Nancy Lescarbeau reads citations honoring Attorney General Martha Coakley as the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Woman of Achievement for 2013.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Attorney General Martha Coakley was weighed down with an armful of oversized embossed folders full of official citations on Wednesday.
The honors were granted at the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's annual dinner where Coakley was recognized as the group's Woman of Achievement for 2013.
After the fifth or sixth folder was handed over, and no new one appeared, the attorney general had the room laughing with her question, "That's all?"
"Did you bring a cart?" countered event co-Chairwoman Nancy Lescarbeau, who had dutifully read each citation in full before passing it to Coakley.
Coakley's haul included laudatory missives from state representatives, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Gov. Deval Patrick and local officials including former classmate North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, which pointed to the Drury High School graduate's efforts in civil rights, cyber crime, the environment, mortgage foreclosures and health care.
"It is a much deserved opportunity for North Adams and its business and professional women to recognize 'a local gal that done good,' " read the citation from District Attorney David Capeless.
Williamstown gave her two — from the office of Town Manager Peter Fohlin and from the Board of Selectmen and Chairwoman Jane Allen — that rated her as "a staunch ally of the town and a guardian angel to the residents" for her efforts on behalf the Spruces Mobile Home Park after Tropical Storm Irene.
"It is a testament to her ability and her grit that she continues to serve, prosper and make us proud," wrote Fohlin.
Coakley thanked the crowd, saying she was "humbled" by the honors, which included a desk clock and an emblem paperweight to hold down all the citations. She joins a roster of other recipients, including former Gov. Jane Swift and Allen.
The event was part of National Business Women's Week, first marked in 1928 with the broadcast of a speech by Lean Madesin Phillips, president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs.
"In her remarks, she said the purpose of the week was to focus public attention on a better businesswoman for a better world," said Lescarbeau. It has become, she continued, as a national salute to all businesswomen and an opportunity to highlight the programs of the businesswomen's clubs.
Coakley said it was important for women to continue to "jump in" and ensure that their voices are heard.
She noted that more than half the work force is made up of women, and that they own nearly a third of U.S. businesses, generating some $1.9 trillion and employing more than 9 million workers.
Yet, some 40 percent of mothers are the breadwinners in their families and women and children are more likely to live in poverty.
"We need to do better to make sure everybody gets an opportunity to get a fair shake, and fair meal," said Coakley.
One way is for women to become leaders in their fields, in their communities and at higher governmental levels.
"I've seen some really encouraging changes," she said, referring to her friend Katherine Clark's victory Tuesday in the Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District and the emergence of competitive women candidates. (Coakley, the state's first woman attorney general, is herself running for governor.)
"I'm convinced that if we get a few more women down there [at the Capitol] we can get them back to work," said Coakley to applause.
She recommended Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will."
"I think the message of the book is don't be afraid to try something, don't be afraid to take risks, don't be a afraid to kind of lean in as she says, or jump in as I say, and don't be worried that you might fail," said Coakley. "Men do that all the time: they take risks, they push the envelope."
As the 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote approaches, it is important to remember those women who worked hard to ensure not only the right to vote, but the right to own property, to work, to have control over their lives.
"I've always been interested in women's history, in women taking their place at the table, in business, in politics, in government," she said, adding that providing support for each other was important. "The fact that you all get together every month to provide friendship and support for each other I think is terrific."
Women's issues are people's issues, she said, and women have to be front and center in arguing that.
"We know you will never change the world sitting back, waiting to be asked, or simply being well behaved. Remember well-behaved ladies seldom make history and this is about making history for us ... It's about taking our place at the table," said Coakley.
"Make a resolution to lean in, misbehave once in a while — let's have some fun — and let's get into hot water together. It will make Berkshire County a better place, it will make Massachusetts a better place and, frankly, it will make the world better."
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