In her 82 years, Eunice Farris has had her fair share of surprises, but none that quite equaled hearing her name called last week as the winner of the Carrollwood Business and Professional Women's Club's Woman of the Year.
"I thought, "Oh my God, what is this,' " said Farris, who lives in South Tampa. "I was thrilled and elated all in one breath."
The announcement was made at the National Business Women's Week reception, sponsored by the club and held in the Special Collections department of the University of South Florida's library. Although Farris is retired and is no longer a member, her former membership in the now-defunct Tampa Business and Professional Women's Club prompted her attendance.
Formed in 1920, the Tampa club was the second organization of its kind in Florida. It paved the way for future professional women's groups, and the Carrollwood BPW club chose to honor it at last week's reception.
According to Eileen Rodriguez, chairwoman for the event, both the evening's program and the selection of the winner differed from past years.
"Typically, we do a sort of business expo with exhibits and a luncheon, and the award goes to a woman who is currently active in the business community and her civic community," Rodriguez said.
But in planning the event, she became aware of an assortment of memorabilia belonging to the Tampa BPW club and housed in USF's Special Collections department. In the minutes and newspaper clippings that she sifted through, one name regularly popped up. The woman was the club's final president when the group disbanded in 1987.
Her name was Eunice Farris.
"We decided, wouldn't it be nice to showcase the founders of BPW in Tampa," Rodriguez continued. "We had all kinds of memorabilia, and we wanted to invite any of the past members that might still be alive. I opened the phone book, and there she was _ Eunice Farris."
Farris began her 50-year career with the county's health department as a clerk in epidemiology. "I did a lot of paperwork," she recalled. "I worked from 8 to 5, Monday to Friday, and on Saturday we worked 8 to 12.
"They paid me $80 a month."
Farris said women were appreciated in the work force during World War II, but only so far. "We didn't get any promotions at all," she said.
Farris remembered applying for a promotion into the vital statistics department in the mid-1950s. "The director told me "You know enough to do the job, but the men in this field won't respect you enough to do the job.' "
Farris never got the promotion. "I felt like I had been passed over, which I had been, for no reason," she said. "It didn't make me feel too good."
"Funny thing is, even if I had gotten that job, I only would have made a little bit more money," she said. "The man would have gotten twice as much."
She retired as a clerk in the same epidemiology department in 1994, although her titles and responsibilities did change over time.
Farris joined the Tampa BPW club in 1953. She served as the group's president in 1978 and then again in 1987. Her most noteworthy accomplishment during her tenure there involved coordinating a mobile unit to test for diabetes in the community. For this she was awarded Woman of the Year from her club, and the program was recognized by the organization's state federation as Outstanding Health and Safety Program.
"You know women have progressed because of professional clubs like ours," Farris said. "These clubs helped women along, helped them come up front, get a good education."
For young women entering the work force today, Farris advised "Prepare yourself."
Education is key, she added. "If you get a job, and you don't have the education, you're not ready to accept responsibility. You'll be left by the wayside. No doubt about it."