|Centrepiece Online | Spring 2008|
Each year the Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Alumnus/a Award for outstanding service to Centre, professional accomplishments, and/or civic achievements. The Young Alumnus/a Award honors alumni who have graduated within the last 15 years. This year all four awards went to outstanding women.
Distinguished Alumna Award
With her effervescent personality and kinetic energy, Frances Lambert Johnson ’59 is a bit like one of the big show-stopping production numbers that she has so often directed. She says she’s loved the stage since her days doing plays at Centre with Paul Cantrell and West T. Hill, legendary English and drama professors.
Her rules for living include the following: “Create happy memories.” And then, she adds, be sure to take “eight million pictures because this is the way you look back and remember all the happy good times.”
Another of her rules: “Focus on the F words—fellowship, fun, family, friends, and food.”
But there is more to Johnson than fizz. She taught communications, speech, and, yes, theater for more than 40 years, including 34 years at the University of Central Florida, where she especially enjoyed working with members of athletic teams. She spent 20 years producing and directing the Miss Florida Pageant, and she took countless USO shows to American military personnel around the world. She’s an actress, a (former) dancer, a director (she directed Frank Loesser’s Tony-winning musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying in the spring), and she’s even written a book about Tommy Tune, the Broadway legend. In her spare time, she and her husband, Boyd, like to be on the move. Recently they went on a mission trip to Brazil to help deliver about 200 wheelchairs, and took another trip just for fun to Australia and New Zealand.
Distinguished Alumna Award
In 1990, Barbara Carnes Cavanaugh ’64 heard a story that would change her life. The speaker was the moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, and his topic was his work in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. At one point he described efforts to provide a village with an urgently needed water supply.
A year later she visited Haiti herself. Her destination was La Gonâve, a small island off the coast of the main island that had only one small health clinic to serve its 100,000 inhabitants. She and her group crossed the open sea in a sailboat that she describes as looking “exactly like the one that Jesus and his disciples had on the Sea of Galilee.”
Since then she has returned to La Gonâve many times, though the sailboat has been replaced by a small prop plane. “On the first pass, we go down low and shoo all the children and the goats off the beach,” she says. “And the second pass we come around and land on the sand.”
But through the cooperative efforts of her church in Atlanta, the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, and the people of La Gonâve, things have definitely improved for the island. There is a new solar-powered health center and 22 trained community health workers, with a freshwater well and community fountains near the clinic. In addition, they’ve established a goat husbandry program and an agricultural
Even when not in the country itself, she continues to improve life for one Haitian child at a time. Through Childspring, an organization that she serves as director, she and her husband, Vic Cavanaugh ’64, have provided a home for numerous children who come to Atlanta for surgeries they could not have in Haiti.
“Centre gave me the chance to be a leader,” says the one-time Cento editor and president of her senior class. And like Centre, she says, “La Gonâve, Haiti, is small and welcoming. It, too, has given me the opportunities for leadership and lifelong friends. I want to thank Centre for giving me the confidence that I could do this work.”
Distinguished Alumna Award
Anita Britton ’76 laughingly describes herself as “transparent” and claims that she chose her career based on wanting to make enough money to support her parents—and medicine was not an option. Perhaps, but the law was not the most obvious choice at the time; she was one of just seven females in her law school class at the University of Kentucky.
Law turned out to be a good fit, however. She has proved herself to be one of the Commonwealth’s most respected attorneys in family law and civil litigation, and she regularly turns up in Best Lawyers of America (2007, 2006).
She is active in the Kentucky Bar Association, and is also deeply involved in a host of Lexington organizations, including service as president of the Lexington Kiwanis Club and president of the Lexington affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
“All I do, honestly, is get up every day and go to work at a profession that I respect with people that I mostly like, doing work that I value for clients that I genuinely care about,” she says.
“My ah-ha moment with family law came when I realized the corporations don’t throw their arms around you and thank you for saving their lives or their children’s lives.”
Of lessons learned at Centre she cites two.
“We don’t have to let other people define us; we get to do that ourselves,” she says. “Thus you have the feminist co-editor of the Cento”—who was also a cheerleader and sweetheart of Sigma Chi.
“Much more importantly, I learned that no matter where you are in life, there will always be competing demands for your time and energy, and the prize goes to the one who understands the value of flexibility.”
Young Alumna Award
At the age of nine, Elizabeth Painter ’94 told her mother that she wanted to go to London, and she chose Centre largely for its London semester. But that was just the beginning of a life giving in to wanderlust. There were additional Centre semesters spent abroad in Mexico and Budapest, leading her friends to joke that it’s amazing she loves the College so much since she was so rarely on campus. As a graduate, she lived and worked in England, Hong Kong, France, Hungary, Mexico, and Ecuador, and she spent 10 months in the Ukraine through a program she describes as “sort of like the Peace Corps for M.B.A.s.” Recently her cousins made her count the countries she has visited: 43—so far.
Yet it’s not just the adventure that appeals. Wherever she goes, Painter tries to make a difference. While in the Ukraine, for example, she started teaching seminars on basic business strategies for people in her town after similar seminars she held for her company proved popular.
“It was so neat to see the light bulbs finally go off,” she says, when set-in-their-ways businessmen “finally understood that they needed to look beyond production and pay attention to expenses and the net profit.”
Her career in financial planning is a “perfect fit,” she says, allowing her to use talents in finance, problem solving, and counseling. And having settled in Louisville—for now—she’s become enmeshed in the community, serving on various theater boards (Actors Theatre Generation One for young adults and the independent group Spirit over the Water Productions) and coaching nine-year-olds with learning disabilities to run well enough that they finished a 5K race with her.
“I realized that I didn’t need to be across the world to make a difference in the world,” she says.