more than 40 years, Garcia became an activist in her personal life by advocating for the underprivileged, especially immigrants.

The FBI honored her with its Director's Community Leadership award in 2009, noting that she has been recognized for her efforts involving human rights, housing, schools, civic groups, government and the elderly.

"It makes me feel good to help people," Garcia said. "I belong to about 20 associations, and they all have 'Hispanic' in the name except for the United Way and the Salvation Army. Of all of them, HPWA is one of my favorites."

Whelihan, the association president, describes Garcia as a mentor and an icon. She will receive the association's Lifetime Achievement Award and the event also will feature the Matilda Martini, a mix of raspberry vodka (or gin), triple sec and a splash of cranberry.

The association also will sell special martini glasses as a fundraiser for its scholarship program.

"I'm known for my love of martinis," Garcia explained Tuesday. "I even have shoes and pocketbooks with martinis on them. After World War II, we were celebrating the troops coming home and I didn't know what to drink to salute them. I chose a martini because my maiden name is Martini. Since then I've been leaning toward martinis."

Shortly after that, this community started leaning on Garcia. It's great to see her honored and it's also great to see this association striving to nurture the next generation.

Whelihan, owner of J.Whela Productions, a marketing and business communications firm, and an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa, said her association focuses on professional development and giving its members the tools they need to not only succeed in the workplace but to become leaders.

"We see more and more women attaining higher education degrees," Whelihan said. "But when it comes to seeing more women in leadership roles, it's a work in progress — especially when it comes to minority women. We know what we have to offer, but we have to communicate that, stand up and be recognized."

The association also wants to keep its Hispanic culture intact — members like to say they do business with a hug — but Whelihan promises a diverse audience at its gala tonight.

"To build the community, you need people from different backgrounds to help you."

That's a sentiment everyone should salute. And in this case, with a martini.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: Tampa gala to honor Hispanic leader Matilda Garcia's many achievements 05/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 2:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.