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Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame inductees set standard for caring

“An inner passion for helping others determined every career path I took,” Dr. Juel Shannon Smith said Thursday.
“An inner passion for helping others determined every career path I took,” Dr. Juel Shannon Smith said Thursday.
Published Mar. 29, 2013


I recently met a young woman in her late 20s who immediately struck me as intelligent and personable.

But she also admitted to never reading the newspaper or watching television news because the events shaping her community just didn't hold any interest. She doesn't see any need to engage the people and problems of Tampa Bay.

As I sat at the Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame Induction ceremony Thursday, I couldn't help but think of how the three newest inductees would have responded to my new friend's narrow view. I'm almost certain Dottie Berger MacKinnon, Juel Shannon Smith and the late Deanne Dewey Roberts would have kindly pulled her aside and implored her to examine the city beyond her own existence and make an impact.

Certainly, such caring outlooks comprise the foundation of their lives.

Their legacies contain great accomplishments and achievements.

Action, not words, highlight their biographies.

Beauty and grace, leadership and love, mentoring and role modeling dot the paths they blazed.

But most of all, MacKinnon, Smith and Roberts built their reputations with compassion. They have made a lasting impression in this community because they always helped others more than they helped themselves.

More than 300 people gathered to honor the trio and I'm certain everyone in the room could have shared a story about how one of those three women reached out to lend them a hand. The most fortunate attendees could boast that the three women, all members of the prestigious Athena Society, gave them a shoulder to cry on, an encouraging word or a kick in the pants when they needed it most.

The well-chronicled story of MacKinnon, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, continues to inspire. She has devoted her life to helping foster kids, with A Kid's Place, a residential home for kids torn out of abusive situations, serving as her latest passion.

The drive she's shown for A Kid's Place has been made all the more remarkable by her defying the odds in a battle with bile duct cancer. Of course, MacKinnon spoke not of her achievements, but of all the people who have helped her — beginning with her husband, Sandy MacKinnon.

She also explained what sustains her efforts to help the area's neediest children.

"Along the way, our commitment to lift others up is what will define us," MacKinnon said.

Smith told of similar support and commitment. One of 10 children in a two-room house in Sapulpa, Okla., she grew to become a driving force at the University of South Florida. She became the first African-American to establish an official institute at USF: the Institute on Black Life. She also served as the founding executive director of the USF Women In Leadership and Philanthropy Program, which established an endowment to fund scholarships for female students and research grants for women faculty.

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"An inner passion for helping others determined every career path I took," Smith said.

Much the same could be said about Roberts, who died last year after a long bout with cancer. Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce executive director Bob Rohrlack shared with the audience how when he was in between jobs, Roberts lent him an office at her communications company so he would have a place to conduct his search.

"She knew exactly where to grab me by the collar," Rohrlack said.

That's not atypical of Roberts, who built her one-woman PR firm into one of the area's best while assuming prominent roles with the chamber, Leadership Florida and several nonprofits.

"Leadership succession is a continual process, because there's always someone behind you," Roberts famously said.

True enough. These three women should not just be cherished for what they achieved, they should serve as examples of how we all should reach out and reach back.

That's all I'm saying.


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