Longtime friends Ann Curry (left), Ann Cramer and Ann Stallard will each receive this year’s Woman of Achievement Award from the YWCA. This is the first time the YWCA has ever recognized three women for its overall award. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Life with Gracie: 3 friends make cut for YWCA annual ‘Woman of Achievement’ award

For more than three decades, the YWCA has been honoring women for their commitment and contributions to Atlanta, women who embody the organization’s mission to eliminate racism and empower other women.

In recent years, Home Depot CFO Carol Tomé, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, the Rev. Joanna Adams, and Billye Aaron have each been named a “Woman of Achievement.”

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Notice I said each, but this year, there isn’t just one honoree. There are three.

Let’s say we call them the three Anns. Ann Curry. Ann Cramer. And Ann Stallard.

If you’re wondering if there is an Atlanta banquet hall large enough to contain them, imagine having to write about them in this small space.

Imagine Sharmen Gowens’ dilemma trying to choose just one.

Gowens, the YWCA’s CEO, said as she mulled over the nonprofit’s three pillars — education and empowerment, health and safety, and advocacy and social justice — the three Anns popped in her head.

And this being a special year — the YWCA’s 115th anniversary — Gowens decided to do something a little different.

When she thought of advocacy and social justice, businesswoman and CEO Ann Stallard immediately came to mind; the feisty Ann Curry of Coxe Curry because she’s done so much to ensure the health of the nonprofit community; education and empowerment, who else but Ann Cramer, who for 46 years made her mark as director of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs at IBM before joining Curry’s firm in 2013.

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How powerful would it be for us to recognize these three women who are at the top of their game, highly respected in this city, and so influential, Gowens asked herself.

Each Ann had been inducted into the YWCA’s academy, but none of them had been named a Woman of Achievement.

Gowens describes each very differently. Cramer is little miss sunshine. Curry, she said, is feared, revered and respected. And Stallard is the deal maker. Truth is all three are, well, movers and shakers.

Put another way, Stallard, Curry and Cramer help people connect their heads and hearts.

They’ve been doing that pretty much their entire lives.

Last week, I had the chance to meet the three Anns — one by phone — in a fourth-floor conference room at Coxe Curry,where Ann Curry first worked as a vice president in 1992, then 18 months later bought and built the Atlanta firm into the largest fundraising consultants business of its kind in the Southeast.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Here’s an annotated version of my takeaway from our nearly two-hour conversation.

One. The Anns have done it all, effortlessly adding an interesting narrative to women’s progress in the workplace while juggling child care and what they considered their civic duty to help care for the least of these.

Stallard, who at 70 is the youngest of the three, is a self-described serial entrepreneur who launched what she called a kitchen table graphic design studio before joining Graphic Communications Corp., the commercial printing firm she helped lead for more than three decades before selling it in 2014.

From the time she was a young girl, she knew that she had a role to play in making life better for all, a passion that grew the moment she set foot on the campus of the University of Kentucky, where she joined the Student YWCA and was deemed a leader. Stallard would go on to become president of the YWCA USA, then the largest provider in the nation to victims of domestic violence and one of the largest child care providers.

She was also the first small-business person to chair the Board of Trustees, United Way USA, where she helped transform the organization into United Way Worldwide, focusing on stopping sex trafficking of children.

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Stallard said, “If you want a great city to live in, raise a family and work in, then it is imperative to contribute to the quality of life for everyone — not just some.”

Cramer, 72, was an IBM executive before retiring in 2013 and joining Coxe Curry. A mother of two, she was president of the Junior League and for decades chaired almost every educational organization in metro Atlanta: Georgia Partnership for Education, Atlanta Partners for Education and Communities in School.

And Curry, 73, married almost immediately after graduating from Duke University in 1965 at age 21. She would give birth to two children before settling down to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, but like the other Anns, she always had a “compelling need to make the world better,” to level the playing field.

Much of that she owes to a very strong grandmother whom even the church pastor sought out for approval before making decisions. “She was a woman of conviction, really smart and deep faith, and she put it all together to help people,” Curry said.

With her grandmother as her role model, Curry spent nearly half her life as a community volunteer, mostly heading up fundraising events for nonprofits such as the League of Women Voters, Research Atlanta, and United Way. That experience paved the way to her professional role raising money for Grady, the Atlanta History Center, Spelman College and hundreds of others.

Two. They learned early in their lives the importance of lifting as they climb. Not only did they lift one another, they encouraged other women to join them.

When they came on the scene in the 1980s, they met through mutual friends who recognized they were working on similar community efforts. In short order, they became friends at the YWCA.

Cramer said that while men did civic work, women volunteered.

“We kept thinking that’s not right,” she said. “We have voice, time and talent and we want to share.”

And three. Because of their collective contributions, Atlanta continues to thrive as a progressive metropolitan city that offers quality education, a thriving nonprofit sector, and strong community engagement.

They say the YWCA has been the perfect vehicle for them to work together, to pool their intellect, energy and expertise to ensure every child can grow up safe, healthy, educated, connected and employed so they become contributing citizens.

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They are not retired or tired.

Today Curry is chairman and chief client strategist at Coxe Curry, still delving into civic priorities at the firm. Cramer is founder of Learn4Life, a regional consortium addressing public education in metro Atlanta, and heads the ARC Educated Workforce Committee. And Stallard is senior adviser of the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs, doing mergers and acquisitions in Atlanta.

They count the YWCA’s recognition among their biggest honors, and being able to share it with longtime friends makes it all the more special.

“I see the award as a tribute to the life path of service and fulfillment we have walked together,” Curry said. “We’re not done.”

Said Stallard: “We work not for praise or power over others but for the beloved community which has given each of us so much. The only path forward is onward and upward.”

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