Monday, December 21, 2009
For nearly three decades, most Washingtonians wouldn't have recognized Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis Richman, even if she was sitting at the next table. She kept a low profile, was rarely photographed, and often wore a silk scarf over the bottom of her face when she went out in public. Since retiring in 2000, the woman who could make or break a restaurant's reputation is no longer hiding.
I had the honor of having lunch with the famous food critic, and wrote the story up for Crystal City etc., a business publication in Northern VA just outside of Washington DC. See that below.
Lunch with Phyllis
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Crystal City etc.
Phyllis Richman will have the sorrel soup, please. And the grilled squid. And, if possible, one perfect oyster. "Thank you, madam," says the gracious, white-shirted waiter at the elegant P Street seafood bistro, Johnny's Half Shell.
"Thank you," replies Richman with a grin that indicates she is happy to be ordering exactly what she wants for lunch—and not sampling the entire menu, as was her mission for two decades as the _Washington Post's_ award-winning restaurant critic.
Readers often awaited her opinion before trying a new dining spot. Indeed, the success of a restaurant sometimes depended on her opinion. It was a serious responsibility, she realizes. "I often said mine was the world's most wonderful job," Richman says today. "Still, every job has its drawbacks."
*Eating out for a living*
On her list of the downside to her job were the years of evenings spent away from home, leaving her three children behind to try a new establishment for dinner after feeding them first. And, she admits, it wasn't always easy to stay objective.
"You always have to be out, on, and alert," Richman explains. "I constantly worried that I was getting into a rut. I wanted to be fair and impartial, and I felt the need to cover every new restaurant. It wasn't always easy."
But this, she admits, was just part of the job—one she never dreamed she'd have. Early in her career, in fact, her goal was to be a city planner. After earning a BA from Brandeis University, she started graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania but realized she'd rather study sociology and moved to Indiana to attend Purdue.
Just as she was about to start her master's thesis, she was invited to a dinner party in Greenbelt, MD by her thesis advisor. Over _hors d'oeuvres_, she leaned that his brother-in-law had taken over as publisher of the _Baltimore Jewish Times_ and was in the market for a food critic. By dessert, Richman had landed the job.
In the next two years, due to the patience and support of her husband and three children, Richman travelled weekly to Baltimore to sample restaurants. She also wrote a cooking column, and began freelancing for _Washingtonian_ magazine and the _Washington Post_.
"Being able to freelance while you are raising young children is the perfect balance," Richman says, noting that in 1976, the year her daughter entered kindergarten, Richman was offered a full-time position at the _Washington Post_. "It was scary to go back to work because I wanted to be with my kids as much as possible. So I'd drive them to school in the morning and rush home to be with them after school. Then I'd dash out to do a restaurant review, but by the time I'd get home they were asleep. It was tough."
In 1980, she added to her roster the job of food editor while still writing her column. "I found out pretty quickly that I didn't like managing others as much as I liked writing," she admits, and for the next decade did what she loved best—reviewing new DC restaurants. By 1995, she was ready for another challenge.
*The Butter Did It*
Writing a book is a natural progression for most journalists, and the idea of being a novelist always appealed to Richman. In 1997, she debuted the first of three works of fiction published by Harper-Collins: _The Butter Did It: A Gastronomic Tale of Love and Murder_.
It received rave reviews from _Publishers Weekly_, which said: "Richman's prose is as smooth and easy to swallow as premium ice cream. She brings a welcome angle and authenticity to the expanding menu of culinary mysteries."
Her protagonist was Chas Wheatley, a restaurant reviewer herself. In _The Butter Did It_, Chas grows suspicious when a DC chef named Laurence Lavain collapses the night before he is to prepare the meal for a star-studded black-tie benefit dinner. Police and beat reporters blamed his death on years of indulging in _foie gras_. Chas, who had an affair years before with Levain, has her doubts and uses her experience in the food biz to uncover the truth.
In the sequel, _Murder on the Gravy Train_ (1999), Chas discovers that something is rotten at Washington's most popular new restaurant when the head chef is discovered missing. When dead bodies start appearing around the nation's capital, she sets out on the trail to find the killer.
The third book in the trilogy, _Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham_ (2001), Richman introduces readers to her newsroom nemisis Ringo Laurenge. His propensity to steal story ideas from other reporters makes him less than popular, and when he turns up dead Chas finds she has a new mystery to solve.
Of course, it's clear to readers as well as reviewers that Chas bears a striking resemblance to Richman—something the _Washington Times_reviewer found to be a positive trait when he wrote: "A tip of the hat to Phyllis Richman, who has followed the cardinal rule to write what you know."
Richman simply says: "Of course, Chas isn't me and the events in the books aren't real. But the books did grow out of my personal experiences, so while the events are fictionalized, everything is true in the sense that it did or could happen."
*On a personal note*
The one thing that did ring true was Chas' boyfriend, Dave, who is based on Richman's real life love. She met him in 1985, two years after she divorced her first husband. "In the book, Dave can't wait to marry Chas, but she is reluctant," Richman shares. "The truth is that we were both happy to keep our commitment quiet for years."
In 2000, however, Richman was ready to make a big decision public. In May, she officially retired from the _Washington Post_.
"I was ready to spend more time with my boyfriend, my children, read, and take long walks around the city," she says. "I never believed retirees when they said they were busier now than when they were working—but it's true. What has changed most, though, is that I'm multi-tasking less and enjoying my life more. I take my time, and it's a pleasure."
Of course, she does have another idea for new book. "I think maybe I'll get to work on that next week," she teases.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
In August, Costco Connection magazine published a piece I wrote about author Jennifer Niven's new book, "Norma Jean Learns to Drive." Read on for more ...
The Costco Connection
“Daddy says I’m going to hell,” writes Jennifer Niven in the first chapter of her first work of fiction, _Velva Jean Learns to Drive_, a coming-of-age tale of a spunky young woman growing up in Appalachia in the years before World War II.
“You, my baby, are not going to hell,” comforts her mother. “You’re a good child, true and pure, and the Lord will call you when it’s time. You can’t bloom the flowers before they’re ready.”
After reading those few paragraphs it’s nearly impossible to keep from being drawn into Niven’s melodic prose as she unfurls the bittersweet drama of Velva Jean’s life. Readers are quickly catapulted into the pivotal period from July 22, 1933, the day her father insists she be baptized, to the tragic moment her beloved mother dies a few weeks later.
Before Velva Jean’s mama passes, she urges her only daughter to “live out there” in the great wide world. “That’s where you belong.”
From then on, the gifted young singer dreams of becoming a star in Nashville — until she falls in love with Harley Bright, a handsome juvenile delinquent turned revival preacher. As their tumultuous love story evolves, Velva Jean must choose between keeping her hard-won home and singing in the Grand Ole Opry.
Niven admits her life has been nearly as tumultuous as her protagonist.
“The novel is incredibly autobiographical,” she shares. “I basically opened up a vein and let it flow onto those pages. It was a strange and uncomfortable experience for me because I'm a very private person. But I'm there with her on every page. Velva Jean and I experienced very similar journeys to freedom.”
Interestingly, the character of Velva Jean wasn’t Niven’s creation. The fictional character first appeared decades before in a short story by her mother, author Penelope Niven, who has written, among other books, a biography of Carl Sandburg and Voices and Silences with actor James Earl Jones.
“My mother’s four-page story always stuck with me,” says Niven, so while at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles she bought the rights to Velva Jean from her mom for $1 and began turning it story into a screenplay. It became an Emmy Award-winning movie in 1996, but she just couldn’t get Velva Jean out of her head.
“I knew that eventually I wanted to bring her back to life in the form of a book.”
It was tricky turning the 25-page script into a 400-page novel. Research was essential to fully fleshing out a realistic character and authentic setting, so three years ago she moved to Atlanta and began traveling to Velva Jean’s fictional home in North Carolina.
Breathing, touching and tasting the world where her characters lived is the approach the award-winning writer used when writing her first two books — both works of nonfiction.
Niven’s first book, _The Ice Master_, was published in 2000 and became an award-winning true story of a retired Canadian whaling ship that set sail for the Arctic in June 1913. It sank, leaving its passengers stranded on polar ice and, later, on a desolate island, the captain walked 700 miles to find help. In 2003 she released "Ada Blackjack: The True Story of Survival in the Arctic," which became a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was optioned as a movie.
Niven isn’t quite finished with Velva Jean, though. She recently sold the sequel to the current book, scheduled to hit bookstores in 2010. And on September 1, this prolific writer’s next book, "The Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town," will make its debut. The hardback, being published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, is currently being developed as a TV show by Warner Bros.
“It is going to be Will & Grace meets The Wonder Years,” she suggests, noting the story started out as an attempt at telling the history of high school in general. “In so many ways, this book has been a complete departure from the first three. It’s easily the scariest, most daunting thing I’ve written so far. But Velva Jean is still the story closest to my heart."
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia who aspires to always “live out there in the great wide world.” Read more here online at www.hopegibbs.com..
Friday, December 4, 2009
6500 GIRLS AND BUDDIES ARE SCHEDULED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE GIRLS ON THE RUN REINDEER ROMP 5 K on DEC. 5
Cheers to Catherine Keitley, executive director of Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia! Tomorrow, rain or shine — or impending snow, according to the National Weather Service — more than 6500 girls in grades 3 to 8 are scheduled to turn out for this Saturday’s 5K Reindeer Romp Fun Run at the Reston Town Center starting at 8:30 a.m.
“We were blown away by the response and support we have gotten for this event and sold out so fast that we actually had to turn some runners away,” explains Keightley. “I believe that is simply a testimony to the power of this program.”
In fact, more than 3000 girls in nearly 180 schools from all over Northern Virginia have participated for the last 10 weeks in our Girls on the Run program to empower girls with a greater sense of self-awareness, self esteem and healthy living through the power of running.
“This run is the culmination and celebration of their efforts, and pairs the girls with a buddy runner to help them achieve their goals,” Keightley adds.
Sponsors of the event include Argon ST (http://www.argonst.com), Fitness Together (www.FTCustomFitness.com), PTR Group, Potomac River Running, and the Reston Town Center.
For more information about the run, contact Catherine at (703) 405 5727, and visit www.girlsontherunofnova.org.
Stephanie Cohen, CEO of the health benefits firm Golden & Cohen, was named one of SmartCEO Magazine’s 2010 Smart100 CEOs this week.
“After another competitive year of nominations, the selection committee has chosen Stephanie Cohen to join an elite group of 100 of Greater Washington’s leading CEOs and their organizations,” announced SmartCEO magazine’s Makenna Coyne on December 1. “Combined, this group employs more than 150,000 people, boasts revenues in excess of $9 billion, and has won almost 1,500 business awards. In addition, the group shares a philanthropic spirit by donating time, energy and money to local Washington area charities.”
Each winning company reported revenue in excess of $5 million annually and was selected based on the CEO’s leadership, strategic vision and character, said Coyne noting that Cohen was an obvious choice to be part of the 2010 list due to her initiative to organize and host last year’s DC Health Summit (www.dchealthsummit.com), her charitable work with the ALS Association’s DC/MD/VA Chapter (which helps empower people with Lou Gehrig’s disease), and other nonprofit organizations, and her sheer determination to fight for her client’s rights.
“I am incredibly excited to be acknowledged for the work that I do on behalf of my clients,” says Cohen, who with her husband and business partner Scott Golden has run her firm since 1992. “I have a passion for this work, and truly want to make a difference. I know I can't change the world, but I can do my part in improving things by helping one person at a time.”
Founded in 1992, Golden & Cohen provides health insurance benefit services to more than 1500 clients. Based in Gaithersburg, MD, the company generated $70 million in annual sales last year and currently has 15 employees. As the CEO and co-founder of the firm, Stephanie Cohen has more than two decades of experience in small group health insurance, disability programs and life insurance. She recently was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and annually serves on the prestigious United HealthCare, Coventry, Aetna and Kaiser Broker Council. She is also a member of the Women Presidents' Organization, the District of Colombia Insurance Commissioner Advisory Council, and The Greater Washington Health Underwriters. For more information visit www.golden-cohen.com.
Listen to Stephanie Cohen live Dec. 12 on Executive Leadership Radio
To hear Stephanie Cohen talk about her leadership style and how she and her husband / business partner Scott Golden have built their company into one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the DC Metro region, tune in on Saturday, Dec. 12 to WHFS 1580 AM. The show will air from 10-11 a.m. Or, log onto www.bigtalker1580.com.
Friday, November 20, 2009
How did Harvard-educated California girl Laura Lee Williams beaded a path from a Fortune 500 exec to the head of her own successful handbag business? In an article for elan magazine, reporter Hope Gibbs explains.
Beautiful beads from Tokyo—more than 30,000 of them—grace the most elaborate offering by Laura Lee Designs, a handbag firm founded in 2005 by California native Laura Lee Williams.
Other designs—such as her trademark M bag—feature fewer beads, but the focus here is on the three-inch wrap of Australian snakeskin in the middle.
“The white version is perfect for weddings, and pink version is a personal favorite because we contribute a portion of the proceeds from each purchase to Breast Cancer Research,” says the soft-spoken brunette, who shares the tale of how she got started in the handbag business as she sips chamomile tea at a café not far from her current base of operations in Vienna, VA.
As it turns out, the California native never planned to become an entrepreneur. She didn’t plan to go into the family business either—her father and siblings all work in the TV and movie industry. Instead, Laura Lee graduated with a degree in economics from UCLA, a master’s degree in international studies from Harvard University, and spent most of her career working on strategic initiatives and marketing programs for Fortune 500 firms such as Nike, American Express, and Apple Computer.
But when she accepted a job as VP of global business with Hong Kong’s Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW) in 1999, her time spent in China inspired her to look at the world in a new way.
“I helped PCCW transform itself from an old guard telecom company into an organization that provided Wi-Fi in airports, developed call centers and established broadband services,” she explains. “In doing so, I worked closely with Chinese executives and watched as they planned strategies that took a long-term view of business. It was a very different approach from what I experienced earlier in my career when I worked for U.S. executives. Too often, we Americans focus only on short-term profits and as a result, some very good ideas never got the chance to take root.”
However, Laura Lee says American firms also tend to be more entrepreneurial and innovative than many Chinese organizations. So in early 2003, she decided to meld the best of both cultures into a company of her own. Her mission: To manufacture elegant hand-beaded handbags and sell them to a sophisticated clientele in the U.S. and abroad.
Laura Lee’s timing was good. Although sales of pocketbooks dropped by an average of 4 percent a year in 1996, the total value of imports of women's handbags or purses recently hit $1 billion, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of American Industries.
“This growth in handbag sales is put down to women regarding handbags as essential, having more than one, coordinating them with outfits as fashion accessories and choosing different sizes or styles to suit the occasion,” says Glyn Barlow, director of the online store Fashion Shop UK.
Growth may also be attributed to an increase in supply, for more handbag manufacturers are outsourcing large portions of the production cycle to factories in developing countries such as China. Not only is labor dramatically less expensive abroad—but also Asian workers pride themselves on paying attention to detail and turning out high-quality products.
Laura Lee witnessed this firsthand when, in 2003, execs at Polo Ralph Lauren’s Hong Kong office hired her away from PCCW to help them with strategic initiatives. She watched, listened and learned—and on her off time amass traveled far and wide to find suppliers for her own line of pocketbooks.
In addition to the high-end beads she found in Tokyo, she discovered an Australia supplier for the snakeskin in Sydney. In her travels, she also located crystals, appliqués, and clasps to complete the look of the elegant creation.
Laura Lee’s connections at Ralph Lauren, as well as a family friend, led her to Timbacc International—a seven-factory operation based in Xien-Du, which
produces a variety of beaded products including evening gowns for Yves
“It was harder than I thought it would be to find a factory that would produce my bags,” she admits. “Although the Chinese are trying to be more modern, it is still a very traditional, male-dominated society. At the factories owned by men, no one would even return my calls. But a husband and wife team owns Timbacc, and the wife really runs the show.
Laura Lee had seamstresses there make enough bags to fill orders for about a year. By the fall of 2005, she was ready to peddle her purses. That December, she moved back to the U.S. so she could focus on getting her handbags into tony U.S. stores. Her first stop: Henri Bendel’s in New York City. As luck would have it the buyer was Foster Chang, a man of Asian decent. “He not only liked the quality and design of my bags, but appreciated that they were manufactured in China,” Laura Lee explains.
Chang set up a trunk show for her the week before Christmas, and Laura Lee sold two-dozen bags. It gave her the confidence to knock on more department store doors and today Laura Lee Designs—which range from $250 to $700—are sold internationally in Spain, Australia and the U.K. Nationally, they can be found at Bloomingdale’s, Fred Segal, the Ritz-Carlton gift shops, and tony boutiques from Los Angeles to Miami including Terri & Kate Clothier in Great Falls.
“I constantly have people telling me I need to meet someone who creates something special,” says Terri Parent, owner of Terri & Kate Clothier. “The work doesn’t always hold up to the praise—but that wasn’t the case with Laura Lee’s handbags. They are works of art. It’s the perfect accessory for a black suit or elegant evening down. You carry it, walk into a room—and you just stand out.”
That’s exactly what designers in Hollywood thought when they saw a sample of the bags. In fact, in a 2006 episode of Desperate Housewives, actress Eva Longoria’s character Gabrielle Solis carried a Laura Lee handbag—and the show’s costume designers made an outfit to match.
Soon after, organizers of the March 2007 Oscar Wilde pre-Oscar party called Laura Lee to order six of her purses to auction off to celebrities, and invited Williams to the gala.
“Now that was amazing,” admits Laura Lee. “I realize my bags aren’t for everyone, but the women who buy them are confident, and pride themselves on being fashionable, original, and making a statement. I like that in a woman, and want to encourage more ladies to stand out in a crowd and be recognized.”
For more information,visit www.lauraleedesigns.com.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
SAVE THE DATE: Dec. 2 — Robin Strongin hosts event, "EMPOWERING WOMEN WILL IMPROVE HEALTH CARE IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD"
SAVE THE DATE
When: Wednesday, December 2 Time: 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Where: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 3rd Floor Gallery, 1250 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Register: Send an email to email@example.com
How do we improve health care in the developing world? We start by improving the economic opportunities for women, says advisor to the chief economist of the World Bank, Dr. Maureen Lewis. Lewis will speak at a special networking event on Dec. 2 from 6-8 p.m. in Washington, DC, hosted by Robin Strongin, creator of the popular health care blog Disruptive Women in Health Care www.disruptivewomen.net. Other sponsors include Strongin’s public affairs firm, Amplify Public Affairs (www.amplifypublicaffairs.net), Strategic Health Policy International, Medco, Global Health Strategies, Creative Women and VirtuArte.
“It is gratifying to see how Disruptive Women has grown as a community, moving from words on a blog to global action. I am thrilled that this event and our bloggers have generated world-wide interest,” Strongin says. “We have created a place that takes the passion we have for health care and policy and merges it with solutions.”
This Disruptive Women in Health Care holiday reception will serve as the kick-off event for a series of blog posts by Disruptive Women and guest bloggers highlighting the connections between economic empowerment, the arts and improved health in the developing world.
“The Dec. 2 event is also the official launch for a series of blog posts that analyze the relationship between putting economic power in the hands of women — in the U.S. and abroad,” Strongin adds. “I am eager to hear the advice and ideas that Dr. Lewis will share with the impressive group that will be gathered. My belief is that when women put their heads together, great things happen.”
ABOUT DISRUPTIVE WOMEN IN HEALTHECARE
The mission of www.disruptivewomen.net is to serve as a platform for provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in the health sphere. We recognize that to accomplish this, we need to call on experts outside of the health industry. The founding Disruptive Women have audacious hopes for our blog. We’re not managing change, we’re not thriving on chaos — we’re not waiting for cures. We’re driving change, we’re creating chaos, and we’re finding cures. In a nutshell: We’re disrupting the status quo in the health machine. Our goal is to become the “go to” health care blog -- one that is recognized as a Petri dish for fresh ideas and bold solutions. Won’t you join us?
ABOUT ROBIN STRONGIN
Robin Strongin is the creator of the Disruptive Women in Health Care Blog (www.disruptivewomen.net) and the president and CEO of Amplify Public Affairs (www.amplifypublicaffairs.net). She is an accomplished public affairs expert with more than 25 years of experience working in Washington, DC. Robin serves on the Board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Capitol Chapter and is a member of the Women Business Leaders of the US Health Care Industry Foundation. She works with and for Federal and state governments, regulatory agencies, Congress, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, corporations, coalitions and trade associations.
Ampify Public Affairs is the next generation in public affairs, leading the way in the integration of new media and traditional communications strategies. With unequalled expertise in aligning allies, connecting voices, and promoting action, Amplify serves as a relationship builder, creating and sustaining win-win collaborations to move issues forward and influence targeted audiences. Through the blending of innovative communication technologies, credible coalition building, grassroots and top-tiered public affairs expertise, Amplify leverages connections to achieve targeted objectives in the public, private, and political arena.
Monday, November 16, 2009
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman criticized the way some members of the press cover the aviation and transportation accidents at a National Press Club luncheon held on Nov. 16.
“We understand the need to solve the puzzle in the early hours of an accident, and we know your editors and producers want you to be the first to get the ‘cause’ of the accident, but what is the cost to your credibility if you are the first to get the cause wrong? We have learned from experience that first impressions can be wrong,” she said.
Hersman pointed to some of the less-than-savvy questions NTSB officials have received while on scene, including, “Who makes 747s besides Boeing?” “What kinds of planes make those white lines in the sky?” and “Who was steering the train?”
She said she understands that in today’s tough journalistic climate, “we don’t have the luxury of having only transportation experts cover our work. These reporters are very good surrogates for the public who, although they rely on our transportation system every day, often have a limited understanding of how it operates and how safe it is.”
The question, Hersman asked, is how do we provide important accident information responsibly?
“ As you know, the NTSB has been investigating major transportation accidents for more than 42 years, and in that time we’ve held thousands of press briefings near the accident scenes,” said Hersman, who joined NTSB in June 2004 and took over as its chairman in July 2009.
“I appreciate this opportunity to meet with journalists outside the atmosphere of a major transportation accident … I am often asked about how I feel about working with the press. I have to say, in the beginning, it was quite intimidating to stand in front of a bank of 20 microphones in a room full of cameras with reporters firing questions at me. “
She said that after accompanying NTSB teams to 17 major accidents in the last 5 years — ranging from the collision of two Washington Metro trains at Woodley Park Station in September, the mid-air collision involving a sightseeing helicopter and single engine plane over the Hudson River that killed 9 people in August — she said she had the opportunity to see her staff and the press corps in action.
“Of course all of our beat reporters are top notch, but occasionally we encounter reporters at the accident scene who don’t routinely cover transportation issues and have the – how shall I say it – don’t have a full grasp of the subject matter.
“Even in this changing environment, when you are being asked to re-invent yourselves on a regular basis, I hope you continue to achieve the professional satisfaction you sought when you became a reporter.”
Monday, September 28, 2009
“You are opening a Pandora’s box,” author Kati Marton was warned when she began the research for her new book, Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America.
The Hungarian-born writer paid little attention and dove headfirst into the files of the Hungarian Secret Police (known as the AVO). There, she found the fascinating and sometimes excruciating details of the controversial careers of her parents — Endre and Illona Marton — two journalists who during the 1950s wrote hundreds of articles for the U.S.-based Associated Press and United Press about what was going on behind the Iron Curtain.
Now an accomplished journalist herself, Marton felt compelled to understand the intricacies and courage of her parents who were enmeshed in a nail-biting game of cat and mouse with the AVO. In fact, close friends-turned-informers relayed the Martons’ every move to the Secret Police who were determined to arrest them. The Marton’s only made it worse by spurring easy friendships within the American legation, which afforded them an affluent lifestyle and consequently allied them with the “enemy” in the minds of the AVO.
This eventually led to their imprisonment for six years for charges of espionage.
“All my life, my parents’ defiance of the Communists, their stubborn courage as the last independent journalists until their arrest, trial and conviction as CIA spies, has been at the core of our family identity,” Marton writes in the introduction of her book. “On Feb. 25, 1955, at two in the morning, following a game of bridge at the home of the U.S. military attaché, my father was abducted by six agents of the AVO (the Hungarian Secret Police). His arrest was front-page news in The New York Times. Four months later, they came for my mother.”
Before moving to America, Marton and her sister Juli were sent to live with a Hungarian family named Hellei. “Everything about them made me long for my parents and our old life,” Marton shares.
Indeed, this poignant memoire is at once a history lesson of the Cold War, and a love letter to the people who shaped her life.
“No one played a bigger role in my life than my father, who was so sparing with praise,” Marton writes toward the end of the book. “I think I even chose my life partners with him in mind. In 1977, when I was hired as an ABC News foreign correspondent, Papa told me to observe and learn from Peter Jennings. ‘Now there is a man who has all the important qualities: intelligence, a sense of the world, great good looks — a man, Kati, who has it all.’
"So, I recall thinking at the time that this is the sort of man he would like as his son-in-law. Until the end of his life, though we had divorced, he considered Peter, the father of his grandchildren, as a son-in-law. And vice versa. After I married [Ambassador] Richard Holbrooke, then an assistant secretary of state, Richard and Papa would sit for hours reminiscing.”
In the epilogue, Marton admits she would not have written this book if her parents were still alive. “Most deaths bring both grief and relief. With my parents’ deaths the taboo of the past was lifted.”
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
When Gail McGovern took over as president of the Red Cross last year, the former AT&T vp had no idea she’s have to deal with the aftermath of eight hurricanes and tropic storms, a record tornado season, and the worst flooding in the Midwest in 15 years.
She did know that she was inheriting a $209 million operating deficit, a mandate from the Board of Governors to eliminate it within two years, and that she was the 10th person to take the helm of the PR-challenged agency in the last decade, she told the crowd packed into the McClendon room at today’s Club luncheon.
And the Harvard marketing professor — who since 1998 has twice been named one of the “50 Most Influential Women in Corporate America” by Fortune magazine — said she isn’t complaining. “I pinch myself every day because I feel so fortunate to serve in this remarkable [128-year-old] institution.”
In fact, McGovern credits the downturn in the economy for giving many non-profits, especially her own, the impetus to make “needed and sometimes overdue changes. “
She suggested five ways that non-profits can successfully navigate these turbulent times.
1. Have a monomaniacal focus on your mission and on the people you serve. “As leaders of non-profits we must make every single decision through the lens of our respective missions,” McGovern explained. “The country depends on us to do so. We need to look at everything we do and every dime we spend, and eliminate all extraneous activities that don’t support the people we serve.”
2. We must be even better stewards of our donors’ dollars. “This has been one of my main areas of focus,” she shared, noting the organization recently laid off 1000 employees and 350 in the field of their total staff of 33,000 employees, 722 local chapters, 36 blood services regions and more than 500,000 volunteers. That, along with other cutbacks, has enabled McGovern to cut the organization’s deficit by 75% — to $50 million.
3. Nonprofits have to find new ways to raise money and engage donors. McGovern said she’s managed to master this, for in September 2008, in the heart of hurricane season; she launched a $100 million fundraising campaign to replenish the Red Cross’ depleted disaster relief fund. She surpassed that goal within nine months.
4. Embrace new tools. McGovern admitted this is critical, but easier said than done. “While the nightly news and newspapers are important ways for people to get information, more and more people of all ages are getting immediate information from the web and their cell phones. Nonprofits have to embrace new forms of media, and while this may seem like a statement of the obvious, pause for a moment and remember that we’re a big, 128-year-old institution. Don’t underestimate the massive change in mindset that this requires.”
5. Keep looking to the horizon. “I recently met with senior leaders from our major U.S. chapters and asked them to generate ideas that would enable the Red Cross to prosper and grow to 2020. Their ideas were creative, exciting, wacky, and truly showed out of the box thinking. The exercise has me thinking about forming a futurist think tank composed of volunteers.”
McGovern also said that one of her most memorable days on the job was when she flew to the disaster site after Hurricane Ike struck Houston in September 2008. She helped serve chili to the thousands of people that had been displaced from their homes.
“We first went to a giant kitchen that has the capacity to make 45,000 meals and elderly men with giant biceps lifted vats of chili into a big van. Then we drove to the site, and I had no idea how the people would know we were there, but I was assured they’d know. Within 10 minutes, there was a line that stretched for blocks because we were bringing the first hot meal these hurricane victims had since having their lives upended. We dished out that chili for hours, and I never before felt like I was making such an incredible difference. I have the best job in the world.”
When asked if she’d welcome embedded reporters at disaster sites, the Red Cross president said she’d be happy to have them. “I actually think our disaster sites would make a great Reality TV show.” Stay tuned for that.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Award-winning Journalist COKIE ROBERTS was the keynote speaker at this week's EXCELLENCE IN GOVERNMENT conference, held at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, DC. She talked about her new book, “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation,” as well as President Obama’s initiative to increase public service. Indeed, Roberts impressed the crowd of several hundreds government executives with her wit and words. "President Obama wants to make government cool again," she said. "Do you all feel cool today?"
She went on to share her knowledge and depth of understanding of the nation's founding women — and later charmed them with stories about her own mother. "In the early 19th century, mean in politics were literally killing each other in the name of their beliefs," Roberts explained. "The women of the time were trying desperately to get them to put down their guns and pick up a glass of wine so they could, in a relaxed moment, discuss their differences."
These women — from Alexander Hamilton's wife Aliza to John Quincy Adams' wife Louisa, to the nation's darling Dolly Madison — kept tempers cool and showed the nation what it meant to be a first lady. "It's a total myth that the first ladies were sitting around pouring tea until Eleanor Roosevelt came along, then poured more tea until Hilary Clinton took the political stage," Roberts insisted. "These women were tough, smart, and incredibly clever."
What would the founding mothers say to us today?"They'd look us square in the eye and say, 'Honey relax, you got it easy," Roberts believes. "The truth of the matter is that this is so true. We are not pregnant every year. Typhoid hasn't just come through town and killed two of our children. We are not making candles and bread before we prepare the evening meal. I think this perspective is wonderful because it's true: We have it easy."
Further, the concept of "multitasking" is something Roberts says, "is a man's made-up word for something women have done since the beginning of time." She points to her own mother — former ambassador and long-time Democratic Congresswoman from Louisiana Lindy Boggs — who first took office in 1973 after the death of her husband (the late Hale Boggs, who was Majority Leader of the House of Representatives) from a plane crash.
"I remember coming home one day and my mother was standing in her big kitchen cooking a grand meal and stirring pickles that she'd made from her giant vegetable garden. In one arm was my nephew, who was fussing and needed to be constantly rocked from side to side, and under her neck she'd cricked the phone and was dictating a speech she was to give the following day to Congress. All the while she was monitoring the chicken in the oven and stirring those pickles. I said aloud, 'Mom, not only CAN you do it all — you can do it all AT THE SAME TIME."
LISTEN TO COKIE ROBERTS discuss "Ladies of Liberty" on to Federal News Radio at www.federalnewsradio.com.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
“I am not glad that I got cancer, but I am better for it,” award-winning actress Fran Drescher told the National Press Club today when she came to DC to promote her new role as the U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Women's Health, and her nonprofit organization Cancer Schmancer (which is also the title of her second New York Times bestselling book).
The writer, director, co-producer, and star of the highly popular CBS television series The Nanny, Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2001. It had taken several years and eight doctors to find the tumor, and because it went undiagnosed for so long the disease had metastasized to Stage Four leaving Drescher no alternative but to undergo a radical hysterectomy.
“I was devastated,” Drescher admitted to the audience. “I remember standing in my bathroom after the surgery looking swollen and bruised, and feeling nothing like the Superwoman I had felt I was my whole life. I wished I could have been anyone but me in that moment.”
Not long after, she was having a family dinner with her cousin Susan, who in mid-sentence began to choke on a piece of chicken. “I had seen someone choking before in a restaurant, and knew I had to do the Heimlich maneuver,” explained Drescher, who said she stood behind her cousin and pushed on her chest until finally the chicken chunk popped out. “I admit it, I saved her life. But really, she saved mine because at that moment I felt like myself again.”
The experience gave her the idea to write her book, and on the book tour she talked to hundreds of other women who suffered through cancer and also experienced the drama of being misdiagnosed, allowing their cancers to reach the late stages.
“I knew that I had to something more than write a book — I had to start a movement,” exclaimed Drescher, who soon after founded her Reston, VA–based organization. “Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘women are like tea bags. We don’t know how strong we are until we are dipped in hot water.’ It is so incredibly true. I realize now that I got famous, and I got cancer, so I could stand here today and try to change lives.”
Since then, Drescher has been instrumental in winning passage of the first Gynecological Cancer Education and Awareness Act. Indeed, she believes that cancer diagnosed in stage one “is the cure,” and she’s doing everything in her power to encourage every woman to insist on getting all tests necessary to identify if disease is brewing.
“When you get that weird feeling that something inside you just isn’t right, go to the doctor and find out what’s up,” she said. “Find out what tests aren’t on the menu. Do research on the Internet. Ask your friends. You have to be your own medical advocate.”
Drescher said she’s enjoying her new role as an activist and philanthropist, and although she is happy to take the occasional acting role that inspires her, she’s considering the idea of running for political office in 2010 or 2012. Her decision, she said, will be determined by where she feels she is most able to impact the future of women’s health issues.
“I want to be part of a movement that shifts the negative paradigm in the world and make sure this is the century of the woman.” — Hope Katz Gibbs.
For more information, visit www.cancerschmancer.org.
To view the article on the National Press Club blog.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Etiquette expert Anna Post (great great granddaughter of the queen of good manners, Emily Post) charmed a room filled with dozens of businesswomen at a networking event on March 23 honoring past winners of the Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business awards.
Anna’s top tips included 7 Best Business Social Practices:
1. Arrive on time.
2. Avoid the temptation to socialize only with colleagues.
3. Commit to introducing yourself to at least three people at an event.
4. Don’t stuff your plate or over-imbibe (know your limit: follow the one drink rule, or don’t drink at all).
5. Include others who join your conversation. This is a Golden Rule.
6. Avoid dirty laundry and controversial topics.
7. Send a thank you note to the host within 24 hours of the event, if possible. Be gracious and be brief (3 to 5 sentences is appropriate).
Other useful tidbits came from Anna’s Tips on Proper Table Manners:
1. What do you do with your napkin when you are finished? Leave them on the left of your plate, not your chair. Why? “If the napkin is stained with lipstick or gravy and you are wearing light-colored pants the possibility of having a stain increases).
2. When do you start eating? “When the host begins, or when the host nods to you to begin.”
3. When do you start talking business? If it’s a social event, wait until after you order. If it’s a business dinner meeting, wait until the entrees have been cleared. “The goal of a business meeting is usually to get to know each other,” Anna explained. “But let the host be your guide. If he or she launches into a business discussion over the salad, go with it.”
4. Chew with your mouth closed. Period.
5. Who pays? The host, or the one who did the inviting. “But if you insist on treating the host to the meal, make it clear that this is your intention — before the check arrives.”
Anna also advised the audience to spend one night each year in their own guest room. “This allows you to test the box springs, see if there is a draft in the room, and basically get a real feel for what your guests are experiencing.”
And when you bump into a work colleague on personal time, be a 24/7 professional. “You always need to be prepared to switch gears, so don’t ignore your family to attend to your colleague — simply make warm, polite introductions. Your public life and work life are bound to collide, so handle the situation with grace.”
Indeed, being graceful, authentic, and polite is the key to having the etiquette advantage in business, Anna insists. “As today’s workplace becomes increasingly competitive, knowing how to behave can make the difference between getting ahead and getting left behind.”
For more information Anna Post, visit The Emily Post Institute: www.emilypost.com.
By Hope Katz Gibbs, founder Inkandescent Public Relations
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Monday, March 16, 2009
Debbie Wasserman Schultz was raised to believe you can have it all. At 42, the attractive, active U.S. Congresswoman from the 20th Congressional District who represents Miami-Dade / Broward County Florida certainly seems to have hit the mark. With two kids, a husband who is incredibly supportive — he buys her clothes and is willing to put her career before his — and a plum seat on the House Committee on Appropriations and Committee on the Judiciary, she is determined to expand on her reputation as a fighter for families.
“It is said that I arrived in Washington with the reputation as a force to be reckoned with, someone who works hard on behalf of children, education, health care, Social Security, Medicare and the security of every American,” said Debbie, who was sworn in as a member of the House on January 4, 2005. “I hope to continue to be known as a person whose word is her bond and who knows that she was sworn in to work hard in Washington for her constituents.”
That said the Congresswoman opened up about the challenges of having it all when she spoke in February to a large crowd that gathered for the CEO Chick Chat, hosted by the DC women's networking group Success in the City. “Yes, I do believe you can have it all — but you can’t be afraid to ask for help,” she explained. “And you have to pick and choose your priorities. During the week, Congress is my priority. When I fly back home to Florida on the weekend, my family comes first. My staff knows they have to respect that, and they have to schedule in family time. It’s sacred, and it’s incredibly important to me to be as good a mother and wife as I am a legislator.”
And being a good legislator is very important to Debbie —the youngest elected to the Florida legislature in 1992 at age 26 (she won her seat with 53% of the vote in a six-way race), and the first Jewish Congresswoman ever elected from Florida. “I never expected to get into politics so young,” admits Debbie, who served in the Florida House of Representatives until 2000 and in the Florida State Senate from 2000-2004. “I had a mentor who encouraged me, and I gave it everything I could. When I was first running, I made up in shoe leather what I lacked in resources. I knocked on about 25,000 doors in my district and met as many voters as possible. And I learned early that to be an effective legislator you have to do more than just show up to vote. That is especially true in the U.S. Congress. My motto is: No task is too big. Most of the time it works out.”
Perhaps the hardest pill for her to swallow is learning the hard way that not everyone is happy for her success. “After 16 years in politics, I have developed a tough skin,” she insists. “But some of those nasty partisan blogs have weakened my defense for they don’t just focus on the issues like seasoned journalists do — they get personal. It’s distasteful, but I try to put it into perspective because it is very important to embrace new media. It’s the best way to engage young activists and voters, so I am simply learning to be more savvy about how to communicate effectively.”
For more information about Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, visit her website: http://wassermanschultz.house.gov/.
“A magical bumble bee” is what Success in the City’s founder Cynthia de Lorenzi called Edie Frasier, a philanthropist, businesswoman, and diversity advocate, who spoke to a room filled with professional women business owners at a recent CEO Chick Chat.
As the president, founder and CEO of Diversity Best Practices, Business Women’s Network and Best Practices in Corporate Communications — all part of the Public Affairs Group, an iVillage Company — Edie supports more than 170 organizations, corporate and government members. Most recently, she co-authored Do You Giving While You Are Living, with well-known TV and radio reporter Robyn Spizman. “This is not only a book, it's a mission,” Edie told the SITC crowd. “My forecast is that with the support of corporate and non-profit leaders, outstanding philanthropists, dedicated volunteers, celebrities, ambassadors for change, and innovative activists working to better humanity, Do You Giving While You Are Living will become a movement.”
The goal of the book, which hit the Business Week bestseller list weeks after it was published in November 2008, is to encourage people to seek out a personal approach to their own giving — and truly understand why it is important to give now. That process is one Edie began decades ago after watching her entrepreneurial parents who helped build the retail franchise Casual Corner in Atlanta, GA. “I knew it was important to be a leader, and took that commitment seriously when I became the president of my high school class, the president of my youth organization, and the president of my school,” Edie said. “In fact, I took it so seriously my parents took me to see a psychiatrist. He talked to me about moderation, but I knew I was here to accomplish something.”
Edie studied political science at Duke University where, for the first time, she encountered prejudice. “I am Jewish and when I got to college I wanted to be in a ‘popular’ sorority and not a Jewish one,” she admitted. “The one I liked had a charter saying it could not admit Jews. It hit me hard, but taught me an important lesson that I’d use in the years to come.”
She went on to volunteer for the Peace Corps, befriended Walter Cronkite (who told her to only do things she can give 100%, and ultimately launched several companies and organizations including a successful PR agency that she sold in 2007. That year, Edie was named as one of the Top 50 Pioneers in Diversity by Profiles in Diversity Journal and — along with Oprah Winfrey, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — was named one of America's Top Diversity Advocates by DiversityBusiness.com She is a founding member of the Committee of 200 and is in The Enterprising Women Hall of Fame.
“The one thing I have learned in my life is that you have to keep changing,” she concluded. “Get into things where you can be unique and then go for it. Walk the walk, and as Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’”
By Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent Public Relations and Success in the City's Director of Public Relations
Monday, March 2, 2009
With only eight weeks under her belt as the head of one of the 39-year-old media organization, Vivian Schiller, the new president and CEO of National Public Radio, is to many an ideal choice to take NPR into the digital age. Since May 2006, she served as senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com. Prior to that, she was the senior vice president and general manager of the Discovery Times Channel, and before that senior vice president of CNN Productions.
As the head of NPR, Schiller - who took the helm on January 5 - will oversee all network operations, including partnerships with 800-plus member stations reaching more than 26 million listeners every week. It's a job the woman that Schiller, whose documentary and series productions have won multiple honors, including two Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards and five Emmys, says she relishes.
"I have always worked for companies with a strong public mission, but NPR is the first company I've worked for that is not beholden to financial stakeholders," Schiller told the audience at the National Press Club on March 2. "It's not lost on me that both groups can learn from each other."
She went on to outline five lessons she believes NPR can learn from its commercial cousins:
1. More bottom-line thinking about return on investment
2. A sense of urgency — which will help it stay nimble in times of economic flux
3. A focus on what the audience truly wants and needs from NPR programs
4. Greater diversity of listeners and expand range of programming content so that it appeals to Generation Y and African-American customers
5. Shout from the hilltops about accomplishments and offerings. "It's not ego, it is good business," believes Schiller, who has come to embrace the title that MarketWatch Media Columnist Jon Friedman recently gave her: "Carnival-like barker."
Schiller then identified five other lessons she believes newspapers and other for-profit media outlets can learn from NPR:
1. Connection of head and heart. "After word got out that I had accepted this job, I received about 1000 emails from just about everyone I ever knew or worked with and it struck me how similar all the notes were," Schiller shared. "The first sentence offered congratulations, which I truly appreciated; and in the second sentence everyone consistently told me what NPR meant to them. That is powerful, because it shows me that this organization has the power to reach millions and touch them in a profound way."
2. Develop a strong brand loyalty.
3. Leverage the power of numbers. "All totaled, there are about 8,000 people working in public radio and another 15,000 in public TV," Schiller noted. "That's a large army of 23,000 people who are all motivated, not by money, but by a mission."
4. Study the non-profit financial model (although Schiller admitted adopting this model wouldn't likely save newspapers like the New York Times).
5. Build a national / local distribution network. "This is the secret sauce," she said.
As for the future of NPR, and for public broadcasting in general, Schiller said she believes the industry needs to rethink the business model. She noted that although in the next 18 months more jobs will likely be trimmed at NPR, but long-term and short-term goal is to increase NPR's collaboration with other public outlets, step up NPR's news-gathering efforts - especially in terms of investigative journalism, and become a network that reaches more people on every media platform that they enjoy, from listening on the car radio, to receiving broadcasts on cell phones and iPods.
"I want NPR to become a constellation of news programs that can be accessed in many ways," Schiller concluded. "The people own us anyway, so now is the perfect time to rally the American public and bring them into the conversation about what we report on and how they want to receive it. We need to embrace change."
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia who has been a member of the National Press Club since 2007. For more information visit www.hopegibbs.com and also visit the National Press Club's blog, The Wire.
Truly Amazing Women blog,www.trulyamazingwomen.com.
March 2, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
February 24, 2009 — How do you get to be a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum? Ask Joanna Marsh
When Joanna Marsh was a child, the James Dicke curator of contemporary art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum dreamt of becoming a doctor. She reconsidered after one year as a biology major at Cornell. "It became very obvious, very quickly, that I was not cut out for a career in the sciences," admits the 32-year-old.
Several women on the Cornell faculty, however, inspired her to double major in English and art history — and once she found her passion success came quickly. Following graduation she spent a year and a half at the Sotheby's Institute of Art in London, where she received a master’s degree in post-war and contemporary art. "The Institute was minutes away from the British Museum and within walking distance of the National Gallery and Sotheby's auction house, as well as the University of London. It was an incredible place to learn and grow as student of art history."
She ventured back to her hometown of Washington, DC in 2000 and after a short stint as a volunteer at the museum, Joanna was hired to be the assistant curator for contemporary art by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT. "My boss left not two years after I got there, and at 26 I became the curator," she says. "I was young and somewhat terrified at first, but it was a tremendous opportunity, terrifying, and an invaluable terrific learning experience. Because I had so much autonomy, I was able to take my time and figure things out on my own."
By 2006, Joanna was ready for a new challenge. A new head curator — the Yale-educated art historian Dr. Eleanor Harvey — had taken over at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and was looking for a curator to help raise the profile of the contemporary art department. Soon after, Joanna landed the job.
"What I appreciate most about Joanna is her insight and energy,” shares Eleanor, seated next to Joanna on a warm February day under the elegant glass canopy of the newly renovated Kogod Courtyard at the Museum. “She has a keen appreciation for contemporary art and has made terrific contributions to the collection." One of Joanna’s first assignments was to create a five-year plan for her vision, Eleanor notes, which included bringing in new and emerging artists, and filling in the collection with artists whose work should have been part of the collection years before.
Plus, Eleanor believes, Joanna has helped breathe new life to the historical museum that some considered stogy. "Because contemporary artists are obviously still alive, we are able to bring them here for talks — and I'm always amazed that we fill up the auditorium with up to 350 art aficionados who are eager to listen to their perspectives and insights about how, and why, they created a certain piece. I credit Joanna with adding a new kind of energy and excitement to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I am eager to see what else she'll discover next for our collection."
Joanna says: “What I love about working at the American Art Museum is the ability to show contemporary art within the context of an encyclopedic collection that is rich in history and tradition. There are so many contemporary artists whose work engages with other genres and periods, and it’s invigorating to make connections between their art and that of the past. People are fascinated by this sort of dialogue. The other exciting part of being a contemporary curator is the opportunity to work directly with artists. "I think people are simply fascinated by the process of making art. People want to know what artists such as Deborah Butterfield, Jenny Holzer, and James Rosenquist were thinking, and not only do we have the privilege of showing their work here, but we can actually talk to them about it."
What are some of Joanna's favorite pieces at the Smithsonian? Find out in an upcoming entry. In the coming weeks, we'll also profile Eleanor about how she came to become the head honcho at one of the nation’s most prestigious museums.
Don’t just read about these Truly Amazing Women. Meet Joanna and Eleanor in person when they host the Thursday, Feb. 26 annual fundraiser ARTrageous. You’ll savor a buffet dinner and wine & spirits while dancing to live music by Blues Alley Jazz and mingling with American artists in the museum's stunning Kogod Courtyard. The evening will also present the chance to preview the exhibition, "1934: A New Deal for Artists," which opens to the public Friday, Feb. 27.
This year's ARTrageous celebrates Dorothy Lichtenstein, Jeffrey and Julie Loria, and Sam Rose and Julie Walters, whose generous contributions made possible the museum's recent acquisition of Roy Lichtenstein's "Modern Head," an outdoor sculpture currently on view at the corner of Ninth and F streets N.W. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and First Lady Michelle Fenty of Washington, D.C., are the evening's honorary patrons.
Click here to buy tickets for ARTrageous!
By Hope Katz Gibbs, www.hopegibbs.com and a www.inkandescentpr.com.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
February 11, 2009 — Dr. Helen Fisher to speak about her new book, "Why Him? Why Her?" at National Press Club, 6pm, Feb. 11
What is love? Why do we choose the people we choose? How do men and women vary in their romantic feelings? Is there really love at first sight? How did love evolve? For decades, Rutgers University anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher has been working to answer these eternal questions. The 62-year old has traveled from the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa to Tokyo, Moscow, and back to her home in New York City to determine if one culture perceives love differently than another. “My research has proven to me that everywhere, people fail into romantic love,” she explains in her current book, Why We Love. “And I have come to see this passion as a fundamental human drive. Like the craving for food and water and the maternal instinct, it is a psychological need, a profound urge, an instinct to court and win a particular mating partner.” Although Fisher admits that the magic of love cannot be underestimated, she is convinced that the species’ need to procreate is the primary motivator behind all of these mating drives. “If you have four children, and I have no children, your genes are going to live on and mine are going to die off,” she says. “ So we all know deep down inside that our sexual behavior is going to have important consequences.”
Fisher says there are three basic mating drives, which inhabit different parts of our brains:
• Lust: The craving for sexual gratification, which emerged to motivate our ancestors to seek sexual union with almost any partner.
• Romantic Love: The elation and obsession of being in love with a mate, which enabled the ancients to focus their attention on a single individual at a time, and conserve time and energy.
• Attachment: The sense of peace and security one feels toward a long-time mate, which motivated our ancestors to stay together long enough to rear their young.
THE SCIENCE OF MATING But what, exactly, is going on in the brain when we experience those feelings of lust, romantic love, and attachment? To find out, Fisher used fMRI technology to actually look inside the brains of 40 men and women who said they were madly in love. Her most important finding was that as lovers gazed at photos of their sweethearts, the fMRI showed activity in the caudate nucleus—the large shrimp-shaped region that sits deep near the center of the brain. “It is a very primitive part of the brain, called the reptilian brain or R-complex because it evolved long before mammals proliferated some 65 million years ago,” Fisher explains, noting that this part of the brain is an enormous engine and part of the brain’s reward system. The researchers also found that lovers have heightened activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA)—another central part of the reward circuitry of the brain. “This result was what I was looking for,” says Fisher, who had hypothesized that romantic love is associated with elevated levels of dopamine and/ or norepinephrine, two key neurotransmitters. “The VTA is a mother lode of dopamine-making cells. With their tentacle-like axons, these nerve cells distribute dopamine to many brain regions, including the caudate nucleus. And as this sprinkler system sends dopamine to many brain parts, it produces focused attention, as well as fierce energy, concentrated motivation to attain a reward, and feelings of elation, even mania—the core feelings of romantic love.” In other words, Fisher was able to actually observe chemical changes in the brain as her subjects looked at the photos of their loved ones, giving her an insider’s view of some of the chemical underpinnings of love.
BETTER DATING THROUGH CHEMISTRY? In 2006, Fisher was asked by Match.com to become the scientific advisor to a new sister site, Chemistry.com. Based on her fMRI research, she crafted Chemistry Profile, a personality assessment and matching system, which includes dozens of questions ranging from “is your sock drawer ready for public inspection?” to “Are your friends the social crowd, intellectuals, adventurers, or activists?” Other questions ask the user to identify a mate’s ideal body type, fitness regime, favorite Friday night date, and religious preferences. The questions seem straightforward, but Fisher says she actually uses the answers to identify which chemicals are most dominant in the brain: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and/ or estrogen.
• Dopamine-driven Explorers: People with naturally high levels of dopamine tend to be risk-takers, novelty-seekers, artistic, creative, and curious. Fisher found that 26% of the 40,000 men and women she potted fell into this category.
• Serotonin-driven Builders: Those with a lot of serotonin tend to gravitate toward the traditional. They are calm, social, popular, loyal, conscientious, and tend to be organized and enjoy rules. Often, they are pillars of society and good in business. About 29% of the population polled fell into this category.
• Testosterone-driven Directors: This group is direct, and skilled at understanding rule-based systems. They tend to be highly analytical, logical, and emotionally contained. They are also bold and ambitious, and account for about 16% of Fisher’s polled population.
• Estrogen-driven Negotiators: Those with high amounts of estrogen have good people skills, an active imagination, are altruistic, idealistic, and nurturing. They tend to see the “big picture,” but are not very detail-oriented. Approximately 25% of the people polled fit into this category.
“Everyone has a combination of chemicals, but one or two tend to dominate,” Fisher explains. “I have found that time and again, dopamine-driven Explorers go for each other, serotonin-driven Builders are also attracted to each other. But, testosterone-driven Directors and estrogen-driven Negotiators are happiest when they mate.” The reason, Fisher says, goes back to our basic drive to survive and propagate the species. “If you are good at seeing the big picture, as Negotiators are, you need someone who is analytical and detail-oriented to help you survive so you look for a Director,” she says. “Similarly, if you are a traditionalist who is calm and really like rules—as the serotonin-driven Builders are—you’ll want to mate with someone who looks at the world in the same logical, rule-based way you do.”
THE FUTURE Fisher’s research leads her to a few forecasts about the future of love and relationships. “Since women started returning to the workforce a few decades ago, the balance of power between the sexes has shifted,” she notes, explaining that for centuries in hunting and gathering societies, women were on equal footing with men, going out to gather the evening meal and being equally responsible for the survival of the family and community. “But with the invention of farming tools that required physical strength, women were relegated to seemingly secondary chores of keeping house and having children. Arranged marriages dominated, and mating became more of an economic and sometimes political agreement between families.” Fisher expects this shift in male-female roles to gain strength. As more women graduate from college—not to mention earn almost as many PhDs as men—their economic and political power will only continue to grow, and Fisher expects women to “return to the place of power they held before the plow was invented.”
HOW WILL THIS SHIFT PLAY OUT? “Men are now being pressured to please a woman—or she won’t have them back,” Fisher insists. “Going forward, men are definitely going to have to work a little harder to get and keep a mate.” Fisher also believes that the pursuit of romantic love tater in life will increase. As more baby boomers hit 50—and realize they could live another 40-50 years—many will be looking around for someone new to “light their fire,” she forecasts. “Romantic love is deeply threaded into our human spirit. If we don’t have that in our lives, we feel like we are missing something. And we are.”
MEET HELEN FISHER Helen Fisher will address when she speaks about her new book “WHY HIM? WHY HER?” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 11 at 6pm. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT DR. FISHER: A world-renowned anthropologist and an expert in the science of human attraction, Dr. Helen Fisher has authored four books: “The Sex Contract,” “Anatomy of Love,” “The First Sex,” and her most recent “Why We Love.” She is currently working on a fifth book about why we choose one partner over another. Dr. Fisher is also a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. Her perspectives on love, sexuality, women, and gender differences have been featured in Time magazine, National Public Radio, NBC, the BBC, and CNN. To find out which chemicals dominate your brain, take Helen Fisher’s quiz on www.chemistry.com. For more information about the author and her books, visit: www.hetenfisher.com. Her lectures include speeches at: The World Economic Forum (Davos), TED, LeWEB, National Press Club, Harvard Medical School, and The United Nations. She was the host of a four-part radio series, “What Is Love?” for the BBC World Service in 2004; host of a four-part TV series, “Anatomy of Love,” for Turner Broadcasting Systems in 1995; and commentator on a 10-part series for The Today Show (NBC). Her book, “WHY HIM? WHY HER?” will be featured on an ABC 20/20 special January 30. For more information, visit www.helenfisher.com.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Photo by Keith Barraclough, www.keithbarraclough.com
About a decade ago, Perry Pidgeon Hooks had a brainstorm. An avid reader, whose love affair with books started when she was 4 and her mom took her to the public library in her hometown of Memphis, TN, decided that she could change the way policy was being made by bringing bestselling authors and their ideas into government organizations. It took her a while to get things up and running, but in 2007, with her partner Loretta Yenson, she launched HooksBookEvents, a minority women-owned business specializes in providing low-cost book and author events for U.S. government agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations, trade associations, and corporations of all sizes.
"We know that by bringing the most important authors of our age into your organization, employees and constituents will be stimulated and inspired to develop new insights on important topics," says Hooks, a self-proclaimed southern belle. Already she has about three dozen events scheduled for the first quarter of 2009 — and the list keeps growing. View their list of Upcoming Events at www.hooksbookevents.com.
ABOUT PERRY PIDGEON HOOKS, president, Hooks Book Events Through her years at the University of Virginia to her post-college adventures in England then New York City, she always found time to check out the local book stores. Perry decided early on that everyone should share her passion, so she founded book clubs wherever she went. In the mid-1990s, she began working with independent book stores as a marketing director to promote authors and bring them to non-traditional book venues. She’s also spent time working in the financial services and advertising industries, and with trade associations. Each experience has helped her hone her skills in designing programs and author series that fit her clients’ needs. She founded HooksBookEvents in 2000 and since has focused her energies on taking world-renown authors into some of the most well-known organizations in the country. “My goal is to spread ideas and get people thinking,” Perry says. “If I can do that, I believe we will be helping to create solutions to problems.. big and small.” Email Perry / Phone: 301-229-1128.
ABOUT LORETTA YENSON, Co-founder and Chief Financial Officer Loretta Yenson (pictured left) grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa where books provided a window to the outside world. Her Chinese parents encouraged reading, mostly British authors, and stressed education. When it came time for Loretta to attend college, they jumped at the opportunity to send her to school in the U.S. Loretta easily landed a spot at Wellesley College for her BA in Political Science and at Columbia University where she received a master’s degree in International Relations. She chose banking and work in the not-for-profit world for a career, and in the last three decades has developed programs for new board members — including a speaker and author series that fit the needs of the board, the organization and the donors. She is HooksBooksEvents chief financial officer. Email Loretta.
DON'T MISS THIS EVENT: Wednesday, Feb. 4, 7pm — Hooks Book Events is bringing microfinance expert Dr. Muhammad Yunus to Lisner Auditorium, GWU — Anyone who understands the importance of micro-lending as a means to end global poverty will want to join Hooks Book Events when it hosts a special event with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. on at the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Grameen Foundation founder and managing director will be speaking about his latest book, “Creating a World Without Poverty,” which outlines his vision for a new business model that combines the power of free markets with the quest for a more humane world. He’ll share the inspiring stories of companies that are doing this work today. This event is open to the public. Portions of the proceeds of book sales will benefit the Grameen Foundation. Tickets to event are $25, and include the book, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
What better way to start the new year than to join in on the latest exercise craze to hit the country: Pole Dancing. Hundreds of women are jumping on board at the Northern Virginia firm DivaFit, www.divafitonline.com.
"We pride ourselves on offering safe classes to hundreds of women (ages 18-60) in a non-intimidating environment," says owner and exercise physiologist Lisa Peklo, who founded the fitness firm in Sept. 2006. "I have a B.S. in Exercise Science, and for more than 20 years have worked in traditional fitness studios. Then I was introduced to the art of striptease at a fitness conference in the spring of '06, and enjoyed the luxury of moving in a sensual way to music and started teaching classes on the side to friends."
Her new hobby grew when she branched out and learned to pole dance. Then when she saw a space was available in a shopping center near her house where she host fitness-focused pole dancing classes, she didn't hesitate. "It was one of those things where I let my intuition guide me," she says. "Within days DivaFit was born."
Today DivaFit has 14 instructors, three locations (the newest is opening in March), a YouTube video and Workout Video. "We've got everyone dancing with us from stay-at-home moms, to accountants, teachers, lawyers, and dancers. Everyone had learned to move their bodies in brand new ways, and all the while they are smiling, and feeling sexier and stronger," Lisa says. "I love this form of exercise. It's not only a great way to get into shape — it's a fabulous way to learn to love the skin you are in."
As for those who raise an eyebrow when Lisa tells them she teaches pole dancing, she simply says: "I'm surrounded by so many woman who say their lives have been changed from this workout, so it's a little tough for me to understand the concern. Sure, women who start with our level one class are always a little shy. We actually call it the initial, 'dear in the headlights' look. But within weeks they begin to see how truly hard this workout is and then the real fun begins. The leave their baggy shirts and sweats at home, and instead darn some form fitting clothes to show off their firmer bods. And most importantly, they start to love not just the way they look, but the way they feel about themselves."
The testimonials she gets on graduation day is further proof, she says. "I swear, the things the women tell me make me want to cry, for this form of exercise has the power to change lives. One woman said she can now call herself a 'sexy beast,' something she never before would have said. Others say that for the first time they don't hate looking in the mirror. It's remarkable and magical. I'm just proud to be part of these beautiful transformations."