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Great Dames of California

Rosa Broadous

Age: 81

Residence: Pacoima

Accomplishments: Founding member, Valley branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People; volunteer, VISTA; member, Valley Interfaith Council; member, Northeast Valley Optimists; life member, PTA; literacy tutor, Calvary Baptist Church; “Queen Mother” award recipient, National Council of Negro Women.

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The telephone call was to Calvary Baptist Church in Pacoima: “Mrs. Broadous, please.” Short pause. “Mother Broadous?”

At 81, Rosa Broadous has earned her title. Mother of 10, six of them ministers, she is recognized on the cornerstone of Calvary Baptist Church in Pacoima as mother of the church.

When the church was founded in 1955, she said, many younger congregants “had left mothers and grandmothers back wherever they came from, so I was sort of a mother figure.”

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She sits in a favorite chair in the living room of the home she and her husband built in 1953. Pinned to her crisp white dress are emblems of a lifetime of giving: PTA, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), Valley Interfaith Council. . . .

Though she never misses Sunday service, she no longer drives and gets around less. But then, she said, “I don’t feel like getting up every morning and getting dressed.”

That doesn’t mean she fiddles away hours before the TV.

“If ‘Oprah’s’ having anything interesting, I’ll watch ‘Oprah.’ Sometimes it’s a waste of time.”

Broadous has never been one to waste time. Not with six girls and four boys to raise while being helpmate to her now-late husband, Hillery, founding father and first pastor of Calvary Baptist.

Officially, she is not co-founder. In the ‘50s, a woman’s job was to direct the choir, work with the youth and the mission society “and entertain.” Today that’s changing, she said. “Praise the Lord.”

Rosa Broadous, born in Arkansas, was the only child of a laundrywoman and a mill worker. She met Hillery when he came to stoke the wood stove at her boarding school dorm.

“The sparks flew,” she said, speaking of friction, not romance. But they married the next year, in 1937.

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They had four children by World War II when, like others leaving the South, Hillery found work in an Oregon shipyard. Later, after his discharge from the service, they moved to the San Fernando Valley.

Rosa Broadous’ father was told once he was wasting money to send her to a Christian school--"All she’s going to be able to do is clean houses.”

After being widowed in 1982, she earned an associate degree in human relations from Los Angeles Mission College. She regrets not having a four-year degree but said, “I don’t think I’m going back to school.”

She was always there for her children, even when she “had to leave a job and go to school to see what was going on.” When one of them graduated from high school, the whole class erupted, “Praise the Lord!”

With children and grandchildren, she’s learned, “being able to keep your mouth shut” is a great virtue, though “the older you get, the harder it is.” William took over as pastor after his father’s death. His sister, Cecilia, is a missionary in South Africa.

Empowering children and adults through reading is part of a life “pretty fulfilled.” She’s also worked for the NAACP, the Braille Institute, Scouting and the YWCA and takes pride in watching children at church “grow into strong men and women.”

Her philosophy?

“You do what you can, and leave the rest to the Lord.”

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Iris Cantor

Age: Her secret

Residence: Bel-Air

Accomplishments: At Los Angeles Museum of Art, established Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Plaza and the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden; donated 114 works of art including Rodin’s “Monument to Balzac"; provided funding, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery; at UCLA Medical Center, established Iris Cantor Center for Breast Imaging, Iris Cantor Mobile Mammography Community Outreach Program, Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center, Iris Cantor Woman’s Health and Education Resource Center; member, executive board for medical sciences at UCLA; at Stanford University’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, established Rodin Research Fund, donated 268 works of art including Rodin’s monument “Gates of Hell,” provided funding for B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden; for the Discovery Fund for Eye Research, established the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Fellowship; member, board of trustees, Otis College of Art and Design; member, board of governors, UCLA foundation at the Los Angeles Music Center; member, board of trustees, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York; established Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Film Center at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University; honored for patronage of the Tisch School; honored by the Rogosin Institute/National Kidney Foundation of New York/New Jersey as “Woman of the Year.”

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Integrity is the rule Iris Cantor lives by.

“I also say exactly what I think--even if I know it’s not what someone wants to hear! It’s important to be honest, and one always knows where they stand with me. I’m an optimist.”

Cantor said her sense of responsibility to her causes and charities guides her life.

“When you are a focused and committed fund-raiser and philanthropist, you can’t ever be impulsive. It’s detrimental to one’s goals. Giving has to be well-thought out in order to have impact.”

In recent years, Cantor has taken over primary leadership of her foundation.

“It’s a very active role--there are a lot of decisions to be made on a daily basis. You have to take things one at a time and evaluate how your actions affect other people. I appreciate the things I have learned over time. I’ve had the opportunity to give back to others, and that is my greatest joy--especially when you can help someone in a time of need or trauma. I like to know I’ve made a difference and touched many lives in a positive way.”

Cantor said she believes that, as a nation, we have to work together to eradicate deadly diseases.

“We also have to preserve our cultural heritage and recognize the value that the arts can contribute to our society and our children. I’ve always been grateful that I have the ability to give to people while I am alive and can enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor. It’s an amazing sense of satisfaction to know you have helped not only individuals but humankind at large! You leave your mark on something--you hope it inspires others.”

Sylvia Earle

Age: 64

Residence: Oakland

Accomplishments: Explorer-in-residence and project director of Sustainable Seas Expeditions, National Geographic Society; Time magazine’s first “Hero for the Planet"; former chief scientist and first woman to hold position, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; author, more than 125 scientific and popular works, including seven books; made world’s deepest solo dive without a tether at 1,250 feet; holds depth record for solo diving, a 3,281-foot plunge; member, several corporate boards and 14 nonprofit boards and commissions.

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Sylvia Earle, world-famous marine biologist, still thinks of herself as a girl growing up in Gibbstown, N.J., smitten by the wonders of the sea.

“Like most children, I was simply curious about the world around me, irresistibly drawn to the unknown,” she said. “Everything was unknown. I just had to know what was around the next corner, the next rock. This hasn’t changed at all.”

With a heady list of accomplishments, though, she is shifting her focus slightly from that of student to teacher. She wants to encourage people to honor and preserve the sea and its inhabitants--by visiting an aquarium or taking diving lessons, for instance.

“I heartily recommend that people jump right in,” Earle said. “My mother waited until she was 81 before she put on a facemask and flippers, and then she scolded me for letting her wait for so long.”

Earle started her own exploration of the oceans in the mid-'60s, after earning a doctorate from Duke University. At the same time, she was raising a family. Even now, the mother of three and grandmother of four is trying to find a manageable balance between work and life.

“Well, I keep trying to find that harmony. I was blessed with parents who were able to back me up . . . but everybody has to find their own way. . . . The main thing is not to say ‘never’ and to not give up on the concept that it’s possible. You have to sometimes be creative, and there are trade-offs.

“I look back and lament that I didn’t spend as much time as some moms do or dads do with their youngsters in critical times at their lives. On the other hand, I was able to share with them some magical experiences. They’ve all been swimming with whales. They’ve all traveled more than most youngsters. . . . They’ve all been secure, I think, in knowing that I really love them and I’m always there for them, and no matter where in the world I am, I will drop everything if they need me there and that they do come first.”

Her grandchildren have taught her new lessons.

“Seeing the world through their eyes really does give me an enhanced incentive to get things right. I think about what the world is going to be like in 25 years. I imagine them as young adults going out into the world.

“What kind of world will it be, and will they look back at those of us who are now making decisions and say, ‘Well, why didn’t you do something? You could have saved the blue whales, but you didn’t.’ I have this haunting feeling [they will say], ‘You were there when there were great bluefin tuna, and there aren’t any anymore. Why didn’t you do something?’ ”

March Fong Eu

Age: 78

Residences: Singapore and Sacramento

Accomplishments: Won 21 elections in California, the most by a woman, including Alameda County Board of Education, 10 years; State Assembly, 15th District, eight years; Secretary of State of California, 19 years; former U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia.

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March Fong Eu is never out of touch. Even though Eu lives half the year in Singapore, this e-mail whiz maintains connections with the Californians she’s served since becoming the first Asian woman elected to the Alameda County Board of Education. On her second trip to the polls, she became president of the board.

In 1966, after winning a seat in the state Assembly, she also won worldwide attention with her bill to eliminate pay toilets in government buildings.

“No person should have to rustle up the proper change to use a restroom,” she recalled saying. Fellow lawmakers agreed, and then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown signed her bill into law.

At 78, the woman who has been called the grande dame of the California Democratic Party has retired from little, except running for office. Just two years ago, she was stumping for her Republican son, Matt Fong, who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate.

“Matt’s wonderful. He should have won--even if he is in the wrong party,” Eu said in a telephone interview from Singapore, where she lives with second husband Henry Eu, a multimillionaire industrialist. She planned to return the next day to Sacramento, the town where she was born in the back room of a hand-laundry enterprise owned by her parents. Growing up poor was “no deterrent,” she said.

In high school she earned A’s, edited the school paper and became president of the honor society. She worked her way through UC Berkeley, married Chester Fong in her third year, had two children and became a dental hygienist. Then she earned her doctorate at Stanford. All this was well before “women’s liberation” had hit the big time.

She said her life’s ambition was a career in politics. And it remains a source of pride that she chose it, succeeded where women had not gone before and enjoyed it so. Still does.

“I knew from the start that’s what I wanted. I was one of the first two women in the state Assembly. Being a woman and of Asian origin was very important to California’s diversified culture. To this day, I am so proud when I get letters from young Asian women who say I opened the doors for them.”

Still, she hates talk of the past. These days, she’s busier than ever.

“I started painting a few years ago and have found a new career in art. I started with Chinese brush painting and calligraphy and have moved on to oils and Impressionism. I’ve had some major exhibitions and am working on one for Vancouver and Victoria next year. I am also acting as exclusive agent for a museum-quality snuff bottle collection, and an appointment is pending for me as Southeast Asia senior advisor for a global telecommunications corporation. So, you see, I am not idle. I have problems when someone asks about the past. My thoughts are mainly in the future.”

Joan Irvine Smith

Age: 66

Residence: San Juan Capistrano

Accomplishments: Former director, Irvine Co.; instrumental in Irvine Co.'s donation of 1,000 acres to establish UC Irvine; founder, with mother, Athalie R. Clarke, of foundation that provided the primary grant for acquisition of the first building at UCI’s Center of Health Sciences; supporter, atmospheric chemistry research efforts, including those of Nobel Prize winner Sherwood Roland; partner, with actor Christopher Reeve, the American Paralysis Assn. and the UCI College of Medicine, in forming the Reeve-Irvine Research Center for spinal cord injuries and disease treatment and research; catalyst, National Water Research Institute; founder, Irvine Museum; founder, Friends of the Mission support group for Mission San Juan Capistrano; winner, UCI Medal, the university’s highest honor; honored by the Orange County Museum of Art for contributions to promotion and appreciation of California’s art heritage.

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Joan Irvine Smith, the great-granddaughter of Orange County land baron James Irvine, has long ties to the development of much of the area, including the city that bears the family name.

Her current passion is to “make a mark with the protection of the environment” through the promotion of land preservation and the search for new sources of water.

“If we can have a balance between the development and environmental communities, we will leave something for future generations,” said Smith, who lives at the Oaks, her horse-breeding and training farm.

In 1957, Smith succeeded her mother, Athalie R. Clarke, as director of Irvine Co., serving until 1983. In 1977, she was a part of a consortium, including Donald Bren, Alfred Taubman and Henry Ford II, that bought Irvine Co.

After Bren offered to buy her out in 1981, Smith became embroiled in a dispute about the value of her interest in the company. It was resolved in 1990 when a Michigan court referee awarded her $149 million for her stock.

Smith, who married four times and has three sons, helped transform the family company into a sleek corporate entity. When she agreed to sell the company, she ended the family’s close involvement with it.

A lover of horses, Smith staged high-caliber jumping competitions and lavish benefit luncheons at the Oaks for more than a decade. A few years ago, she walked away from an elegant house in Newport Beach and took up residence in a prefabricated home at the Oaks.

“You can be very happy living simply,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m sitting in a modular house down on the farm. I embarrass my kids, but this is what I enjoy.

“I like my garden, and from these windows, I see a view of beautiful hills--the way this country might have looked 300 years ago.”

Nell Soto

Age: 73

Residence: Pomona

Accomplishments: Elected in March to the state Senate, 32nd District, the first woman state senator from the Inland Empire; former state Assemblywoman, 61st District; former member, Pomona City Council; chairwoman, Assembly Select Committee on the Alameda Corridor East; member, South Coast Air Quality Management District, the first woman appointed to that post from the San Gabriel Valley.

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“One of the things I have tried to teach my children is that you were born into this world to do something. God gave you a brain and a body to contribute something, not just be.”

Nell Soto has tried to not just be.

Her zeal for self-reliance, community service and fighting for disenfranchised residents was formed as she was growing up in Pomona during the Depression.

“Everybody was so poor,” she said. “And it wasn’t necessarily because we were Mexican.”

She worked in the fields to bring in some money and later broke an ethnic barrier by winning a job in a retail store in downtown Pomona.

“I was the first Mexican American to work on 2nd Street, even though my father was a descendant of the settlers” of the town, she said. “ ‘We can’t give you a job on 2nd Street.’ They had no qualms about telling you those things. I think that has affected a lot of my philosophy.”

She began knocking down barriers at an early age.

“I would be the only Mexican in community activities,” she said. “When they realized you could speak and think, they finally accepted you. . . . When my little brother and sister were still in high school, I started going to PTA meetings. . . . They needed representation.”

As the mother of six, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of three, Soto sees politics as a way to satisfy her lifelong goal of improving people’s lives. The initiatives of the state’s most senior lawmaker have sought to help young and old. She sponsored the law requiring service stations to provide free air and water to customers, and she has introduced a bill that would provide English tutoring for Latino kids who need it in Head Start, the early childhood development program.

“There’s a lot you can do about what you think is wrong,” she said. As there were during the Depression, today “there are children falling through the cracks, parents need help on health care. . . . That is my inspiration, to try to help people, as corny as it might sound.”

Soto’s advice to younger women, particularly Latinas, is that of a survivalist: “Don’t let anyone push you around.”

Andrea Van De Kamp

Age: 56

Residence: Pasadena

Accomplishments: chairwoman, Sotheby’s West Coast business operations; chairwoman, board of governors, Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles; trustee, Pomona College; member, governing bodies of UCLA Hammer Museum, the California Community Foundation, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Walt Disney Co., City National Bank and Jenny Craig International; former president and chief executive, Independent Colleges of Southern California; former director, public affairs, Carter Hawley Hale Stores; former director, development, Museum of Contemporary Art; former executive director, Southern California Coro Foundation; former associate director, admissions, Dartmouth College; former chairwoman, Music Center Operating Committee; former director, First Women’s Bank of California; former vice chairman, California Council of the Humanities; former executive board member, United Way and Los Angeles County Museum of Art; former co-chairwoman, Los Angeles Arts Task Force.

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Andrea Van De Kamp’s day begins in her backyard among birds, insects and flowers. When her schedule is filled with meetings, and she is faced with obstacles and decisions, this is where she finds perspective and peace.

“What I like best about it is all the little lives that take place there every day. So as I’m getting up with my big concern about a meeting or something, I watch that hawk that’s been in the same tree for 10, 15 years going about his business. I throw the balls around with my dogs.”

Of her professional and civic success, she’s inclined to say she isn’t at all certain that she is a success.

“I’m delighted when I get to work and my shoes match.”

But, certainly, there have been victories. Starting in 1996, Van De Kamp, along with Mayor Richard Riordan and Performing Arts Center director Eli Broad, rescued a fledgling fund-raising campaign for the Disney Concert Hall. Funds now exceed $224 million. Construction began in November.

“Sometimes the stars line up in the right order. . . . I just felt in my heart that this building had to be built.”

Her career and civic involvements focus on the arts.

“I’m the daughter of an artist, and my stepfather was an architect, so I grew up around color and form. All of us are deeply influenced by the things that we have seen and touched as children. . . . I think the arts are what carry us one generation to the next.”

She and her husband, former state Atty. Gen. John Van De Kamp, have a daughter, Diana, 21, a student at California Institute of the Arts. The most important lesson that Andrea Van De Kamp, as a parent, has tried to impart is “to be comfortable with her faults. Too many of us all of our lives go around worrying about our inadequacies. The fact is, we all have them. We all have strengths and weaknesses. . . . If you are comfortable with yourself, you are far better able to give to others. . . . It will allow her strengths to blossom and allow her to welcome someone else’s strengths into a team, and no matter what you do in your life . . . you need others.”

She loves sports for that same sense of teamwork and for its grace and lessons that can be applied to life. She describes how Willis Reed of the New York Knicks hobbled onto the floor of Madison Square Garden in the deciding game of the 1970 NBA championship series against the Lakers.

He was injured, and even his teammates didn’t know if he would play, but he limped onto the court, somehow managed to control the tip over Wilt Chamberlain, then scored the team’s first two buckets, inspiring a New York title win.

She also describes a wounded Kirk Gibson stepping to the plate for the Dodgers, trailing by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and a runner on base--how he fouled off four pitches, grimacing in pain with each swing, then sent a Dennis Eckersley slider over the fence in the 1988 World Series opener.

“Courage,” she said. She saw it in Reed and Gibson and once as a child standing next to her mother, she saw it in Henri Matisse’s cutouts. Her mother cried as she explained how they were created while Matisse was ill and bedridden.

She remembered them as she remembers the hawk in her backyard, all specks in the universe. And when the meetings are over and her tasks are finished, she returns to what is truly important.

“I think that at the end of the day, you only have your family, your friends and what you have given your family and friends. It really isn’t about things. It’s about relationships, and you hope that you’ll be remembered as a good wife, a good mother and a good friend.”

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Compiled by Times staff writers Beverly Beyette, Lynell George, Renee Tawa, Bettijane Levine, Ann Conway, Jose Cardenas and Duane Noriyuki.


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