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Let Us Now Praise Famous Women

Last year we asked ten leaders who impact L.A. to name other women who do the same. Here’s a new class of 50 who inspire



  • Carol Biondi


    L.A. County Commission for Children and Families

    WHY HER? Because she has long been a no-punches-pulled advocate for reforming the juvenile justice system.

  • Biondi's nominees

    • The head of the Everychild Foundation, Jacqueline Caster raises $1 million each year for children's services. She has also been instrumental in the upgrading of the county juvenile detention facility Camp Kilpatrick.

    • Deputy mayor Aileen Adams has forged private sector alliances that include youth mentoring, while the Summer Night Lights initiative keeps parks open after dark and has led to a dramatic reduction in crime.

    • Before "conflict mediation" was a household phrase, Avis Ridley Thomas was getting South L.A. neighbors to talk. Through her Days of Dialogue, she has even taken the conversation into locked juvenile facilities.

    • It's not enough to lecture about gang violence. UCLA adjunct professor Jorja Leap is out listening in the projects, identifying what works and who's making a difference. Her memoir, Jumped In, is a bible of L.A. race relations.



  • Rabbi Naomi Levy



    WHY HER? Because her books teach people how to pray and her community of faith draws in Jews and gentiles to reclaim what's lost within.

  • Levy's nominees

    • Children with special needs have no fiercer guardian than attorney Valerie Vanaman, who fights in the courts to ensure that schools provide equal services.

    • From changing the LAPD to negotiating gang truces that brought peace to the urban core, Connie Rice of the Advancement Project has proved herself one of L.A.'s most concerned and effective citizens.

    • Breakthroughs with autistic children are the specialty of Elaine Hall, who uses music as a creative outlet for kids on the spectrum. She's enlisted lots of celebrities, from Holly Robinson Peete to Jack Black, to help out.

    • With obesity and diabetes on the rise, the research of Dr. Francince Kaufman of Medtronic Diabetes is more critical than ever. Besides, you've got to love anyone who engineers a ban on sodas in the LAUSD.



  • Jeanie Buss

    Executive Vice President

    Los Angeles Lakers

    WHY HER? Because she watches over our most popular professional sports franchise, without which L.A. would be a sadder place.

  • Buss's nominees

    • When the NBA All Star Game, the ESPN X Games, or the Grammys come to town, we have Kathryn Schloessman of the L.A. Sports & Entertainment Commission to thank. She sells the rest of the country on the merits of our city.

    • Through her group PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), Claire West Orr helps the indigent living on the streets acquire housing, job training, and whatever tools they need to never go back.

    • After saving thousands of pets from shelters, the Amanda Foundation's Teri Austin took animal rescue to the next level by creating the Spaymobile program, which neuters animals at no cost.

    • Arguably the greatest women's tennis player of all time, Compton-raised Serena Williams is a role model for athletes who defy stereotypes-while also modeling her singular clothing designs that have changed the way tennis dresses.



  • Janis Spire

    President and CEO

    Alliance for Children's Rights

    WHY HER? Because she never stops thinking about how to protect L.A.'s most vulnerable residents-neglected and abused kids.

  • Spire's nominees

    • Even as she fights for her constituents from D.C., Representative Karen Bass maintains a lasting legacy in South L.A. with the Community Coalition she founded in response to the '80s drug epidemic.

    • A former NBC executive, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie knows how to hold an audience. In addition to her best-selling memoir on the Holocaust, Bending Toward the Sun, she has shouldered the education of at-risk youth.

    • From her seat on the L.A. County Commission for Children and Families, Patricia Curry asks the tough questions on foster care and juvenile justice, and she rarely takes no for an answer.

    • More than a pretty face, veteran TV anchor Christine Devine has her mic working to find homes for foster kids as the host of "Wednesday's Child," the Fox 11 News segment that is entering its 18th year.



  • Barbara E. Wagner


    Marlborough School

    WHY HER? Because as the top gun at one of the city's leading all-girls' schools, she is shaping L.A.'s future female activists.

  • Wagner's nominees

    • Who else would turn happy summers as a YMCA counselor into managing a massive capital campaign for a new Westside Y? That would be Cathy Hession, who's also the grant guru at the Carol and James Collins Foundation.

    • A career shaper,Dr. Carol Bennett, clinical professor of urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, mentors girls on their way to becoming doctors.

    • From making the planes land on schedule as the onetime executive director of LAX to managing a massive construction company Lydia Kennard, has always thought big.

    • In an act not unlike moving Mohammed's mountain, Belinda Smith Walker founded the New Village Charter High School in downtown L.A. so that more girls would have the benefit of an education like that offered at Marlborough.



  • Mara Brock Akil


    Akil Productions

    WHY HER? Because she has used her platform in film and television to tell uniquely African American stories.

  • Akil's nominees

    • The first African American woman to win the Sundance Film Festival best director prize, Ava Duvernay is ensuring artistic purity through her African American Film Festival Releasing Movement.

    • Up-and-coming artists have a special patron in Lauri Firstenberg, who opened the nonprofit contemporary art space LA-ART in Culver City.

    • Living in extreme fear, battered women frequently stay under the radar. They don't elude Karen Earl, who serves as executive director of the Jenesse Center, the oldest domestic violence intervention program in South Los Angeles.

    • Hitting bottom is often the reason women find their way to the Downtown Women's Center, headed by Lisa Watson. The center addressed the rising number of women on skid row with a new 67,000-square-foot building.



  • Dr. Beth Karlan


    Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute

    WHY HER? Because her work has made it possible to detect ovarian and other cancers earlier.

  • Karlan's nominees

    • After the death of her mother, celebrity boutique owner Elyse Walker founded the Pink Party, a glamorous event that combines fashion and philanthropy in support of breast and ovarian cancer research.

    • Not content to stand in the shadow of her county supe-husband, Barbara Yaroslavsky has spent more than two decades assisting the Saban Free Clinic and is a member of the City Commission on Children, Youth and Families. She makes Zev proud.

    • The president of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Lisa Paulsen has harnessed Hollywood to form one of the nation's most respected philanthropies. She's also the force behind Stand Up to Cancer and the Revlon Run/Walk for Women.

    • For her master's thesis, Kelli Sargent designed a plan for the 5K run and walk that became Run for Her, honoring her mother's fight against ovarian cancer.



  • Lynda Resnick


    POM Wonderful, FIJI Water, Wonderful Pistachios, Cuties, Justin and Landmark vineyards

    WHY HER? Because she established an art pavilion at LACMA and a neuropsychiatric hospital at UCLA and funded sustainable energy research at Caltech.

  • Resnick's nominees

    • An activist's activist, Laurie David takes on childhood obesity in her latest documentary, The Big Picture, which could change the way we eat.

    • Donors dithering? Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, knows how to keep the dollars coming so that her museum stays on the modern art map.

    • The singer had us at Funny Girl. But Barbra Streisand's crusade to improve women's cardio health by establishing a center in her name at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute will leave a lasting legacy beyond stardom.

    • From publishing ventures (Latina magazine) to producer credits (Spanglish and Chasing Papi), Christy Haubegger keeps Latino back stories resonating within pop culture.



  • Sandy Jo Mac- Arthur

    Assitant Chief


    WHY HER? Because as a number two to Charlie Beck, she's put responsible leadership front and center.

  • MacArthur's nominees

    • Hollywood Division could have no more finely attuned a leader than Captain Beatrice Girmala, who pioneered Project Restore Hollywood and has identified the safety of the LGBT community as a priority for her staff.

    • In her years as a federal prosecutor, Eileen Decker sent away plenty of bad guys. In her current assignment as the deputy mayor for Homeland Security and Public Safety, she's even more intent on outthinking them.

    • As the administrator of the LAPD personnel group, Gloria Grube excels at hiring the best and the brightest for the force's many officer and civilian positions, from emergency communication to ID technology.

    • After emerging as a fair-minded enforcer of LAPD reform during her months as the Police Commission inspector general, Nicole Bershon is applying that same prowess in her job as a Superior Court commissioner.



  • Mia Lehrer


    Mia Lehrer + Associates

    WHY HER? Because her landscaping visions, from the Annenberg Community Beach House to the Silver Lake Reservoir Pedestrian Path, have made L.A.'s outdoors greater.

  • Lehrer's nominees

    • For many L.A. teen-agers, the high school experience is richer because of Megan Chernin. As chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, she instituted the Go for College, Power Lunch, and Career Day programs.

    • While principal of Franklin Avenue Elementary School in Los Feliz, Dr. Verna B. Dauterive inspired students, teachers, and parents to work as one, never losing sight of the importance of an arts education.

    • A past president of Heal the Bay, Paula Daniels still advises city hall on urban runoff and advocates growing more of our food in our own backyard.

    • Robin Kramer was the first woman to serve as an L.A. mayor's chief of staff, with Richard Riordan and then Antonio Villaraigosa. She's since taken her talents to the Board of Harbor Commissioners.

PLUS: View our 2011 list of  50 L.A. Women Who Inspire