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Pioneering Women

<bt>A young woman in the 1950s, CIA retiree Pat Wheeler, a 30-year resident of McLean, has seen many changes in the roles of women in her lifetime.

"It was very difficult for us in the ‘50s," she said. "A lot has changed, thankfully."

Wheeler was one of the 762 people who attended the 19th annual Women's Leadership Conference on Saturday, March 20, at the McLean Hilton in Tysons Corner.

"Female Leaders, a New Dynamic" was the theme for this year's event, hosted by the Women's Center, which is located in downtown Vienna. Guests and speakers included U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th); Donna Brazile, Gore 2000 presidential campaign manager; Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey; Torie Clark, former Pentagon spokesperson; Helen Thomas, former White House bureau chief and journalist for United Press International; Jackie Kallen, publicist and first female boxing manager; and feminist author Danielle Crittenden.

At the conference, the Women's Center honored Dr. Karen Holbrook, Tracey, Clark and Brazile with the Leadership Award, and Thomas was honored with the Pioneer Award for her trailblazing career in journalism, which spanned over six decades.

Coupled with a series of smaller group discussions and book signings, the speakers related their own stories to a full house, each depicting a very personal example of how women have overcome the difficulties they have faced in the workplace and in the home over the past several decades.

Brazile recounted her early life in Louisiana and her joy of cooking, while Thomas and Kallen spoke about succeeding in careers that have been traditionally dominated by men.

"If democracy was a patient, it would be in the critical care unit," said Brazile, on the state of voting rights in this country and the need for electoral reform. "More young people voted for Ruben Stutters in 'American Idol' than came out for the presidential election."

WHEN ASKED how women can become involved locally and immediately, Brazile said, "There are many ways to serve — become delegates, join campaigns, volunteer, anything to help grow the electorate."

"I'm fascinated that someone from Louisiana could do so much," said conference attendee Emily McNabe of Stafford.

"It shows you that women can do anything they put their minds to."

Executive director Cynthia Huheey of the Women's Center said the goal of this year's conference was to bring together female leaders who "could be role models by showing how women have changed the dynamic of society, the workplace, and family over the past 30 years."

"We hope that people are inspired to find their passion, and with it, accomplish things," said Gale Gearhart, director of administration at the Women's Center.

"We all have something to bring to the table," said Kallen, whose success story as a boxing manger was recently brought to the big screen in “Against the Ropes.”

"Confidence is everything," Kallen said. "If you believe you can do something, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."