The evening’s honoree, Sandi Chapman, Ph.D, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, said the late Al Hill Jr. often visited the Center, which is part of The University of Texas at Dallas.
Melissa Lewis, one of the evening’s Co-chairs along with Mari Epperson, works for the Hill family office. And Al’s daughter Heather Washburne is married to Ray Washburne, who was the event’s keynote speaker.
The connections made for a successful Woman of the Year Gala, which is the sole fundraiser for the Les Femmes du Monde nonprofit. Monies raised go to help support two causes: the Global Young Leaders program at the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, and the Child Life Program at Children’s Health.
Members of the Host Committee including Sharon Ballew, Regina Bruce and Billie Leigh Rippey greeted guests during the reception that preceded the gala dinner. Among those summoned then to enjoy the repast were Debbie Francis, Ramona Jones, Marena and Roger Gault, Brent Christopher, Terrell and Jim Falk, Marj Waters and Kim and David McDavid Jr.
First, though, Boy Scout Troop 730, chartered by St. Mark’s School of Texas, presented the flags. Melissa Murchison Murray sang “America the Beautiful.” Les Femmes du Monde President Venise Stuart and the co-chairs welcomed everyone. And the Rev. John Sundara gave the invocation. Melissa also provided piano entertainment during dinner, which included poached pear salad, herb-seared chicken breast and grilled salmon, and chocolate mousse or creme brulee.
Following more greetings and introductions by Jocelyn White, who served as the evening’s emcee, it was time for Washburne to take the stage. The well-known Dallas businessman — famed for leading Charter Holdings, M Crowd Restaurant Group and Highland Park Village — was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (or OPIC), which he joined in August of 2017.
OPIC, Ray explained, grew out of the post-World War II Marshall Plan to become a self-sustaining, U.S. government agency that helps American businesses invest in emerging markets by providing companies with loans and risk capital. OPIC represents the “soft power of the U.S. government,” Ray said. “We’re one of the few organizations in Washington that everybody likes.”
He traveled to 32 countries in the last year, Washburne recalled, including Zambia, where OPIC funded construction of a new school for 300 children, and India, where the agency helped provide the people with water and power. One of his proudest achievements, Ray said, was launching the new global 2X Women’s Initiative, which is investing billions of dollars in projects that will support lending to female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses, among others. To run the initiative, he added, he’d tapped Kathryn Kaufman, who previously helped oversee development of Texas Central Partners’ high-speed train between Dallas and Houston.
With that it was time to honor Sandi, the Woman of the Year. Sandi, it was noted, spoke at this event way back in 2006, when Billie Leigh Rippey was honored. After a video lauding her accomplishments at the BrainHealth center was shown, Sandi thanked the likes of Debbie Francis and Dee Wyly and addressed the crowd.
“Without brain health, you don’t have health,” she said. “When is the last time you had a brain health checkup? I hope every person in this room will be part of the brain health revolution!”
Since it began in 1961, Les Femmes du Monde has raised more than $2 million for the World Affairs Council and more than $700,000 for Children’s Health, which was added as a beneficiary two decades ago.
* Photo credit: Dan Driensky