NORTH STONINGTON — Lydia Teixeira and Diana Serra made history Thursday night. Before a banquet room packed full of family members, friends and guests, the women were named co-recipients of the 2013 Athena Award, the first time in the award’s 11-year local history that the honor will be shared by two people.
“This is the first time ever,” said presenter Geraldine Cunningham as she announced the winners, prompting the crowd to erupt with applause. “The first time ever.”
Sponsored by the Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, The Athena Award is bestowed annually upon an individual — or in this case, individuals — who best exemplifies outstanding community service and dedication to helping women achieve leadership roles. Teixiera and Serra were chosen from a group of seven women, the largest group of nominees ever.
The guests at Lake of Isles reacted to the news with enthusiasm, applauding and cheering as the two award winners accepted their awards.
“Thank you very much,” said Serra after accepting her statue, “I am very honored to receive this award. I love this community and I love its residents. It is a privilege to be able to give back. It is a privilege — and I repeat privilege — to be able to serve.”
Serra, was the owner, director and head teacher of the Westerly Preschool, where she taught Westerly children for more than 30 years. She was the second woman in Westerly history to be elected as president of the Westerly Town Council, served for 10 years on the Westerly School Committee and has served on numerous boards and committees, including at the Westerly Senior Center, the Westerly Airport Corporation, Westerly Hospital Community Committee and Chamber of Commerce. She participated in the North End Crime Watch reading program and volunteered to serve on the Jump Start Small Business Grant Recovery Program to evaluate applications from businesses affected by Superstorm Sandy.
“I would not be where I am today of it hadn’t been for my parents,” she said. “They taught me to work hard, live life with dignity and respect and consideration for others.”
Teixiera is vice president of Hi-Tech Profiles and the co-owner of Hopkinton Industrial Park with her business partner, Ray Quinlan. “I am honored to be among so many talented women,” she said. “I am grateful.”
“Given the right opportunities, perseverance and the right attitude,” she continued, “You can do anything. But I could not have done this without Ray Quinlan, or without my family and friends.”
Teixiera said that she grew up the second of five daughters of a single mother who encouraged her daughters to be the best people they could possibly be.
“My mother was widowed when she was 38,” she said. “I owe this to my mother, without her I would not be here today. I accept this on behalf of my mother.”
Westerly Interim Town Manager Michelle Buck, who was seated next to Serra at a table full of Westerly Town Council members, said she was thrilled when the announcement was made. “It’s well-deserved,” said Buck. “Very well-deserved.”
Added Town Councilor Christopher Duhamel, “She works so hard for our town and for our people. I am so happy for her.”
“What can I say,” said Mary Lou Serra of her sister’s award. “She’s been like this all her life.”
Tanya Umphlett of Pawcatuck fought back tears as she watched Teixiera, her boss, accept the Athena Award.
“She’s the best woman I could ever ask to work for,” said Umphlett.
It could have been a case of divided loyalties for Westerly resident Phil Stillman, but not last night.
Stillman, who works for Teixiera at Hi-Tech Profiles, is a brother-in-law of Serra.
“It was amazing,” said Stillman. “I had a tear in my eye when Lydia spoke. It was the best of both worlds.”
Other Athena nominees included Alexis Ann, publisher of the Resident newspaper; Margaret Austin, vice president of clinical services and chief nursing officer at The Westerly Hospital; Karin Barth-Leader of the music group the Cartells; Rita Casady, the retired circulation marketing manager for Providence Journal’s South County section; and Rosemarie S. Kingsbury, an administrative professional.
Six young women from local schools were awarded scholarships during the event.
Angela Chen, a student at Westerly High School, won the Falguni B. Hauser Memorial Scholarship. Michelle Zymlinski, also a student at Westerly High School, won the Joan A. Stanley Memorial Scholarship. Paige Pajarillo, a student at Chariho High School, was the recipient of the 10th annual Athena Scholarship.