2014-10-08 / Top News

Power Women 2014

WHETHER SHE’S STRATEGIZING A CORPORATE INITIAtive, raising money for a charity, entertaining an audience or responding to her constituents, a power woman’s work is never done. Just ask any of the CEOs, executive directors, philanthropists and public servants who’ve been selected as Florida Weekly’s 2014 Power Women.

They come from a variety of backgrounds and fill myriad positions of importance. And they pour equal energy, expertise and commitment into whatever task is at hand, whether it’s for the betterment of their colleagues, their families or their communities.

At the end of every busy day, they’ve helped make a difference for everyone who lives and works in Lee County. And lucky for us, they’re not done yet.

Amy Sedlacek

Morning anchor - ABC 7

Name: Amy Sedlacek


Amy Sedlacek Amy Sedlacek Title: Morning anchor, ABC 7

Businesses or Organizations: Hmmm. I'm going to need another piece of paper. My passion is for kids. I am most proud of my work the past six years with the Make- A-Wish Foundation. I am currently chair of our Lee County President’s Council, co-chair of the Wishmaker’s Ball, Walk for Wishes, and we have granted the wishes of more than 25 Southwest Florida kids. I'm working on three more wishes as of this writing. I’m active with The Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Dress for Success, The Heights Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, the Von Liebig’s Goddess Night, Women in Business and more.

Years in Southwest Florida: Nine

Closest family: Blessed by great friends who’ve adopted me. My family is in Nebraska.


Diana Willis Diana Willis Hometown: Omaha

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: Bubbly and energetic, I'll do anything for anyone; I’m addicted to caffeine and sweets. Sleep? What’s that? I love to make people happy and see them smile.

How do you come up with new ideas? I don't sleep. Seriously, I keep sticky notes by my bed. I wake up with an idea, jot it down, repeat.

What single issue is most important to you? Taking care of “our” kids. They’re our future.

Your most influential role model, and why? My dad. He’s always working hard, always busy, late nights, early mornings, but he always made time for us and is so involved in our lives. He’s my mentor still today. I have a great mom, too, who taught me to be creative.


Harmindar K. Gill Harmindar K. Gill As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to run the zoo, be a Disney character or be on TV. I got one of them right.

Your favorite childhood memory: Family time and vacations.

Your first job: Babysitting at age 10. Retail and office assistant as a teen.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? Walt Disney. That man had imagination and passion.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? I’m a foodie. I love going to try new, local places. The beach at sunset. And travel. Anywhere. I love to explore.


Heidi Taulman Heidi Taulman Tell us something few people know about you: I was really sick as a kid. I spent almost every Thanksgiving in the hospital.

Name a trait you consider overrated, and a trait that’s underrated: Overrated: Social media. It's great but I feel we’re losing that personal connection and really having a conversation. Underrated: Kindness. A smile goes a long way.

Personal hobbies: Baking, photography, traveling and Make-A-Wish wishes.

TV show: Addicted to “Scandal.”

Music: Michael Buble.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: To just be myself. It’s easy to get lost. The hardest thing is to fight peer pressure and stand up for yourself. Never give up on your dreams and live life to the fullest everyday. I'm the eternal optimist. Always smile.


Helen Gerro Helen Gerro What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Get involved. This community is incredible. The people I've met through all my volunteer work have become my best friends. Enjoy Southwest Florida. We really do live in paradise.

Diana Willis

Vice President - Jason’s Deli

Name: Diana Willis

Title: Vice president of fun stuff

Business: Own and operate five Jason’s Deli restaurants: Fort Myers, Naples, Cape Coral, Port Charlotte and Sarasota


Linda Doggett Linda Doggett Years in Southwest Florida: 14 Closest family: Husband, Scott (business partner and love of my life); sons Brandon, 26; Mason, 24.

Hometown: Chico, Calif. Grew up in southeast Texas, hometown of Jason’s Deli.

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: Authentic and fiercely loyal.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: Jason’s Deli, Real estate, marketing/advertising, human resources and customer-love advocate. Community: Advisory board chair for the resort and hospitality management program at FGCU (go Eagles!). Vice chair of board for PACE Center for Girls Lee County.


Mary Yankaskas Mary Yankaskas How do you come up with new ideas? I listen to our customers and colleagues. I study industry trends and participate in testing within our corporate culture. I seek advice from community leaders. surrounding myself with positive people; inspiration usually follows. Collaboration is key.

What single issue is most important to you? Partnering with others (especially youth) for future leadership, helping others succeed.

Your most influential role model, and why? My mom. She bootstrapped her way to owning her own business with a lot of spit and grit, while raising her family. Especially poignant for the tremendous adversity she overcame.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? An attorney. Your favorite childhood memory: Fourth grade, cutting down our Christmas tree and making all the ornaments ourselves (except for the lights). We just moved to southeast Texas in time for the holiday.


Melissa Congress Melissa Congress Your first job: Extensive babysitting and hostess at a family owned Italian restaurant.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? My cousin, Terry McNabb, who died of AIDS in the mid-1980s. Oh, the milestones and progress I could share.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? Any time with “the boys,” friends and family around our dinner table with fine wine and much laughter. There isn’t a conversation that is off limits.

Name a trait you consider overrated and one that is underrated: Overrated: People who always agree with you; Underrated: Personal responsibility/ credibility (ethics).


Rie Aihara, MD FACS Rie Aihara, MD FACS Personal hobbies: Traveling, skiing, gardening — any time in nature elevates me.

Music: I’m a rock and roll girl, especially guitarists. Generally all music when you can sing (in the car) or dance is good.

Most important lessons you’ve learned in life: Expect excellence. You may not always get it, but you will never give up trying to seek it, and beauty is all around us. It’s up to us to notice it.

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … Two things: stress less and finish college.


Teresa Watkins Brown Teresa Watkins Brown What advice would you give to other women relocating here? Get involved in a passion project. It’s a great way to meet others with similar heartstrings. You will be blown away by the support

Harmindar K. Gill

Medical Director - Premier Women’s Radiology

Name: Harmindar K. Gill

Title: Medical director, medical doctor (not sure which one that MD stands for on most days!)

Business: Premier Women’s Radiology

Years in Southwest Florida: 10 years and two months.

Closest family): Husband (children are too young to understand me yet or to be friends with … they think we are not their friends … true!).

Hometown: Singapore until high schoolage; then moved to Annapolis, Md., around the corner from the U.S. Naval Academy (my mother would send my sister and me to classes there in the summer… thought she was shipping us away).

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: Passionate about my field and compassionate with patients; loyal to a fault with my family and friends.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: Educator and researcher. I have introduced 3D mammography to Southwest Florida. I lost two friends (to cancer) and diagnosed an early cancer on my closest friend, who is well. Early detection resoundingly is the cure. How do you come up with new ideas? When I’m driving or early hours of the morning or running or swimming. I’m always thinking. My husband is my great sounding board.

What single issue is most important to you? Trafficked girls. I have worked in this arena.

Your most influential role model, and why? My mother. She grew up in Kashmir and her father insisted she go to school like her brothers. They covered her and she eventually graduated first in that village school and was offered a scholarship to American University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a BS and MS in math and physics. She later earned a Ph.D. in information systems at George Mason University. What a difference education can make.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A physician … knew at age 5! Insisted on being Louis Pasteur in a play in primary school when they were about to offer it to a boy; they gave it to me and I dressed the part.

Your favorite childhood memory: My paternal grandfather picking me up from school and clandestinely getting my sister and me ice cream or sweets from the local hawker stands. We were sworn to secrecy until the dentist found a bunch of cavities! Your first job: Babysitting …. paid for my piano.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? Mother Teresa.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? Sipping tea and being at ease.

Tell us something few people know about you: I don’t share much with many people. Rarely spoke and was very shy until residency.

Name a trait you consider overrated, and a trait that’s underrated: Overrated: youth; Underrated: a woman’s strength (my husband is supportive of that, fortunately).

Personal hobbies: Running, swimming, playing piano with my girls.

Favorite all-time book: Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Movie: “Shawshank Redemption”.

TV show: “60 Minutes”.

Music: I have seen Beethoven’s Ninth in many different states and countries. Ravi Shankar on the sitar.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: Out of my failures, have risen my successes.

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … Nothing I really think of. Just keep moving forward.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Be open to change and lead a healthy lifestyle, which this place affords through fresh food, exercise and yoga.

Heidi Taulman

Executive Director - Lee BIA

Name: Heidi Taulman, APR

Title: Executive director, Lee BIA Builders Care

Businesses and Organizations: Executive director of Lee BIA Builders Care, President of SWFL Chapter Florida Public Relations Association, Steering Committee ArtFest Fort Myers.

Years in Southwest Florida: 30-plus

Closest family: Husband, Trevor; hound dog, Bo; and large family here in Southwest Florida.

Hometown: Fort Myers

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: I am a determined and passionate professional. Work hard. Play hard.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: I believe it is my role to help facilitate helping others through community service.

How do you come up with new ideas? I believe that there is so much knowledge in the people around you, so it is a lot about just conversing with other peers, leaders and mentors. Most likely someone you know has been through a similar situation and you can learn from their experience and get ideas about what may work best for you.

What single issue is most important to you? Community service. I think that companies have a duty to give back to their communities in some way. I really feel strongly that they get back more than they put in if they are doing it for the right reasons. We are fortunate to have a hugely philanthropic community here in Southwest Florida.

Your most influential role model, and why? First and foremost, my parents gave me a hard work ethic and really have made me who I am today. I have also been really fortunate to have some great mentors throughout my career — you know who you are!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a doctor in order to help people, but I could not stomach it. I found the next best thing in working in nonprofits.

Your favorite childhood memory: Our family vacations every summer.

Your first job: Babysitting in the neighborhood and then entry-level restaurant job. I think everyone should have to do this at least once.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? I think it would be fascinating to meet my great grandparents and other family members I never got to meet.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? I enjoy visiting with friends and family and boating. Sunset cruises are my favorite.

Tell us something few people know about you: As a young girl, I got to hand out awards and flowers on stage at the Miss Florida pageant as Little Miss Florida with emcee Ricky Schroeder.

Name a trait you consider overrated, and a trait that’s underrated: A trait that is overrated is maturity. There is amazing knowledge in experience, but we must not be stagnant. A trait that I find underrated is adaptability. Our world is constantly changing, and you have to be able to adapt.

Personal hobbies: When enjoying some “me” time, I enjoy sewing, and for relaxation, I enjoy boating with friends and family.

Favorite all-time book: “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” given to me by my kindergarten teacher when I graduated high school.

Movie: “The Fox and the Hound,” “The Goonies” and “The Help”.

TV show: “Modern Family” and “Biggest Loser”.

Music: Dave Matthews, Counting Crows and Phish or anything 1970s and 1980s.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: Cherish the little things, because some day you will realize they were the big things.

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … I don’t really have an answer here because I tend to look at the future and believe that all experiences are what make me who I am and what is supposed to be.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Get involved. There is so much to do and so many ways to make a real difference. And it is a very small community, and six degrees of separation is an understatement!

Helen Gerro

Owner - Gerro Couture

Name: Helen Gerro

Title: Owner

Business: Gerro Couture

Years in Southwest Florida: 12

Closest family: I came from a large family — eight siblings — a close-knit family from central Minnesota. My husband Greg and I were together for more than 20 years. He had an aggressive form of prostate cancer and passed away in June.

Hometown: It’s near St. Cloud, Minn. Whoever thought a small town girl like me would be nominated for “Power Women?”

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: I am creative, prolific, artistic and hardworking.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: Being at the Artisan’s Atelier in Punta Gorda and connecting people with art is important to me. Working in proximity with eight talented and committed artists invites people to come in and meet and watch as the artists create their work. And if they find something they love, they can purchase it right there. This is a perfect fit for me at this point in my career. How do you come up with new ideas? My inspiration is through life and living — people, friends, music — what I see. Women liking to wear comfortable, sexy clothes, and my art is inspired by women. First I was a fashion designer in the early 1980s. And then I painted art from my fashion sketches. And finally, my art jumped off my canvases onto my dresses.

What single issue is most important to you? Environment, mother earth, father sky.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I remember I wanted to be on stage — performing, acting and singing. And then I started sewing when I was 9 and made my own clothes. And people wanted what I wore, so I started sewing for them. Then I started doing fashion shows on the catwalk in the 1980s. And so, I guess I did get on stage, in a roundabout way. Your favorite childhood memory: Summers were my favorite time of year. We’d go to the lake and swim all day — for hours and hours. My mom would say, “Just be home by six, in time for dinner,” and we would, because we’d be starving by then.

Your first job: It was at the lake, at the community center. I was a skeet and trap marker.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? I would have loved to have been in Paris in the 1900s, seated with Monet, Chegall, Picasso and the like — master painters — at the charming outdoor cafes, listening and talking as friends.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? I love to hang out with my friends and family, making a wonderful dinner — great food with libations and wonderful conversation. Ending it with playing guitar, music and singing by a big open fire.

Tell us something few people know about you: I lived three years in Manhattan in the early 80s. I went out there on $100 when I was 21. I partied at the famous Studio 54 and rubbed elbows with the likes of Tony Curtis, Calvin Klein, Alice Cooper, LeRoy Neiman, Andy Warhol. And boy, I wish I had a smart phone then (wink-wink).

Name a trait you consider overrated and one that’s underrated? Overrated - physical beauty; Underrated - Natural beauty, because that is truth and reality.

Personal hobbies: I really don’t have too many, because I’m living it: painting, art and fashion. I just love it.

Favorite all-time book: I don’t read much — I should — and I will later, whenever I slow down.

Movie: I suppose, “A Christmas Story.” I love that movie. Otherwise, I love “Blazing Saddles.” And, of course, “Gone with the Wind.”

TV show: “Project Runway” — and I’m trying to get on that show. Also, “The Good Wife.”

Music: I love blues and jazz. Local musicans Les DaCosta — and The BoogieMen. I really love rockabilly music. And I love Bob Dylan.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: “Think before you speak.”

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … I would have liked to have gotten more education. I think it would have advanced my career earlier on.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Meet people. Get involved in clubs and networking. Get into the community, because there are a lot of fun things in Punta Gorda.

Linda Doggett

Comptroller - Lee County Clerk of Circuit Court

Name: Linda Doggett

Title: Lee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller

Organizations: United Way Board of Directors; Rotary Club Member; Florida Association of Clerks -Board of Directors, Technology Committee & Subcommittee Chair, CCIS Committee Chair, Self Help / Pro Se Committee, CCOC Coordination Committee; Clerk’s Operations Corporation - Technology Funding Strategies Chair, Performance, Improvements, & Efficiencies Committee; and Member of the Odyssey Counties of Florida.

Years in Southwest Florida: 52 (lifetime)

Closest family: Don Doggett, my husband, and our daughters, Adeline and Andrea Doggett.

Hometown: LaBelle

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: Proactive, innovative and goaloriented.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: Keeper of the official records, CFO and auditor of county funds, clerk to the Board of County Commissioners, and responsible for the court-case files in the judicial system, coordination of jurors, clerk in the courtroom, and collecting and disbursing all court fees and fines — all with an office of 340 people.

How do you come up with new ideas? Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

What single issue is most important to you? Find ways for our local government and judiciary to provide excellent and cost-efficient services to the citizens of Lee County.

Your most influential role model, and why? My husband, who inspires me to be more patient, brings balance to my life scheduling time with family, friends and nature, and although he sets high expectations, is also very supportive.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to become the CEO for Johnson & Johnson in New York City, because they said their mission was to help people — and they were in New York City.

Your favorite childhood memory: Horseback riding with my sisters.

Your first job: Cashier at the local grocery in LaBelle, 1978.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? John Muir, father of the National Parks, naturalist, author and early advocate of preservation of wilderness. He believed his mission was “... Saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism.” Not a bad mission!

Tell us something few people know about you: I have been known to dance in the rain.

Name a trait you consider overrated, and a trait that’s underrated: Power and control are overrated and good communication and collaboration are underrated.

Personal hobbies: Hiking mountain trails, walking the beach, reading.

Favorite all-time book: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It renews our faith in doing the right thing against all odds.

Movie: “The Blues Brothers” — good music, great humor. TV show: “Seinfeld,” a show about nothing.

Music: Handel’s Water Music.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: Trust and change are the keys to everything in life.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Become involved in your community and network with the amazing people who give of their time and resources to help others.

Mary Yankaskas

Partner - Physicians Primary Care

Name: Mary Yankaskas

Title: Managing partner, physician

Business: Physicians Primary Care. We are the largest independent primarycare practice in Lee County.

Years in Southwest Florida: 22

Closest family: I am blessed with three children — Katie, Jen and Tom. I am one of six siblings with an 89-year-old mother whom we can still laugh and pal around with. Also, my friend Chris, who reminds me of the importance of taking time for myself.

Hometown: Millington , N.J.

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: Personable and always on the go.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: First, I am a mom, striving to keep my kids moving forward. As managing partner, I help guide our practice in the changing world of health care, to, first and foremost, take excellent care of our patients, and second, keep up with the continual government-mandated health-care changes. I am also a member of Saint Cecilia’s Catholic Community and several other small groups.

How do you come up with new ideas? I allow the creativity around me to influence me. What single issue is most important to you? Patient care and satisfaction.

Your most influential role model, and why? My mom, who taught me from a young age to be an independent and strong woman.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Always a physician.

Your favorite childhood memory: Vacationing on Long Beach Island with my best friend, Maggie.

Your first job: Bill’s Greenhouse when I was 14 years old.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? My dad, who passed away more than 20 years ago. There is so much of his story that I do not know.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? Visiting over a good meal. Hanging out on the couch with my kids.

Tell us something few people know about you: I was a baton twirler in high school.

Personal hobbies: Reading, kayaking, sailing.

Favorite all-time book: Too many to choose from — “Charlotte’s Web,” “Jane Eyre,” “From Good to Great”

Movie: “The Big Chill”.

TV show: “Antiques Roadshow”.

Music: Classic rock and roll.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: There are three sides to every story.

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … Nothing. Every step and stumble brought me to where I am today.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Find different groups to get involved with, whether it be through church, work, school, charity or your neighborhood — that way you have the chance to meet different people and appreciate the breadth of our community. You can then decide what to be a part of and where to make a difference.

Melissa Congress

Co-Owner - Congress Jewelers

Name: Melissa Congress

Title: Board president for The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)

Business: Co-owner, Congress Jewelers

Years in Southwest Florida: 25

Closest family: Husband Scot Congress; children Whitney, Andrew, Dana and Rebecca Congress; dogs Maui, Sugar and Roxy.

Hometown: Springfield, Va. Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: I am inclusive, friendly and resourceful.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: While I have worked in our family business, it has always been important for me to be involved in my community. Currently, I serve on the boards of CROW, Sanibel Community Association, Charitable Foundation of the Islands and SanCap Cares.

How do you come up with new ideas? I listen to others and try to be creative by filling the need. I have enough confidence that I am able to voice my opinion, but I am also good at summarizing others’ ideas and creating an atmosphere where groups can build upon several ideas.

What single issue is most important to you? My family, but I am also concerned with our environment and conservation.

Your most influential role model, and why? My mother, Helene Weiss. As a military wife of a two-star general, she made each of her 17 moves in the military positive. She always adapted, made new friends and found many ways to become involved in the communities they lived in. This made my brothers and I the people we are today.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A talk-show host.

Your favorite childhood memory: In fourth grade, our teacher was pregnant, so I helped organize a special day for her. We collected money, went on a special shopping trip to the PX and even held a giftwrapping session for my class to surprise her.

Your first job: Sales management for Proctor & Gamble in Atlanta.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? Sitting around the dinner table and talking about our days!

Tell us something few people know about you: My nickname growing up was Messy Missy, I can’t sing, and I attended five different schools from K-12 since I my Dad was in the Air Force.

Name a trait you consider overrated, and a trait that’s underrated: Overrated: Gossip; Underrated: Spending time with old friends.

Personal hobbies: Riding my bike, making mandel bread and collecting shells.

Favorite movie: “The Wizard of Oz”.

TV show: “The Good Wife”.

Music: Whatever my husband is listening to.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: The Golden Rule.

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … Get an MBA.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? Twenty-five years ago, when I moved here to be with Scot, I joined the Junior League. I met so many new friends and saw firsthand the leadership of great women role models who are still involved today.

Rie Aihara, MD FACS

Medical Director and Breast Care Surgeon - Regional Breast Care

Name: Rie Aihara, MD, FACS

Title: Medical director and breast surgeon for Regional Breast Care

Years in Southwest Florida: 11

Closest family: husband, Meir Daller; sons, Julian and Brenden Daller; parents, Koichi and Kazuyo Aihara; sister, Yoshie Aihara.

Hometown: Yokohama, Japan

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: I am a truly a picture of a unique modern day international/global individual: a traditional Japanese girl born in Japan, but broke the mold to be educated here in the United States, married an Israeli, and loves to travel around the world.

Describe your role in business/community: As a breast surgeon, I help women and men through their journey in their battle against breast cancer. I also help provide education and promote awareness about breast health in general, and team up with various organizations to improve the quality and of breast healthcare in this community.

How do you come up with new ideas? I try to incorporate things I have seen in another culture, country and apply them to a new situation.

What single issue is most important to you? Maybe its because I grew up in a culture that emphasizes placing others before yourself or because I’m a Libra, but it’s very important for me to try to create harmony and avoid conflicts. I’m the kind of person who enjoys making others happy. As a physician, being able to provide the best medical treatment for our patients is no doubt a given, but treating each woman and man as an individual is my goal —i.e., a person to person interaction before a doctor/ patient interaction.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I first wanted to be a flight attendant and see the world. However, in first grade, my parents showed me a movie called “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” where Jennifer Jones played a pediatrician in Hong Kong. I still remember the song and the scenes with her in a white coat treating the young children and it was then that I made the decision that I wanted to be a female physician just like her.

Your favorite childhood memory: I remember the first time I came to the United States with my parents at the age of 6. We moved to Los Angeles because of my father’s work. Fortunately, my mother was an English teacher and my father was fluent in English and I had been exposed to the language. But it was still very difficult for me to be completely submerged in a new environment, school and culture. I believe that all these experiences helped me to become who I am today.

My first job: In high school, my first summer job in Japan was at a community center that provided a number of services including childcare, daycare for special needs individuals and the elderly, and delivering food to those who could not leave home. I got to experience all of these.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family? I enjoy traveling and experiencing new places and things together with them. We take the kids everywhere with us because I believe visiting different countries, eating ethnic food, meeting different people and experiencing different cultures is invaluable in teaching them diversity, understanding, acceptance and this will allow them to be open minded individuals — just like my parents did for me when I was young. That was the best education I received and I want to do the same for my children. We also love to go to the Miami Heat and Red Sox games.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: Not to worry about the little things in life . Life is what you make of it. There will be ups and downs, but its all a matter of perspective. As long as you have stability within yourself, a positive attitude, a strong belief system and a network of loved ones — the good generates good.

IWhat advice would you give another woman relocating here? This community is filled with many opportunities both as a resident and as a professional, because it continues to grow on a constant basis. We need people from different backgrounds with different interests to help continue to shape our community. ¦

Teresa Watkins Brown

Councilwoman - City of Fort Myers, Ward 1

Name: Teresa Watkins Brown

Title: Councilwoman, city of Fort Myers, Ward 1

Businesses or Organizations: Embarq Telecommunications, retired after 35 years; five years as a Fort Myers councilwoman.

Years in Southwest Florida: 57

Closest family: Alison Nicole Brown, daughter, a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines; the Watkins family (I’m the ninth child of 11 siblings).

Hometown: Fort Myers

Describe yourself in one sentence or phrase: A servant.

Describe your role or roles in business and/or the community: I am the liaison between the city of Fort Myers and general public. I set policies, create safe, livable communities and find ways for future economic development.

How do you come up with new ideas? I am a member of the League of Cities in Southwest Florida, state of Florida and national, where I network, visit and reach out to elected officials in cities locally, statewide and nationally to see how other cities are creating better communities and economically viable cities.

What single issue is most important to you? Protecting the welfare of the city and its inhabitants.

Your most influential role model, and why? My parents, Samuel and Iola Watkins. They taught me and my 10 siblings how to treat others in a way we would like to be treated, that nothing in life is free, to trust God and guard your name — it’s better than riches. I carry the Watkins name with pride.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A teacher. Your favorite childhood memory: Growing up and playing with the Blake Street gang.

Your first job: LARC Inc.

If you could chat with anyone in history for 20 minutes, with whom would it be? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What do you enjoy doing most with your family or friends? Cooking crabs and talking about the good old days.

Tell us something few people know about you: I am a licensed barber.

Name a trait you consider overrated, and a trait that’s underrated: Beauty is overrated and underrated. It’s in the heart and mind of the beholder, all beauty and no brains leaves for a good-looking empty shell.

Personal hobbies: Reading, golfing, spending time with family and friends.

Favorite all-time book: “Women Risktakers” by Dr. Patricia D. Bailey.

Movie: “Love and Basketball.”

TV show: “The Jeffersons.”

Music: All Motown music.

Most important lesson you’ve learned in life: That failure is an important part of the development process.

If I could do one thing in my life over again, it would be … To start life over with the wisdom I have now.

What advice would you give to another woman relocating here? To find a mentor and become engaged in the community where you live.

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