In the 1970s, Lynda Carter was the epitome of a woman who could do it all, with super speed and agility – Wonder Woman. Today’s real-life version of Wonder Woman may not exhibit superhuman strength or sport a pair of indestructible bracelets, but she does so much more, from managing a family and running a business to volunteering in the community and even occasionally managing some “R&R.” Certainly, the Columbia community is fortunate to have many such women in its midst. Perhaps they are your neighbors, business associates or friends. Here we offer a brief look into the lives of just five of Columbia’s untold number of super women. You will, no doubt, be motivated, inspired and encouraged.
“If you can put yourself out there and make a difference, you can change the world.” This is Judy Davis’s motto. In her positions as Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary of BlueCross BlueShield, and in her vast involvement with community organizations, Judy builds on this every day, from focusing on new economic opportunities for the community to promoting the arts. She is passionate about organizations that have wonderful ideas and missions that make the community better, including United Way, Central Carolina Community Foundation, S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Trinity Housing Corporation and S.C. Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, to name just a few.
Judy thrives on working with people and organizations that are enthusiastic about their causes. “It’s not the cause that gets me energized, it’s the people. There are so many smart, talented people in Columbia with wonderful ideas who just need help getting their voices heard. And if you can tap into them and help give them a voice, it’s huge. Together, you can accomplish so much more. It’s like becoming a spark plug.”
That energy keeps Judy running, regardless of how long her day has been. Her positivity is partly attributable to being proud of where she works. “I’m excited to tell people that I come from a good company – we do things right, we have wonderful products, we have good service. I want to convey that to people because I want them to leave understanding that they found an advocate and someone passionate about BlueCross BlueShield,” she says. “I strive to find people who are equally driven about what they do, and most often I find it in the people who work at the community organizations of which I am so honored to be a part. They are phenomenal. My job is easy compared to theirs. They are making a huge difference, and if I can be a small part of that, it’s so rewarding.”
Judy has been honored many times for her dedication and commitment to the community. In 2010, she was recognized with the Girl Scouts Women of Distinction Award. She has also been the recipient of United Way of the Midlands’ Alyce Kemp DeWitt Award, Palmetto Center for Women’s Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Award for Volunteerism and the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Outstanding Volunteer Fundraising award. In 2011, Judy was honored by Insurance Networking News as one of the six women who are most influential in the insurance industry.
The combination of career and community is what fulfills Judy. For her, giving someone a chance to succeed, grow and build a legacy is what life is all about – whether through work, a board or simply as a friend. “If I can allow an idea to get traction, that is what it is all about for me. I can’t do it on my own, but together, we can all make an impact.” It’s solid advice, especially when most people, Judy believes, are risk adverse. “Many people don’t feel like they can just jump in, but that is exactly what they need to do. Volunteer for something, volunteer at work, meet new people. Who knows what it will spark? Don’t hold back.”
Words to live by.
Marshall Lipscomb Foster
“When one has the privilege of leadership, listen.” It’s a lesson Marshall Lipscomb Foster has learned over the years from very patient teachers. And it’s a lesson she has taken to heart in her role as Executive Director of the Lipscomb Family Foundation. Marshall finds it equally important to listen both to those who are wiser and to those who are under your leadership.
Marshall Lipscomb Foster (center) with Isaiah Priester (left) and Amaya Williams (right) at Jubilee Academy, which is one of the organizations her family’s foundation supports.
“Trust that those to whom you have given responsibilities will do them well,” advises Marshall. “As a leader, this should be a primary goal: growth in those you lead. Encouragement is the greatest motivator.”
No doubt, encouragement has played a large part in Marshall’s life as she has worked to balance her family, her personal life and her work with the foundation. Marshall has given years of service to the community, including serving as President of the Women of First Presbyterian Church and the Junior League of Columbia, as well as serving on the boards of the S.C. State Museum Foundation, Central Carolina Community Foundation, Junior Achievement and Hammond School, among many others. Marshall also found great joy in the opportunity to disciple women one-on-one and teach several small group Bible studies over the past 30 years. “I loved every moment of it!” she says.
The mission statement of the Lipscomb Foundation is one that fosters and encourages the positive development of youth in the area. To that end, Marshall often has the opportunity to meet with fledgling non-profit organizations that are looking for support. During these meetings, she finds that she both understands the intended goal and feels the passion of their mission, a wonderful combination for someone who helps smaller groups hindered by structural elements or developmental components. “Building relationships in these circumstances is exciting and rewarding, as so often the staff members of the organization simply need a sounding board or input from someone a step removed from the daily struggle,” says Marshall. “It is thrilling to see a mission gradually become reality because of persistence.”
Marshall’s devotion to the foundation comes second only to her devotion to her family. “I have been truly blessed with a husband, Henry, who has been a great, solid support as I have worked with my family, church and community,” she says. “We have two wonderful daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth, who have grown into marvelous, accomplished young women. These three are the most important people in my life. They are my blessings.”
Family plays a huge role in the foundation, making up its board of directors. Marshall finds the foundation to be a wonderful vehicle to continue family bonding and collaboration. “We come together to work, knowing that our work is regarded as a responsibility, a trust and a gift,” she says. “Our family has been strengthened as we have worked through how to best respond to grant proposals, policies and issues. At the end of the day, as we have shared our ideas and convictions and resolved differences of opinions, we appreciate and love each other better.”
But a little time alone doesn’t hurt. And when she can find that time, Marshall enjoys painting, her newest hobby. Arranging flowers also has been a longstanding artistic outlet for her. “I would rather put flowers on the dinner table than food,” she says. “I find digging in the dirt, planting and weeding reminds me of God, who gives growth and is able to pull the weeds out of my own life. Without a doubt, the best reward I have was not earned or gained by efforts of my own. I know that I will live always with a Savior who gave His very own life for me.”
And even though there are struggles in life, Marshall takes comfort in that thought and looks to the future with a smile. “That my husband and our children share this reward as well is priceless,” she adds. A true lesson in life.
Libby Anne Inabinet
“Your rent on Earth is volunteerism.” It’s what Libby Anne Inabinet was told by her parents as a child, and it’s become a way of life for her and her family. As the Regional Chief Development Officer for the American Red Cross of the Columbia Region, this way of life also has percolated into Libby Anne’s professional life. Every day is spent giving back to the community. “I feel called by the Lord to give back. It’s a priority,” says Libby Anne. “I have always believed in the saying ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ We have to be role models for our children. These values were instilled in me as a child, and my husband and I are trying to do the same for our boys.”
Libby Anne Inabinet (front row, third from left) with a group of USC football players and their families – Gamecock Football Families United – which she helped to spearhead.
Libby Anne has served as the president of the Junior League and is a member of Women in Philanthropy, Daughters of the American Revolution and Columbia Garden Club, among others. She is a graduate of Leadership Columbia and a proud member of the 2009 Liberty Fellowship Class. In addition, Libby Anne is a founding member of the Hammond Alumni Council and has served on the board of directors for the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and Palmetto Health Foundation.
Libby Anne is also a member of the University of South Carolina Parents Advisory Board and spearheads Gamecock Football Families United with Jeff, her husband. Libby Anne calls this group her second family. As parents of a Gamecock football player, she and Jeff travel to away games with the other football team families. “We are making lifelong memories,” adds Libby Anne. “USC has a motto, ‘Forever to Thee.’ That line really didn’t mean much to me until my sons became students. Now I want to have a lasting impact.” Libby Anne also uses the road trips as a source for a little downtime, taking a new book on each trip. “That is my way of relaxing,” she adds. That, and her family’s ever-necessary trips to the beach. “The beach is very therapeutic for me. There is something about walking on the beach, looking into the big sea and knowing you are a little grain of sand in this universe.”
And while she may see herself as but a grain of sand, she has made an enormous impact on the community. Libby Anne has been the recipient of the United Way of the Midlands Red Feather Award, was recognized as a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scout Council of the Congaree Area, and received the Palmetto Center for Women’s Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Award. Under Libby Anne’s leadership, the American Red Cross Columbia Region Development Department was recognized with the American Red Cross National Fundraising Rookie of the Year Award. And in 2011, the American Red Cross Columbia Region was awarded the Most Outstanding Tiffany Circle Chapter in the Nation, while Libby Anne was Libby .awarded the American Red Cross Employee Excellence Award. In 2011, she was also recognized with the Converse College Community Service Award.
And while her achievements are many, Libby Anne is constantly looking for ways to improve. A firm believer in after-action reports, Libby Anne is sure to look to her peers and colleagues for ways to do better. “You can only grow if you can see yourself better,” says Libby Anne. “Set goals for yourself. Monitor, adjust and be flexible.” And while there may be bumps in the road, how you react is so important. “Listen to how God is calling you to serve and trust that everything will always work out,” advises Libby Anne. “It might not be today or tomorrow, but if you have that trust, it will work out. When you’re going through difficult times, it’s hard. I am a fixer. I want to make it happen, but, often, things take time.” Ultimately, Libby Anne believes she is not in charge of her life but that if she puts God first, she will have a rewarding life.
“Before any of us can make a difference in the lives of others, it is important to be clear and comfortable with who you are as an individual.” For Martha Smith, director of AT&T Public Affairs, Citizenship and Sustainability – SE, who she is as an individual is clear: someone who stands true to herself and her values.
(L to R) Martha Scott Smith, her daughter, Pheshé L. Thompson-Johnson, and her granddaughter, Caitlin Mary Anissa Johnson, put together care packages for Sistercare.
Those values were instilled in her at a young age, along with the belief that servant leadership is not an option. “We learned by watching our parents share and give to others even in times of great economic challenges,” says Martha. And while Martha’s community involvement with the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, The Central Carolina Community Foundation, Midlands Technical College Foundation, Columbia Urban League, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Columbia Chapter of The Links, Inc. and countless other organizations is extremely worthwhile and meaningful to her, she finds the most important time she spends volunteering is with projects that are often under the radar, including helping to establish and maintain a clothing closet for foster care children, collecting toiletries for abused women, assisting a long-time friend with purchasing her monthly medications, and many others.
Martha has chaired and served on numerous boards and in many cases was the first woman and African American to do so, an accomplishment of which she is extremely proud. But ever-greater sources of pride for Martha are her daughter, Pheshé, who works tirelessly as a social worker with foster children, and her granddaughter, Caitlin, who is involved in many activities that keep Martha busy and entertained. When downtime is available, Martha and her husband enjoy their dinner club, which they founded with friends.
Martha’s hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed. She received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from United Way of the Midlands (the first African American woman ever to receive the award), was named Trustee of the Year by S. C. State University, received the Woman of Distinction award from the Girl Scouts, the Tribute to Women award from the YWCA, the Award for Community Service by Allen University-HBCU, and the NAACP state award for Civic Advocacy, to name but a few.
Martha works hard to find balance in her life. Three years ago, she lost her other daughter very suddenly, which delivered a wake-up call in terms of re-balancing and re-ordering her life. “I had to establish a new normal for my life, which really defines how I balance it – faith, family and friends, in that order,” she says. “I trust God to provide the means to the end.” Martha starts each day with a prayer, a Scripture of thanks and a request for direction for the day. “I have never been disappointed,” she says.
That faith has led Martha to focus on the greater good. She finds the ability to give or share with someone and make a small difference absolutely immeasurable in terms of rewards. “The ability to uplift another person brings the most incredible feeling of inner joy – there is nothing comparable,” she shares. Thankfully, Martha has been blessed with an incredible amount of energy that enables her to do whatever she sets her mind to, whether in her profession or her community, within her family, or during those rare moments she gets to herself. And she recommends we all do the same.
“Find a community cause for which you are passionate and pursue it with reckless abandon. Become a subject matter expert and a major contributor by investing your time, talent and monetary support to a particular initiative,” Martha says. She believes that sowing seeds of commitment and community involvement leads to many avenues to network with other professionals who are also committed to servant leadership. What better way to broaden your circle, while making a real difference in the world? It’s one way to leave a mark. To be sure, Martha certainly will.
Helen Zeigler Ellerbe
“The best way to balance life is to know yourself and your limitations and stay within parameters that will enable your point of balance to be maintained.” And keeping balance is essential for Helen Zeigler Ellerbe, who serves as the Associate Vice President for Business Affairs at the University of South Carolina. Often approached with new opportunities and requests to be more involved in the community, Helen finds setting limitations can be a difficult thing and runs counter to her innate belief in serving her community. She has served on a regular basis through her current representation on the Public Utilities Regulatory Committee and her past service on the Board of the Junior League of Columbia, Colonial Dames, Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church and Parents’ Advisory Board of Heathwood Hall. Seeing this involvement, one would assume Helen’s plate a bit larger than others. But for Helen, knowing when to say “not now,” as opposed to “no” has been important. “No one is served by over-commitment – the organizations involved, the individuals or their families,” says Helen. “There are so many things that I am interested in doing, and I’ve simply had to learn to prioritize the essential things that cannot afford to suffer over those that are not essential.”
And at the top of the essential list is, of course, Helen’s family. As someone who has been rewarded through both family and career, Helen was first careful to ensure that her three children could thrive and reach their full potential. “If you don’t succeed at that, nothing else in life will make up for that failure,” she says. In order for Helen to be successful in both career and family, she finds it tantamount to have a reliable support system in place. “Ensuring your children are in a safe and nurturing environment in your absence is key to success,” she says, “as is ensuring that they understand the right values and priorities. Then be consistent in showing them your care and commitment in support of them adhering to their values and meeting their goals.”
Fortunately for Helen, she works in an environment that is family-friendly and for people who understand the importance of raising children. And now that her children are grown, she is still able to enjoy the challenges of her career, with the satisfaction that she maintained a positive balance between work and home. “It makes the difficulties of the earlier stages of trying to do it all seem worthwhile,” she adds.
Helen has been successful by keeping her priorities in order and knowing her limitations. She fully believes the most valuable asset is time. “Choose to invest your time in the things that will be of lasting value and importance.” And make sure that some of that valuable time is focused on yourself. For Helen, that includes running, gardening and cooking.
And while Helen has succeeded in the work/life balance conundrum, it wasn’t always easy. “There were times when every day was a hard lesson in the complexity of trying to do it all,” she says. “In those times, you literally live day to day and find a way to figure out a survival plan. I was fortunate that no major cracks occurred along the way with either my children or my career.” With focus, persistence and a commitment to what matters, true success really can be achieved.
For these five women, achievements are plenty and success is appreciated. They all count their blessings and know that being super women isn’t easy, even if they make it look that way.