Past Go Red Chairwomen

Past Go Red Chairwomen

Compiled by SWM staff

Every year, SWM partners with the American Heart Association to help spread the message of heart-healthy living. Here are a few words from the past chairwomen of the Go Red for Women campaign on their experience.

2007 Chairwoman
Gwen Webber-McLeod
President and CEO Gwen, Inc.

SWM: How did you get involved with the American Heart Association?
My involvement with the AHA began after my sister Terri Webber-Simmons died from cardiac arrest in 2003.

SWM: Talk about your experience serving as chairwoman.
The local Go Red movement was “young” during my tenure as chairwoman. I think the early chairwomen contributed to laying the foundation for today’s larger events. We were educating women about heart disease and designing methods for engaging the larger community in fundraising.

SWM: How did serving as chairwoman influence your life?
It truly gave me a way to channel my grief. I decided to use my sister’s death as an opportunity to help others.

SWM: Share a favorite memory from your time as chairwoman.
One of my favorite memories is working with the AHA team to pilot the first Circle of Red fundraising effort.

SWM: What is your “why”?
My why is to honor my sister’s memory and to ensure women of color are increasingly engaged in the Go Red movement locally.

2012 Chairwoman
Susan Crossett
Corporate Strategy and Public Affairs Advisor Harris Beach PLLC

SWM: How did you get involved with the American Heart Association?
I was asked to chair the Go Red for Women campaign by the former CEO of Welch Allyn, Julie Shimer.

SWM: Talk about your experience serving as chairwoman.
As chairwoman, I learned much more about how heart disease impacts women, including the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. I also learned we may be able to avoid heart disease by taking control of our own health. The things we all know we should do really can prevent heart disease: get plenty of exercise, eat right, don’t smoke and know your numbers! I became much more aware of how all of us have been impacted by heart disease in our lives. Truly everyone I speak to has been impacted in some way.

SWM: How did serving as chairwoman influence your life?
My experience as chairwoman made me a committed advocate for the AHA. It’s an organization that has grown and has a very real and positive impact on our community. Heart health awareness is at an all-time high, and not just for women. We now rank among the fastest growing Circle of Red groups in the country. We have benefited from a strong staff that understands how best to influence our community involvement. Their creativity and responsiveness is demonstrated by our fundraising results. The leadership provided by Franklin Fry and his entire team makes it a joy to continue to be part of this organization.

SWM: Share a favorite memory from your time as chairwoman.
I would have to say the Go Red for Women luncheon. When I stood on the stage to welcome everyone and saw a packed house — with women cheering for and supporting one another — I felt incredibly gratified.

SWM: What is your “why”?
My why is three people important to me in my life. First is my mother, who had triple bypass surgery 14 years ago. Second is my cousin, who suffered a heart attack at age 40. Third is my friend, who had a heart attack at our work. I’m happy to report all three are doing well! My why is also our community. I stay involved because of the wonderful friendships I’ve made or strengthened through Go Red. The women I get to work with are a committed and talented team that supports and encourages one another. I’m fortunate to be a part of Go Red for Women.

2013 Chairwoman
Anne Messenger
Executive Coach and Facilitator

SWM: How did you get involved with the American Heart Association?
Julie Shimer, then-president of Welch Allyn, a customer and the 2011 Go Red For Women chairwoman, asked me to be on her committee. I said yes, reluctantly – not enough time, didn’t like asking for money – and then never looked back.

SWM: Talk about your experience serving as chairwoman.
As someone not in love with fundraising, I went into the role with reservations; but the AHA was smart — it got Stickley’s Aminy Audi to ask me. I actually laughed when she did – people knew I would never say “no” to her! When executive director Franklin Fry and I sat in my office to settle on a goal, my heart was in my throat, as I thought, “How are we ever going to pull this off?” It was a big goal. Three things fueled me, though: the mission, which unexpectedly completely engaged me; the gift of a fundraising committee of truly remarkable, energetic women; and working with the staff, which was swiftly responsive and just plain fun. All of that wrapped up into a great outcome: we knocked the goal out of the park.

SWM: How did serving as chairwoman influence your life?
The top Go Red fact — heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women — simply blew me away. Blew. Me. Away. When Julie pulled me into this campaign, I thought of myself as being in the know on health facts, but I was clueless about that very big one, and aggravated with myself. Then I discovered that other women – really smart, connected, savvy ones – were just as clueless as I was. Furthermore, they didn’t know the “women’s signs” of heart attacks or simple preventative measures to avoid heart disease: eat right, exercise, stop smoking. Well, maybe those practices aren’t so “simple” to put to work, but we didn’t even know them. So, there was a message to get out. I got fierce and we embraced it.

SWM: Share a favorite memory from your time as chairwoman.
Oh, so many! One of the top ones was driving around Syracuse the night of National Wear Red Day – I think it was in February that year – taking pictures of all of the buildings that had lit up in red. It was the first year we went big with that effort. We had community leaders calling their staff to check their building colors, figure out what old switches to use, practice their lighting, put special gels on roof lights. Really, so many people pulled together – some at the last minute – and we wound up painting the town red! What a kick that was!

SWM: What is your “why”?
Easy. My father died of a stroke and my husband died of a combo of cancer and heart disease — ultimately congestive heart failure. I gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on our bedroom floor, and it didn’t work. Then there’s my daughter, who’s young but needs to internalize this information well before I did. And then, my beloved friends – if just a few of them benefit from this work, it’s abundantly worth it. I love this campaign. It has me for life.

2014 Chairwoman
Kathy Ruscitto
President and CEO St. Joseph’s Health

SWM: How did you get involved with the American Heart Association?
I have a very close, very real perspective of the impact of heart disease in our community. The prevention, detection and treatment of heart disease are critical areas of focus for us at St. Joseph’s Health. Did you know St. Joseph’s Hospital actually performed the first open-heart surgery in 1958? Our open-heart program is one of the top 15 programs in the nation, as ranked by Consumer Reports. That’s just one of more than a dozen national recognitions our cardiac team has earned. We currently serve more than 90 percent of the open-heart needs across Central New York. Given our focus and expertise in this area, we have worked closely with the AHA for years, and there was no question as to whether I would be personally involved. My goals have always included advancing community understanding — particularly in underserved communities — of the signs of heart disease, and encouraging workplace wellness campaigns. The AHA was a perfect fit for those goals, because it’s critical that the medical advancements we are making in cardiovascular care are matched by parallel advancements in prevention through research and education. In addition to other service positions I have held with the AHA, I was blessed to be chosen to serve as the 2014 chairwoman of the Central New York AHA’s Go Red campaign, and 2015 chairwoman of the Central New York AHA’s Circle of Red.

SWM: Talk about your experience serving as chairwoman.
The women who lead the Go Red movement are nothing short of amazing. Their vision, their leadership and their commitment are unwavering. I still feel so honored to have had the opportunity to not only work alongside these women, but also leave my own mark on the successes of this effort. Well before I stepped into the role of chairwoman, I knew the number of people involved, and that their passion doesn’t stop at the Go Red committee. You see hundreds of people who attend the annual Go Red for Women luncheon show tremendous support of our efforts through volunteering and financial support, and you get to hear about amazing things they do year-round to support the organization and the cause. As chairwoman, I was sought out at this event even more than usual, which gave me the opportunity to meet so many of these people and hear their stories.

SWM: How did serving as chairwoman influence your life?
The stories that you hear! The stories from people who have lost loved ones to heart disease, and from people who have been saved or had their loved ones saved. I’ve heard these stories through my leadership roles with the AHA, and I continue to hear them from patients and their families who come through St. Joseph’s. And every single one is as moving for me as the first stories I heard. They never, ever get old. These stories are what keep me feeling connected to the community we serve and passionate about the work we do every day – whether it’s through an organization like the AHA or the work of the doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers at St. Joseph’s.

SWM: Share a favorite memory from your time as chairwoman.
Every year before the Go Red luncheon, we conduct blood pressure screenings. We always find someone with elevated levels, who goes right to their doctor after discovering the previously unknown problem. It saves lives to know your numbers! SWM: What is your “why”? We all have our own “why” – our reason for joining the fight against heart disease and stroke. For me, setting an example for the entire St. Joseph’s family by “walking the talk” and making sure our doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers take care of themselves, so they can continue providing the best care for people in our community and continue saving the lives of others – that’s why.

2015 Chairwoman
Evelyn Carter
Director, Community Relations at Wegmans Food Markets

SWM: How did you get involved with the American Heart Association?
The Heart Walk was my first experience with the AHA. We had a team of more than 100 Wegmans employees who participated. Wegmans has a strong emphasis on a company program called “Eat Well Live Well.” The Heart Walk fell into the “Live Well” portion of that program, as we were encouraging our employees to exercise. The Heart Walk was a perfect fit for achieving that goal. We had a great time. We have been participating in the Heart Walk ever since. I also recall going to the Go Red luncheon many years ago. It was quite an intimate affair then.

SWM: Talk about your experience serving as chairwoman.
Serving as chairwoman was a little intimidating at first, particularly due to the financial goal associated with serving in that capacity. What enabled me to overcome that fear was being surrounded by a great group of women who took their roles as leadership team members just as seriously as I took the chairwoman role. We worked together. We laughed together. We spread awareness of heart disease together. We exceeded our financial goal together. My employer, Wegmans, was a huge supporter. They made it easy for me to devote the time and attention needed to serve in this role. There was even a group of Wegmans employees who participated in the Circle of Red, all to support me. It couldn’t have gotten any better than that.

SWM: How did serving as chairwoman influence your life?
It was a confidence booster. Exceeding the financial goal, leading a team of high-powered, influential, dynamic women — and the overwhelming support I received from so many individuals and organizations — was a great feeling. I’m more confident in my abilities to lead, influence others and make a difference.

SWM: Share a favorite memory from your time as chairwoman.
I have two favorite memories. The Go Red photo shoot at Bellevue Country Club is one. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a photo shoot. It was the climax of the campaign, in my opinion. It was a beautiful day filled with sunshine and plenty of laughter. We took the photo outdoors. There’s a photo of me and my leadership team we took that day that says it all. It’s just perfect. My other favorite memory was the Go Red luncheon. It was truly a celebration of all the hard work we had put in. The décor of the ballroom, the “Wegmans paparazzi” taking photos as guests entered, the DJ spinning tunes and my parents traveling from Long Island to be at the luncheon with me — it was an awesome day. And we mustn’t forget ending the luncheon with more than 500 women doing the electric slide — ABSOLUTELY AWESOME!

SWM: What is your “why”?
My why is simple. I want to live. Very simple, but that’s my why. I want to enjoy life, and live life to the fullest. I want to see my son Austin grow up. I want to be around to see the man he will become. I want to live to fulfill my calling in life. I want to live to continue to experience love and happiness. Life is a precious gift, and my package is still being opened. I want to keep opening that package, so I can see more of what’s inside. I. Want. To. Live.

2016 Chairwoman
Kim Townsend
President and CEO Loretto

SWM: How did you get involved with the American Heart Association?
I first became involved in the Go Red campaign when I joined Julie Shimer’s executive leadership team in 2010. At that time, we had roughly 20 Circle of Red members. Today, we have more than 100 great leaders focused on women’s heart health. What an accomplishment!

SWM: Talk about your experience serving as chairwoman.
2016 was a year of personal growth for me as the chairwoman of the Syracuse Go Red campaign. Following closely on the heels of Evelyn Carter’s record-setting campaign left me with very large shoes to fill. I was excited and apprehensive about the challenge of meeting the Go Red goal of raising $340,000. Behind the excitement was the opportunity to play a meaningful part in the work Go Red does nationally in empowering women to take control of their health. Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women — more than any cancer. Eighty percent of all heart disease is preventable. Women’s deaths from heart disease have declined by 30 percent in the last 10 years. What we do as individuals — and as a movement — makes a difference.

SWM: How did serving as chairwoman influence your life?
I learned that while the fundraising goal seemed large, the compelling vision of a world in which no woman dies of heart disease was larger. It was humbling to see so many people rally together to achieve our goal. SWM: Share a favorite memory from your time as chairwoman. It’s hard to pick just one! The Circle of Red reception at Laci’s. The reception at Owera Vineyards. The Red Hot. Red Heart. event at Hotel Syracuse. The photo shoot at Stickley. And of course, the luncheon at the Oncenter where Loretto’s “Better You” participants were introduced. Truly a year full of great memories.

SWM: What is your “why”?
My five daughters, my granddaughter, my mother, my mother-inlaw, my sister and my sister-in-law. The women with whom I work and with whom I play. Every woman deserves a long, full life. Go Red is a movement that can make that happen. SWM

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. For more information on the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign, visit goredforwomen.org.

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