Women We Laud

By Christina Verigan

Heather Summerhayes Cariou and Donna Summerhayes

Author/Actress and Founder of Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
When Doug and Donna Summerhayes welcomed their second daughter to the world in 1954, they didn’t realize how quickly their family’s life would change. Heather, their first child, a spirited 22-month-old toddler, quickly fell in love with her baby sister, Pam. Soon, they had two brothers, Gregg and Jeff.

Pam’s health suffered. Despite eating, she didn’t gain weight and she left with a salty taste on her mother’s lips after being kissed. She also developed a cough that grew worse and worse. The local doctor provided a slew of potential diagnoses—asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia—but whatever it was, it always came back. Finally, when Pam was four, Donna figured out the medical mystery: Pam had cystic fibrosis (CF), which she pronounced as sixty-five roses. The couple’s youngest child Jeff was also diagnosed with CF.

In the 1950s little was known about CF. Few children survived infancy, and doctors were not sure that a cure could be found, especially since CF is a genetic illness. Furthermore, there was no support for families with children suffering from CF. The Summerhayes decided to fix that. In 1959, after meeting with a group of doctors at a Toronto hospital, they established the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (http://www.cysticfibrosis.ca), which they nurtured as it grew to include 50 chapters and have a presence in 35 medical facilities in Canada. The Candid Facts newsletter that Donna started writing and editing in 1959 is still published today. Celebrating the Foundation’s anniversary, Donna said, “I hope there won’t be a need for the Foundation because we’ll have found a cure for CF.”

Pam lived to be 26, and in her final conversation with her sister, she asked Heather, by then an aspiring actress, to write their story. It took 20 years, but Heather kept her promise to Pam, and published Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister’s Memoir, which has a foreword by singer Céline Dion. Heather’s husband, actor and Tony Award winner Len Cariou, supported her at every step, even buying her an IBM Selectric, when it was cutting edge.

Today, Heather lives outside of New York City, where she works with doctors, writers, and patients to share the healing powers of writing. She has a special interest in well siblings, who can have a difficult experience as illness alters family structure. Against the odds, her younger brother Jeff has lived with CF into his fifties. Both Donna and Doug have been honored as members of the Order of Canada for their charitable work. Donna returned to school to get her nursing degree once her children were older, and now the couple travels to needy countries volunteering at medical facilities.

Lisa Price

Founder and CEO of Carol’s Daughter
For years Lisa Price worked a full-time day job in television production for The Cosby Show, but her nights belonged to her passion: natural, luscious beauty products. When she was thinking of names for the budding business, she wrote a list of ways she identified herself, and settled on Carol’s Daughter – it was perfect, simple, and honored the most important woman in Price’s life. “When I said Carol’s Daughter, I got goose bumps. It sounded right.”

Price had always loved fragrances, and she turned her kitchen into a one-woman cosmetics lab, creating handmade body butter and hair products. Her mother encouraged her to set up her first weekend stand, at a local church flea market, and from there, her products took off. She managed a mailing list of clients (in those pre-digital days), filling orders for holidays and special occasions. She focused on reaching out to other African American women, because the products tailored to their market’s needs were so limited.

By 1999 she had given up her day job to be a mom and dedicate more time to Carol’s Daughter. That year, she opened her first store in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, though she still made the products herself at home. After nine years of working out of her kitchen, the secret about Carol’s Daughter was out. Oprah Winfrey named the brand’s foot lotion as a favorite product and the company hit sales of over $2 million. Price needed to get out of the kitchen and into a real commercial space. Bolstered by investments from Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z, Price moved the company out of her Brooklyn home. Despite the change in setting, Carol’s Daughter still makes all of its products by hand, maintaining the high-quality standards and ingredients that first attracted the brand’s cult following.

2011 sales are estimated to be around $50 million, and Carol’s Daughter products are sold in major outlets including Macy’s, Sephora, J.C. Penney, and HSN, as well as through the company website (www.carolsdaughter.com). Price’s entrepreneurial success has earned her the FFAWN I Am Power Award and the National Black MBA Associate Entrepreneur of the Year award, among others. She was also honored last month as a conference speaker at Spelman College’s Women of Color Leadership Conference. As described in her book, Never Smelled So Sweet, when Price founded Carol’s Daughter, she was debt-ridden and suffered from low self-esteem. She hopes that sharing her story will inspire other young women—especially women of color—to find their own path to success.

Classic Heroine
Anna Jarvis (1832–1905)

Founder of Mother’s Day
Anna Jarvis came of age during the 1830s in Taylor County, West Virginia. She formed what she called Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in a number of local towns to organize mothers so they could help one another, by driving social change in their communities.

Jarvis was a mother of 12, though eight of her children did not survive to adulthood due to disease and poor living conditions. The Mothers’ Day Work Clubs raised funds that allowed local families to buy medicines. Club members also organized a system for food and milk to be inspected for spoilage and contamination. At the time, tuberculosis was rampant, so the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs also hired help for families where mothers were ill with the disease. Their efforts were so effective that local doctors encouraged others to follow Jarvis’s lead.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Jarvis’s community was at the crux of a major railroad, so troops from both sides passed through Taylor County. Jarvis and the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs voiced their neutrality, and their members agreed to assist both Union and Confederate soldiers, providing them with first aid, food, and clothing.

After the war, once Union and Confederate soldiers returned home and had to live as neighbors, political tensions were high. To alleviate this stress, Jarvis organized and event called Mothers’ Friendship Day, which aimed to bring families of all backgrounds and political persuasions together for a peaceful day of celebration. Many local leaders and residents believed that Mothers’ Friendship Day was doomed to end in violence, but event went off without a hitch and was held for many years.

Jarvis passed away in 1905, and in 1907 her daughter—also named Anna Jarvis—held a memorial program for her mother at their church. She called the tribute Mother’s Day and spent the next seven years aiming to establish it as a national holiday. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson put the official stamp on Mother’s Day, declaring it a national holiday to celebrate the hard work of mothers and the power they have in bringing communities together.

Originally published May 2012
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