A great woman is honored; another leads the charge

Richard Connor 

Amid the chatter and clatter of 300 persons last Wednesday night at a dinner honoring Texas women for their achievements, the voice of one woman brought the room to total silence. Anne W. Marion, a petite and beautiful woman with the grace of a swan and the will and work ethic of her cattle ranching cowboy ancestors, stepped to the microphone and began speaking. “You could hear a pin drop,” said one of the guests at the annual “Great Women of Texas” awards dinner presented by the Business Press and sponsored by OmniAmerican Bank. And you could. Mrs. Marion was there to talk about her friend, Kay Fortson, who received the event’s top honor as “Great Woman of Texas.” Mrs. Marion received the award in 2003. Mrs. Fortson heads up the Kimbell Art Foundation and oversees the operations of the famed Kimbell Museum. Mrs. Marion, the power at the helm of the Burnett ranching empire, directed the construction of the new Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, which she oversees, and founded a museum in Santa Fe, N.M., devoted to the works of Georgia O’Keefe. She has served on the Kimbell board for more than 30 years. Mrs. Fortson has served on the board of the Kimbell for over 50 years. She was honored for her work as a businesswoman, her devotion to the community and her family, and her leadership at the Kimbell. She led her board in the risky decision to add a new building and gallery space adjacent to the original museum – a building that is considered an architectural masterpiece, to say nothing of the notoriety it has received for its art collection. The Renzo Piano Pavilion, named for the architect who designed it, will open next month. Those who have previewed it have praised the vision of Mrs. Fortson and her husband, Ben Fortson Jr., for building what might be Fort Worth’s next architectural masterpiece. After almost 90 minutes of talk and introductions describing the many attributes of all those honored by the Business Press as “Women of Influence,” Anne Marion stood to speak and everyone listened. She teased Kay about her sweet tooth: “Many people come to the Kimbell Museum and find Kay behind the bar at the museum’s café. Those that don’t know her think she is an employee. Not the case – she is looking for brownies.” And Mrs. Marion revealed Kay’s addiction to bridge on Wednesday afternoons. “Nothing will take place to interrupt that,” she said. “It is almost like a sacred occasion.” Kay’s bridge partners know that missing a Wednesday game is not an option, Anne said, “even if they are in the hospital.” On a serious note, Mrs. Marion talked about Kay’s devotion to the museum and about how hard the young mother of four worked to learn about art and the art business when she was handed responsibility for building a museum following the death of her uncle, Kay Kimbell, in 1964. “The majority of the museum’s success is due to Kay’s insistence on quality and perfection,” Mrs. Marion said. It was fitting that Anne Marion was on hand to help Kay Fortson absorb the glare of the spotlight that both have tried to avoid over the years; the two great women have much in common. For all their celebrated philanthropy and community service, Kay Fortson and Anne Marion are, at their core, businesswomen. And they were powerful, influential executives long before it was commonplace for women to fill such roles. They were pioneers not just in the realms of art and culture but in the world of business – forerunners and also leaders in the growth and evolution of women in business. They helped set the stage for unlimited achievement by future generations of women. The emergence of women in business is apparent throughout the economy. Recent studies confirm what many of us already knew: Women today are central to the operation and success of every type of business, large and small. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote about women’s impact on business in a column last week: “In business, there’s abundant evidence that inclusion of women in senior positions is linked to better results. Catalyst, a research organization, found that the companies with the most women board directors earned a 26 percent higher return on invested capital than the companies with the least women. “Likewise, McKinsey & Company found that the international companies with more women on their corporate boards far outperformed the average company in return on equity and other measures. Operating profit was 56 percent higher. “This isn’t just about boardrooms, though. In the recent government shutdown debacle, a Times article” some of the first efforts at hammering out a deal to end the crisis came from a group of women in the Senate who were disheartened by the political paralysis. Time magazine’s headline online was: ‘Women Are the Only Adults Left in Washington.’ “That’s progress: The Senate built a restroom off the floor for female members only in 1993, and now, a couple decades later, women are providing adult supervision in the ‘old boys’ club.’” In business, in government, in the everyday life of our community and communities everywhere, women are leading, changing, making the world a better place. Congratulations to our Great Women of Texas honorees and to the countless great women in Texas and elsewhere who rarely receive public recognition for their contributions but always deserve it.

Contact Connor at rconnor@bizpress.net