Written by Ed Osborn
Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University presented its Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 26, 2014. The program, now in its sixth year, recognizes members of the campus and local community whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting Grasso's ideals to advance women's rights and gender equality.
Awards were given to Betsy Wade, the first woman to be a copy editor at The New York Times and a former resident of Willimantic; Kathleen McGrory, a distinguished member of the Eastern faculty and former academic vice president in the 1980s; and Eastern student Belinda Kwakye.
The keynote speaker of the event was Connecticut Superior Court Justice Maria Araujo Kahn. "I benefitted from the women who came before me like Ella T. Grasso," said Kahn. "They paved the way to success for girls and women like me and for students like you."
Wade enjoyed an extraordinary career as a dedicated wordsmith and self-described "troublemaker:" She was the first woman copy reader ever hired by The New York Times, the first woman chief copy editor on the foreign desk and the writer of the Practical Traveler column for 14 years. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the New York local of the Newspaper Guild, the largest in the nation and a named plaintiff in the landmark sex discrimination lawsuit against The Times.
Stacey Close, associate vice president for equity and diversity praised Wade and her distinguished career. "Betsy Wade was a true fighter for gender equality and women's rights." Wade's granddaughter Jennifer Boylan, Eastern's interim coordinator of AccessAbility Services, added, "My grandmother was a longtime fighter for the Equal Rights Amendment and supported a woman's right to sue for better conditions and treatment in the workplace."
Provost Rhona Free spoke next in honoring McGrory, who returned to Eastern after administrative and teaching positions at Hartford College for Women, Stanford University, the University of Virginia and Georgetown.
"At Eastern, Kathy took action; when she was an academic vice president, she singlehandedly raised Eastern's percentage of female workers on campus from 13 percent to 25 percent and she was also instrumental in founding the first women's center on campus."
Belinda Kwakye, a senior who helped found the Black Student Union on campus, is an advocate for both the LGBT community as well as for clients of the Department of Children and Families. Kwakye was recognized by Vice President for Student Affairs Ken Bedini who called her, "A tireless worker for her fellow students and for the wider community. Belinda is an active leader and a great student who realizes what it takes to be a student leader and role model on campus."
President Elsa Nuñez closed the event with remarks that extolled the virtues of the women who have gone before her, the women who stood with her during the event, and the women who will walk in the halls of Eastern and make a difference in the future.