Featured, top row, from left: Former U.S. and Texas First Lady Laura Bush; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; philanthropist Susan Dell; former U.S. Navy jet fighter pilot Tammie Jo Shults; performer Vicki Carr; U.S. Olympian and world champion gymnast Simone Biles; and Sister Elizabeth Anne Sueltenfuss.
Graphics Courtesy TEXAS WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME
Sen. Zaffirini, six other prominent leaders, to be inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame
By SARAH POLLOCK
Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced that Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose Senate District 21 includes all of Starr County, will be inducted into the 2018 Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, along with former First Lady Laura Bush and five other groundbreaking honorees.
Under the oversight of the governor’s office, the Governor’s Commission for Women created the Hall of Fame in 1984 to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Texas women.
Other inductees are Olympic gymnast Simone Biles; singer Vikki Carr; philanthropist Susan Dell; former fighter pilot and commercial airline captain, Tammie Jo Shults; and former president of Our Lady of the Lake University, Sister Elizabeth Anne Sueltenfuss.
They will be honored in a January ceremony hosted by the governor and First Lady Cecilia Abbott at the Governor’s Mansion.
“The Texas Women’s Hall of Fame recognizes and celebrates remarkable Texas women not only for their individual achievements, but also for their contributions to the strength of the Lone Star State, and I am honored to welcome these seven accomplished women as this year’s inductees,” said Abbott. “Each of the honorees is recognized as a trailblazer, an inspiration for the next generation of leaders who will follow in their footsteps in fields such as business, education, military service, philanthropy, public service, sports, the arts and sciences, and more. The First Lady and I would like to thank each of these distinguished honorees and their families for their enduring contributions to this great state.”
Every other year, Texans submit nominations, and an independent panel of judges selects honorees who exemplify excellence across a variety of fields, including business, science, education, public service and the arts.
Housed in the Blagg-Huey Library at Texas Woman’s University, the Hall of Fame’s permanent exhibit memorializes the contributions of Texas women and inspires future generations of female leaders.
Created in 1984 by the Texas Governor’s Commission for Women, the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame recognizes women who have attained significant achievements in areas such as the arts, community service, education, leadership, health, science and business. Inductees include former First Ladies, astronauts, entrepreneurs and olympic athletes. The Texas Women’s Hall of Fame ensures the achievements and contributions of women from across Texas are written into the state’s legacy.
Zaffirini was honored under the category of Public Service.
“I am grateful to Gov. Abbott and the Governor’s Commission for Women for this deeply meaningful recognition,” said Zaffirini, the second highest- ranking state senator and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic state senator. “As the first Mexican American woman in the Texas Senate, I know the challenges women can face in public service. These difficulties are not insurmountable, however, as I hope my career demonstrates to any Texan who wants to be a leader in her community but has hesitated to run for office.”
Zaffirini’s legislative accomplishments include reforming guardianship, Medicaid, nursing homes and welfare; improving access to justice, court security, organ donor programs and services for Texans with disabilities and mental illnesses; and strengthening drunk driving and public safety laws, including prohibiting texting-while-driving.
A champion of higher education, she prioritizes academic excellence and focuses on improving accessibility, affordability, accountability and cost- efficiency while enhancing equal opportunities for success.
Zaffirini has received more than 1,000 awards for her legislative, public service and professional accomplishments, including more than 320 in communication. She was named Mr. South Texas by the Washington Birthday Celebration Association; made an Honorary Nun, Sister Judith, by the Sisters of Mercy; and inducted into the National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor by the Hispanic Sports Foundation for Education.
A wife, mother and recent grandmother, Zaffirini holds B.S., M.A. and PhD degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, which named her a Distinguished Alumna. She is the owner of Zaffirini Communications and president of Alexander Investments and Alexander Development. She also is the namesake of an elementary school, university building, college library, road and rehabilitation center.
Her son, Carlos Jr., has endowed scholarships and grants in her name at UT-Austin, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Texas A&M International in Laredo.
Former First Lady Laura Bush (Public Service)
Bush is celebrated for her lifetime of distinguished public service.
Actively involved in issues of national and global concern with an emphasis on education, health care, human rights and the preservation of our nation’s heritage, she has traveled to more than 76 countries, including two historic solo trips to Afghanistan, and has launched groundbreaking education and healthcare programs in the U.S. and abroad.
Author of the bestselling memoir, Spoken from the Heart, and co-author of children’s book, Our Great Big Backyard, Bush also founded the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival. Today as chair of the Woman’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, the former First Lady continues her work on global healthcare innovations, empowering women in emerging democracies, education reform, and supporting the men and women who have served in the U.S. military.
And as founder of Texan by Nature, Bush is committed to native prairie restoration efforts and to teaching Texans the importance of conserving the state’s natural resources.
A former teacher and librarian born in Midland, she holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Southern Methodist University and a master’s in library science from The University of Texas at Austin.
Susan Dell (Philanthropy)
When Hurricane Harvey struck a devastating blow in August 2017, Dell challenged her foundation team to think in big ways about how they could help their fellow Texans. She and her husband, Michael, quickly committed more than $43 million as part of a goal to successfully raise $100 million for rebuilding and recovery across 41 counties.
Through the ongoing efforts of her team at the Rebuild Texas Fund, a wide network of organizations are now working on the ground to help impacted families and communities return to normalcy and economic stability. For her, the work is both vitally important and deeply personal – rebuilding the state where she and her husband grew up. This Texas-sized response to one of the state’s largest disasters is a natural extension of Susan Dell’s nearly two decades of philanthropic work.
As co-founder and chairman of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, established in 1999, she is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families living in urban poverty and helping communities build stronger futures. Under her leadership, the foundation has committed $1.5 billion, working closely with nonprofits and social enterprises in the United States, India, and South Africa, to discover and accelerate practical, proven solutions that help people chart their own paths out of poverty.
A successful fashion entrepreneur and mother of four, she is also an elite athlete, a past member of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports, a trustee of the Children’s Medical Center Foundation of Central Texas, and a board member of the Cooper Institute in Dallas.
Tammie Jo Shults (Leadership)
While she was not originally scheduled to be on the flight that day, Captain Tammie Jo Shults’ calm resolve and courageous leadership in the midst of crisis saved 148 lives aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
During the climb out from New York’s LaGuardia airport, she experienced a catastrophic engine failure and a rapid depressurization when debris from the explosion punctured the cabin. Shults’ professionalism and skill as a pilot, as well as her grace under pressure, allowed her to successfully complete a single-engine emergency landing in Philadelphia. Afterward, she personally spoke to and comforted each of the passengers. Although she was assured as a high school senior by a retired colonel lecturing on aviation at a vocational day program that women could not be professional pilots, she was not dissuaded and went on to prove him wrong.
Shuts became a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and one of the first females to fly the F/A-18 Hornet. With women excluded from flying in combat squadrons at the time, she flew as an aggressor pilot and helped prepare the fleet for combat during Operation Desert Storm.
Following her service in the Navy and reserves, where she reached the rank of lieutenant commander, she joined Southwest Airlines as a pilot. While lauded for her nerves of steel, a fellow woman veteran also notes that Shults “serves her family, her community and her country on a daily basis with kindness, empathy and humility in her heart.”
Vicki Carr (Performer)
She has captivated audiences worldwide for more than six decades, using her melodic voice and magnetic presence to bridge many cultures. Born Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona in El Paso, Carr signed her first recording contract in 1961 and released her Grammy-nominated hit single, “It Must Be Him.”
A singer with remarkable technical skill, she gained effusive praise from stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis Presley, and performed for presidents and royalty.
Against resistance from her then male-dominated record label, Carr released her first Spanish album in the early 70s, paving the way for other artists to explore their Hispanic roots. Releasing more than 60 best-selling albums, her popularity extended from the U.S. to Latin America as she championed the cause of unity through music and garnered three Grammy awards for her Spanish albums.
In addition to a 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Texas Medal of the Arts and other prestigious awards, Carr’s deep commitment to education and leadership development for Latino youth has gained her praise.
Her philanthropy and advocacy efforts continue as she advocates for the family caregiver, bringing awareness to the much-needed resources and respite caregivers need. Still sharing her gift of music today, hers is a legacy of service, strength and perseverance.
Simone Biles (Athletics)
“Never give up. Always pursue your dreams.”
Those are the words of the most-decorated gymnast in American history, the first female African-American all-around world champion and a five-time Olympic medalist—and still counting.
Simone Biles has shown strength, commitment and perseverance throughout her young life.
Shuffled between foster homes as a young child with only a small backpack to hold her belongings, Biles and her younger sister moved to Texas, where they were taken in and adopted by their grandparents.
Her first glimpse of the world of gymnastics started on a field trip in her hometown of Spring, where she was homeschooled. Following years of training and sacrifice, her talent and passion have made her one of the top gymnasts in the world.
But there is more to Biles’ accomplishments than all of the medals and Olympic successes. When challenged, she has relied on her faith and family to stay focused and positive. A champion in competitive athletics and in life, Biles uses her voice to help others, who like her are fighters.
Whether raising donations of clothes and school supplies for foster children or serving as an advocate, Biles inspires others, shining a light not on her success, but on their needs.
Sister Elizabeth Anne Sueltenfuss (Education)
For nearly two decades, this humble risk-taker — a Catholic nun with a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Notre Dame — opened the doors to higher education for more first-generation college students, working adults and other underserved communities in Texas.
One of the first women to lead a Texas university, Sister Elizabeth Anne Sueltenfuss of the Congregation of Divine Providence was in 1978 named president of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
During her tenure, the university experienced unprecedented enrollment growth.
Weekend College, the first program in South Texas to offer classes to accommodate working adults, was launched, first in San Antonio and later expanded to Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. Campus facilities were upgraded through multiple ambitious capital campaigns. The nation’s first doctor of psychology in counseling psychology was accredited by the American Psychology Association. The first e-commerce degree program in Texas was launched.
And the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, now comprised of 380 higher education institutions that are home to more than two-thirds of all Hispanic college students in the U.S., was formed.
Though she passed away in 2009, Sister Elizabeth Anne’s legacy of defying expectations lives on in every student who graduates and makes a difference; each walks in the path her devotion to meaningful learning helped blaze.
The Governor’s Commission for Women thanks Texas Woman’s University for developing the Hall of Fame website and for hosting the permanent exhibit on their campus in Denton.
For a complete list of honorees, please visit: http://www.twu.edu/
Texas Woman’s University was selected to house the permanent exhibit saluting these women. Since its founding more than a century ago, Texas Woman’s has become known for its contributions and leadership in the fields of education, nutrition, the arts, sciences, and especially in the nursing and health care professions. TWU holds a unique position in the Lone Star State and the nation today as America’s largest public university primarily for women.
David A. Díaz contributed to this article. Sen. Judith Zaffirini represents the 21st Senatorial District, which stretches from the Rio Grande River to the Colorado River and to the Port of Corpus Christi and Starr County in Rio Grande Valley. Re-elected in 2016 in a ninth victory, she is the first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas Senate, the second highest-ranking senator, and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator. She may be reached at her District Office, located at 1407 Washington Street, Laredo, Texas 78042, (956) 722-2293 or at the Texas Capitol, P.O. Box 12068, Capitol Station, Austin, Texas, 78711, (512/463-0121).