Tickets are now on sale for the Grande Dames Tea presented by PACE Center for Girls of Lee County.
The Grande Dames Tea honoring Thelma Hodges of Naples, Helen O'Rourke McClary of Matlacha and Ettie Francis Walsh of Fort Myers will be held Friday, March 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Broadway Palm located at 1380 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers.
On a national level, O'Rourke McClary is known as the "Charity Watchdog" who developed national standards for charities for the Better Business Bureau. On a local level, she's known as the "Doll Lady of Matlacha" for her work refurbishing dolls and giving them away.
Helen O’Rourke McClary
Whether it's making her mark on the national stage or helping those less fortunate in her own backyard, this 92-year-old dynamo doesn't know the meaning of the word "no."
O'Rourke McClary grew up in Chillicothe, Mo., where she met her husband Barney while both were students at Chillicothe Business College. After Barney landed a job in the Pentagon, she followed and began working in public relations handling the speakers bureau at The Pentagon. During World War II, she became the first female civilian chief of the Speakers Bureau for the War Department.
After leaving The Pentagon, she served as Vice President and National Director for Project HOPE, raising money for HOPE's overseas programs. She later began a 17-year career with the National Council of Better Business Bureaus as vice president of philanthropic advisory services, where she developed the first BBB Standards for Charitable Solicitations, much of which still stands today. She has testified before the U.S. Senate on charity costs and the U.S. House of Representatives regarding fraudulent mail solicitations, and has appeared on NBC's "Today" show, "Good Morning America," "60 Minutes," MacNeil/Lehrer PBS Newshour and many others.
It was during one of her many out-of-town trips that O'Rourke McClary received the phone call that her husband died at age 60.
"To dull the pain, I threw myself into my work," she recalls. The couple's three sons were grown by that time, so she committed to a travel schedule that kept her away from home 75 percent of the time.
O'Rourke McClary retired from the BBB in 1986 and was honored with the BBB Hall of Fame Award for her work in developing the first BBB Standards for Charitable Solicitations and her work as a Charity Watch Dog.
After her retirement, she married Mac McClary and the couple settled in Cape Coral and Matlacha, where she's become known as the "Doll Lady." Residents bring her dolls that she repairs and refurbishes and gives away to children in need. Never one to slow down, she continues to be involved with the Calusa Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, Matlacha Hookers and the Salvation Army Advisory Board. The Salvation Army honored her 60 years of volunteer service in 2004.
Seats for the tea are $50 per person and may be reserved either online at www.pacecenter.org/lee or by phoning 239-425-2366, ext. 25. Table sponsorships are also available. Attendees are encouraged to wear their favorite party hat.
Co-chairs of the event are Sandy Stilwell and Cheryl Komnick, who are members of the PACE Lee Board of Directors.
"These three outstanding women come from varied backgrounds and are sure to have some insightful advice for the audience and the PACE girls," said Stilwell.
"Our theme of The Wisdom of Age Honoring the Female Spirit is so appropriate because each of these women has much to share from her own life's journey," Komnick said.
This is the fifth year of the historic Grande Dames Tea. Previous honorees have included Berne Davis, Eleanore Kleist and Barbara B. Mann in 2009; Jeanne Bochette, Helen Hendry and Veronica Shoemaker in 2010; Myra Daniels, Kathleen Nealon and Mimi Straub in 2011; and Michel Doherty, Mavis Stinson Miller and Anna "Boots" Tolles in 2912.
The Grande Dames Tea was originated by PACE Center for Girls of Lee County to honor women who have played major roles in Southwest Florida history through decades of service, philanthropy and helping others.
The agenda for the tea will include interaction between the PACE girls and the three Grande Dames, in a question and answer format, that Stilwell and Komnick said "is sure to be thought-provoking and poignant."
White House | Black Market is the title sponsor of the Grande Dames Tea. Other major sponsors are the Broadway Palm and Edison National Bank, along with media sponsors Grandeur Magazine and The News-Press Media Group.