People to Watch
Our Annual Survey of Newly Notables
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFFERY JOHNSTON and ILLUSTRATIONS BY ROBERT LANDRY
There are two things you could always count on in the local media, a daily Times-Picayune and our annual People to Watch section. Well, now we’re down one. Here is our latest sampling, among many, of new faces doing noteworthy activities or, in some cases, old faces dong new things. Take a look. With fewer newspapers to read, there’s more time for watching.
Charles M. Brown
City Librarian and Executive Director, New Orleans Public Library
Charles Brown has worked in public libraries for well more than 30 years before becoming director of New Orleans Public Libraries. A Mayor Mitch Landrieu hire and former director in Charlotte, N.C., he now oversees the daily operations of the library system, which will add five new branches in 2012.
Brown says that he feels fortunate to have identified early on a career that he both thoroughly enjoys and in which he has been successful. “I appreciate and value the near-limitless opportunities that the public library offers anyone who is exposed to it. It continues to fulfill its early mission of being, in the words of library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, ‘the people’s university’ – free and open to all and where all things become possible.”
Brown says his biggest challenge this past year was being part of NOPL’s completion and opening of five new libraries between March and July of this year – four within four weeks’ time, and three of those within a six-day period. “It was a Herculean undertaking and one that the community and I both owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to a remarkable staff for making a reality.”
In the next year, Brown is looking forward to a continuing emphasis on the library’s literacy initiative and identification of additional partners and volunteers to aid in this effort. In December, Natasha Trethewey – U.S. Poet Laureate – will make an appearance at the Main Library, a highlight which Brown says will increase NOPL’s public programming. He also hopes to heighten awareness, through enhanced communications, of the array of services and programs being offered by the NOPL.
Kim A. Moss
Executive Director, Project Lazarus
Kim Moss has recently been hired as the new executive director for Project Lazarus, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and supporting services to people living with HIV/AIDS and gives hope for those in the HIV/AIDS community by offering care for those unable to care for themselves. Moss will be in charge of aiding the program in transitioning to permanent housing.
Having lived for 25 years with a disease that formerly was considered a “death sentence” and which is now more often considered a “chronic condition,” Moss has learned to live each day to the fullest. As Project Lazarus’ new executive director, Moss now has the opportunity to make a difference for New Orleanians with HIV/AIDS on a daily basis.
Project Lazarus, founded in 1985, has served more than 1,000 people living with the disease since the agency’s inception and was the first agency in New Orleans that specifically provided people with HIV/AIDS a place to live.
Moss says he wants to be able to know that he has done his best each day to make a positive impact. “My favorite thing about what I do is witnessing the remarkable changes that take place in the lives of people who are in need but are empowered and provide a helping hand,” says Moss.
Curtis “CJ” Johnson
Head Football Coach, Tulane University
Curtis “CJ” Johnson made a huge transition this year after moving from his former position as the New Orleans Saints receivers’ coach to the position of Tulane University’s head football coach. Under the leadership of the Saints’ head coach Sean Payton, Johnson assisted in planning games and working on the players’ conditioning and practice, which eventually led to a Super Bowl win. As Tulane’s new head football coach, Johnson will bring his experience with the Saints to the table.
While he says it was challenging to balance his job for the Saints while transitioning into Tulane’s football program, Johnson is looking forward to building a top-20 program for the university, both academically and athletically. Johnson’s long-term goal for the Tulane football program is to build a team of well-rounded athletes that are successful both on and off the football field.
“I believe the good Lord has instilled a passion in me to do this work. I am driven to see young people succeed both on and off the field,” says Johnson. “There is a sense of pride and joy associated with witnessing the result of hard work and consistency. Knowing I played a small part in the outcome when a student athlete achieves a goal or dream is very fulfilling.”
Susan M. Taylor
Montine McDaniel Freeman Director, New Orleans Museum of Art
An art historian with more than 20 years experience as a museum director, Susan Taylor brings a big-picture leadership style and a penchant for multidisciplinary connections – artistic, cultural, historical – that have already prompted exciting changes at NOMA since she became director on September 2010.
The past two years have been busy for the art museum’s new director. NOMA has expanded the museum and Besthoff Sculpture Garden hours, increased programming, revamped Ralph Brennan’s Café NOMA, reimagined the Department of Interpretation and Audience Engagement, commissioned and acquired new major works of art, celebrated a centennial anniversary and launched a new website as well as a new graphic identity.
Taylor is interested in continuing to explore and foster the relationships between the museum and the city as a whole. “I see tremendous opportunity for the museum to respond to the city’s history and culture, and also to be a catalyst for it,” she says.
A slew of new NOMA programs keep all constituencies engaged. Site-specific Great Hall installations, theater performances, Friday night “Where Y’Art” events and new Saturday children’s programs allow the museum to reach across different disciplines and age groups.
Taylor approaches a directorship with a broad, connection-minded approach bringing together all components of the organization to create a more vital whole. “A director of a museum should be the cultural ambassador for the institution,” she notes.
NOMA has an ambitious upcoming exhibition schedule that includes: “Lifelike” and “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Art at World’s Fair.”
Director of Athletics, University of New Orleans
Derek R. Morel has been the University of New Orleans Director of Athletics since July 1, and he already has big goals for the Privateers. “It is my expectation that our team will work diligently to lift UNO Athletics to new levels of excellence and, consequently, become a very valuable asset to the University of New Orleans,” he says.
One glance at Morel’s credentials and you’ll see the man has the experience to make that happen. As the former Vice President and General Manager of IMG College, the nation’s leading marketing and multimedia provider, Morel managed the multimedia rights partnerships with Wake Forest University, the city of Winston-Salem and the Greensboro Coliseum Complex for IMG College. He was responsible for about $5 million in annual multi media rights sales management of the Wake Forest website and other various tasks.
Morel says he enjoys working in college athletics because he likes the opportunities sports provide for Division I student athletes. “It is fulfilling to make a difference in the lives of many young women and young men,” Morel says. He adds that he hopes to continue this philosophy for the men and women of UNO, and he hopes the people of New Orleans will join him. “We invite everyone to join us as we begin our journey to excellence – excellence for the University of New Orleans and UNO Athletics,” he says. “The Privateers are back. All for one … All for UNO.”
Founder and CEO, New Orleans Bow Ties
Ben Azevedo, a fourth-year student at Tulane University medical school and founder of New Orleans Bow Ties, needed a way to relax after a particularly stressful day of studying in 2009. Azevedo found some silk fabric he’d bought in Thailand and took out his sewing machine – a creative outlet his mother taught him when he was younger.
“I like to feel that I’m creating good things for the world, but being a student often feels like I’m consuming rather than creating,” he explains. “Starting the bow tie business allows me to activate my right brain, meet new people and contribute something to the world.”
Though he started out making straight ties, Azevedo thought about the presence of bow ties in New Orleans and was instantly inspired. He took his creative outlet and turned it into a successful business that features custom-fitted silk bow ties that are made in bright colors and bold patterns. Eventually, Azevedo wants the company to make its own fabric with New Orleans-influenced designs.
“I’m excited we’ve taken on a new designer and we’re looking to release our first line of bow ties that we’ve designed ourselves. We’re also looking forward to selling our ties in more retail shops in the city,” he says. “I am perfecting a product that has become more and more complex the longer I look at it and laying down a foundation for a business that will make my city proud.”
Cassie Steck Worley
Chairman of the Board of Governors, Le Petit Thêatre du Vieux Carré; drama teacher,
Metairie Park Country Day School; actress; producer; director
Founded in 1916, Le Petit Thêatre du Vieux Carré is one of New Orleans’ cultural icons. Despite its influence on the city, the past few years have been rough – the theater was drowning in debt. As it struggled to keep its head above water, Board Chair Cassie Worley was forced to make bold decisions to save and carry on the legacy of Le Petit Thêatre du Vieux Carré.
This summer, Le Petit was able to gain sound financial footing with the help of Dickie Brennan and Co., and will continue operating as one of the oldest community theaters in the country. Interior renovations have begun and should be completed by late 2012.
“At a time when so many arts organizations are struggling all over the country, we are so glad and thankful that, with the agreement of our former season ticket holders, we could negotiate this arrangement with Dickie Brennan,” says Worley. “This not only gives the theater a beautiful facelift, but also keeps the organization in New Orleans community, provides arts education to children and opens a first-class restaurant next door.”
On top of getting the theater back on its feet, Worley is heading the theater’s new education program. She says that it will begin immediately in the hopes of creating an education and community outreach program so that students from all social and economic backgrounds can experience the magic of live theater.
“Theater is an affirmation of what makes us human. After 25 years of teaching, I believe the arts are becoming more and more essential, and theater belongs on the most historic corner of New Orleans.”
Owner and Soapmaster General, Bayousoap
William Terry’s smile is infectious and belies his size, so when he pitches his natural soaps and his success as a small business owner, it’s hard not to smile right back at him.
Terry began Bayousoap – a line of all-natural, made from scratch in New Orleans vegan soap – after Hurricane Katrina, then later discovered it runs in the family (his grandmother and great aunt were also soapmakers). He offers 17 varieties made from unrefined vegetable oils, flowers, herbs and spices that are so large (a single bar might last a year or more) that he suggests you let him cut them to your preferred size. Options include an unscented oatmeal, milk and honey; a super shea butter; a ginger basil exfoliator; a cool citrus basil; and a mango.
Though he’s most often found at festivals (this year he has sold at Jazz Fest, Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival and Essence Fest), his soap is also sold at the Community Bookstore, Maypop Herbshop and co-ops around New Orleans, among other locations. In the last year Terry has taken on a second vendor, so that Bayousoap can be at two places at once, and hopes to add a third vendor this next year. In addition, he sells his soap through his Facebook page (fb/bayousoap) and hopes to begin a soap competition with awards such as “best scent” and “best lather.”
Writer, MySpiltMilk.com; Guest Editor, Oxford American Louisiana Music Issue 2012
It has been a busy year for writer Alex Rawls. He says his biggest accomplishment of 2012 came when he was asked to guest edit for the Oxford American Louisiana Music Issue. He was honored to be included in the flagship issue for the magazine and appreciated the responsibility and trust Oxford American gave him.
Another big 2012 moment for Rawls was when he left his job as editor of OffBeat magazine for, what he calls, “the very unpredictable world of online journalism.” He started MySpiltMilk.com, a website that covers New Orleans music, art, food and more.
Rawls says he started MySpiltMilk.com because OffBeat’s online presence was growing and he was finding little time to write. With his own website, he could tell the stories he wanted.
Rawls is an example of writers adapting to the future of digital journalism, something that has gained New Orleans a lot of attention in recent months with The Times-Picayune’s shift to digital. Rawls is part of the New Orleans Digital News Alliance, a group of online news outlets that promote each other’s stories and websites. He thinks it’s an exciting time for the city’s writers and readers. “We’re going to be cutting-edge whether we want to be or not,” Rawls says, “and we’re all going to be a part of the process of negotiating a new relationship between the reader, the writer and the community as a whole. I look forward to being a part of that conversation.”
Owner and Co-founder, playNOLA Sports
Lavonzell Nicholson has played and coached sports all her life, so building a business around adult recreational sports was a natural progression.
“Moving back to the city post-Hurricane Katrina I realized that there were a number of traditional networking avenues in which young professionals could meet,” she says; her brainchild, playNOLA Sports, is a place for young professionals in New Orleans to “network” while playing kickball, softball and other sports. “playNOLA was born out of a desire to be able to play sports, a gaping hole in the young professional/adult recreational landscape.”
playNOLA has been adding more and more sports, and Nicholson anticipates further growth. “In the short term, we’re working each day to grow our membership,” she says, adding that they have added 6,500 members since 2009. “Long-term, the goal is to grow the playNOLA brand in the city of New Orleans and the region. I want playNOLA to become synonymous with adult recreation in New Orleans and south Louisiana.”
Nicholson has also helped to create the GeauxPlay Foundation, which will work with areas kids during the summer.
But her biggest accomplishment, she says, “is my growing family. I’m over-the-moon in love with my husband, Marquies, and so overjoyed to announce that we are expecting our first child. Family is the cornerstone of my life; at the end of our lives, we may be remembered as a great businessperson, philanthropist, athlete and so on, but none of that compares to the legacy of love that you leave with your family.”
Journalist, Los Angeles Times and former reporter, The Times-Picayune
After the startling and sweeping changes were announced at the The Times-Picayune this past summer, Cindy Chang’s journalistic career path took an unexpected turn to the West Coast. Chang, whose investigative prison series, “Louisiana INCarcerated” garnered national attention, won the Sidney Hillman Award, which honors reporters whose investigative work fosters social and economic justice. She exposed abuse and corruption in private prisons in the state.
“I was amazed by the reaction,” she says. “So many people were grateful to us for exposing something they’d had no idea about.” She had been with the newspaper since 2007, and hoped to conduct more in-depth investigations here, but now she will be reporting for the Los Angeles Times, telling the stories of immigrants in Southern California. “I love talking to people I wouldn’t otherwise talk to, learning about their lives and what makes them tick, then writing a compelling story,” she says. “My ultimate goal as a journalist is to tell the stories of people who have been left behind in our system of winners and losers, so that those who are exploiting them can be held accountable.”
Tod A. Smith
President and General Manager, WWL-TV Inc.
Tod A. Smith recently came home to New Orleans – and a company for which he used to work – from Norfolk, Va., where he was president and general manager of a local ABC affiliate. In New Orleans, he has taken over as president and general manager of WWL-TV Inc., and is responsible for WWL-TV, WUPL-TV, NewsWatch Channel 15 and WWLTV.com.
“There’s not a more interesting, challenging and fun job than operating a media company,” says Smith. “It satisfies my creative side as well as my analytical side; not many professions can do that. My favorite part of the job is working with people who are as passionate about their community and their profession as I am. And getting to do this in my hometown, and at the first television station I worked at, is just lagniappe.”
“I’m expecting some exciting things to come from Rampart Street,” says Smith, looking forward to his new post. “First, we want to provide the news and information that can help to make this a better place to live. An informed populace is crucial to the long-term health of our community.” And, more specifically, “We’re continuously striving to understand the needs of our viewers, online users and business partners.”
And, of course, Smith is just happy to be back in the Big Easy. “As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home.”
Smith is married to Kenya Lavigne Smith and father to Elijah Nathaniel Smith.
Dr. Justin A. Nystrom
Assistant Professor of History, Loyola University New Orleans
Starting this fall, Justin A. Nystrom will be the co-director of the Center for the Study of New Orleans at Loyola University New Orleans. It is a logical new role for the Loyola assistant professor of history who has been researching the city in the form of oral histories. He has focused on local groups and places, such as Deutches Haus, Italian groceries, the port and more, and has shown a love for New Orleans in both its past and future.
Researching and celebrating the city of New Orleans keeps Nystrom busy. In 2011, Nystrom helped organize the first NolaLoyola event, which featured panels and discussions about the city’s world-famous cuisine. He is currently planning NolaLoyola 2012, scheduled for Sept. 28, which will focus on brass bands and jazz.
Nystrom is also working on a book, Creole Italian, due out in late 2013, and he recently finished his first film, Haus of Memories. Nystrom will also be directing the Loyola Documentary and Oral History Studio this fall.
Nystrom says he and his wife, Jessica, are part of the post-Hurricane Katrina migration to New Orleans, and they’re committed to making the city a better place. “I hope that the things I do will inspire my students to understand and embrace our city,” Nystrom says. “At the same time, there are amazing things going on at Loyola right now, and I’m part of a new wave of faculty who see our job as taking the university to the next level of excellence in both teaching and research. I have some incredible colleagues.”
Artist and Designer, Eklektik Ekhos; Teaching Artist, KidsmART
Douriean Fletcher designs and creates jewelry and bamboo sconces, and her company, Eklektik Ekhos, has led her to work in major museums and be in important fashion shows. But in addition to making and selling her creations, she’s passionate about sharing her knowledge and artistry with children. She has been working as a teaching artist with the KidsmART organization since 2010, and she has lofty aspirations for them and for herself.
“My ultimate life goal is to create an organization that takes children that don’t have the privilege to travel to countries that still participate in indigenous jewelry-making techniques and expose them to different ways of life,” she says.
Her biggest recent challenge was to raise funds to get to Paris for a Fashion Week event, Labo Ethnik. “I was invited a few months before the event and I had to raise most of the funds and bust my butt to get there,” she says. “It was emotionally, mentally and physically challenging, but it was well worth it!”
Admittedly soft-spoken, Fletcher speaks volumes with her artwork. “I don’t talk much, but I feel like I can communicate exactly what I’m thinking and how I feel through my work,” she says. “I create to share a story and to break my own barriers that have been placed here by society and by myself. Through creating, I’m able to realize a world of unlimited possibilities, and I thank and appreciate all those that share this journey with me.”
Fletcher’s work is available on her website, EklektikEkhos.com.
General Manager, Hyatt French Quarter
As the new general manager of the Hyatt French Quarter, Larry Daniels, who moved here from Dallas, works with a diverse group of people in one of the city’s most anticipated properties: the newly opened Hyatt French Quarter, a former Wyndham hotel that went through an $18 million renovation. The hotel is prime real estate for both locals and tourists and will undoubtedly be a key venue to accommodate guests of the upcoming Super Bowl.
Behind every great hotel is a great GM, and Daniels has the experience and the energy to bring the hotel into its bright future. “I enjoy the ongoing challenge of ensuring that all needs are met throughout any given day,” he says.
His long-term goal is to achieve a higher level of responsibility with the organization. Because the transition is so fresh, he says his top priority is to make sure that all high standards and service levels exceed guests’ expectations.
“Hyatt French Quarter’s modern design and new aesthetic has surpassed my original expectations,” says Daniels. “It truly is a fantastic property in one of our city’s greatest neighborhoods.”
Red Vaughan Tremmel
Assistant Professor and Director of the Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity,
Tulane University; Film Director and Producer, Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival
Red Tremmel is the director of the new Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity at Tulane University and is excited to be part of a team that will “provide all undergraduate, graduate and professional students with academic, cultural and professional resources that will be of life-long use.” In addition, he’ll be working with Tulane’s Center for Public Service to collaborate with local nonprofits, cultural and educational institutions to address issues related to gender and sexuality throughout New Orleans.
“Whether teaching, advising students, making a documentary, doing research or making art, I hope to help people think about sexuality and gender with more depth and nuance,” Tremmel says. “I feel it’s imperative that we think hard and smart about sexuality and gender if we’re to effectively address some of the most pressing issues of our day.”
After 10 years of work, Tremmel screened the rough cut of his documentary, Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival at a reunion of 500 burlesque dancers, who gave him a standing ovation. In June, he created an installation on the art and history of burlesque for dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany, which expected more than 750,000 visitors in 10 days. Tremmel feels that Jennie Lee and Dixie Evans, two burlesque dancers whose careers spanned the 1940s and ’50s who worked their entire lives to introduce the world to burlesque as a significant art form, “might rest easy knowing that their work is being honored in one of the world’s most celebrated international modern art exhibitions.”
Robert Hunter Distinguished University Professor, Loyola University
In between teaching literature and creative writing classes at Loyola University New Orleans – where he has worked for the last 35 years – John Biguenet has been hard at work cranking out two new plays, a new novel and a new collection of stories, all in the last year.
A lifelong writer, Biguenet began publishing reviews of children’s books in The Times-Picayune at age 10. “Writing has remained for me the most effective way of understanding the world,” he explains. “Writing and teaching fit me because I find very attractive the combination of writing and the sense of community in a classroom.”
Biguenet is the author of Oyster, a novel, and The Torturer’s Apprentice: Stories, a widely translated collection. He has also penned the plays The Vulgar Soul (also a story in Apprentice) and Rising Water, which were produced by Southern Rep to wide acclaim. In the next year, he’ll have two new plays opening nationwide; here in Louisiana, his trilogy of plays on a flooded New Orleans will run next spring in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans.
“My goal is to continue to organize my life to balance writing, teaching and family,” says the father of two, adding that his greatest accomplishment is “occasionally deserving my wife.”
Biguenet is the winner of the 2012 Louisiana Writer Award, an honor given by the State Library of Louisiana for lifetime achievement.
Monty Sullivan, Ed.D.
Chancellor, Delgado Community College
Monty Sullivan took over as Chancellor of Delgado Community College this June, coming off a career with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, where he was responsible for academic programs, student services, institutional research and more.
“Education changes lives,” Sullivan says. “It is a rare privilege to lead an organization with the 90-year history of Delgado serving over 30,000 individuals each year – people who learn and grow personally and professionally, which ultimately benefits our community. Each of those students has a unique personal story of their journey.”
In his new position, Sullivan intends to hone Delgado’s programs to reflect the needs of the regional workforce. “In the immediate future, Delgado is focused on delivering a new level of excellence in the allied health fields, culinary arts, digital media and advanced manufacturing, among others.”
While looking to increase the school’s reach, the Delgado administration has dealt with a few growing pains. “Delgado has experienced a near-doubling in enrollment since fall 2006,” says Sullivan. “We are proud to say that we have met the challenge that each new semester has brought.”
Delgado has the advantage of recently joining the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Effort, an aid program for developing companies. Sullivan is looking forward to a bright future at Delgado, including the pending centennial in 2021.
Sullivan and his wife, Kelley, have four daughters, ages 8, 11, 13 and 19.
Warner L. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer, Ochsner Health System
Health care reform has been one of the hottest topics this election year, something the new Ochsner Health System CEO Warner L. Thomas has been navigating to make sure the company’s patients keep getting the best care. As the former president and chief operating officer of Ochsner, Thomas identifies health care reform as his biggest challenge of the past year. But understanding the changes and adapting to new technologies and innovations is a part of a larger philosophy Thomas and the team at Ochsner strives to achieve. “In health care, you can’t stand still,” Thomas says.
“We have to keep innovating to bring our patients the highest quality of care.”
Thomas’s long-term goal is to make Ochsner the best health care system in the Southeast. The system already has an impressive list of accolades, including its place on the U.S. News & World Report 2012-’13 Best Hospitals rankings; Ochsner Medical Center was ranked No. 1 in Louisiana and in the New Orleans metro area. Ochsner Medical Center–Kenner was ranked No. 2 in the New Orleans metro area and No. 4 in Louisiana.
Thomas wants to build on the health system’s impressive record by broadening the brand’s presence throughout the world and by improving its access to the people the system serves. While the Vermont native recognizes that Ochsner is already a renowned health care system, he says this is no reason to stop making goals for improvement. It is a mantra Thomas incorporates into his own life as well: The new CEO had his fastest time ever in the bike portion of the Ironman this year.
Executive Director, New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
In a city associated with food, leading the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience comes with meeting high expectations. Now the event has executive director Jamie Peckenpaugh at the helm with big plans to keep the brand growing.
Peckenpaugh has been with the NOWFE since January 2008. She started as executive assistant, but became the executive director in October 2010. Before working for the NOWFE, Peckenpaugh had a marketing position at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation in New York. The New Orleans native left Manhattan to return to her hometown and contribute to her community.
For the future of the NOWFE, Peckenpaugh is working on building the event’s international brand. “The goal is to bring awareness to a larger audience,” Peckenpaugh says. “It’s not really about getting bigger, it’s about NOWFE assuming its proper place among the top food and wine
events in the country.” She adds that you can follow her on Twitter (@JamieLynn_P).
The event’s coverage has already reached various countries including India, Germany and the United Kingdom, which shows, Peckenpaugh says, that the international audience is paying attention. NOWFE also has partnerships with Fine Cooking magazine, Stella Artois, Carnival Cruise Lines and more.
Peckenpaugh says the event’s success is measured by a couple of different factors, but the most important is how much money NOWFE raises for charity. The event has raised more than $1 million for local charities over the last 20 years. In addition for contributing to local organizations, Peckenpaugh hopes to keep the already renowned foodie experience an event that both locals and visitors from around the world can enjoy.
Craig von Babylon
Founder, New Orleans Watch Company
Craig von Babylon decided to reinvent his professional life at the age of 64. A jeweler by trade, he could no longer suffer the notion that no watch had been born in New Orleans – so he designed his first watch incorporating a vivid crescent, a ship’s wheel and the fleur-de-lis, and the New Orleans Watch Company was born.
“Being a jeweler, watchmaker and watch manufacturer was not a choice – it was a calling,” says von Babylon. “My family was always in the jewelry business so I inherited by osmosis the love for the design and elegance of fine jewelry-making.” Watchmaking is the natural extension of the family business. “It allows me to leave this world for untold hours and to create on a level of design and functionality that just isn’t available any other place. Jewelry is nice, but creating a watch that will be worn on someone’s wrist for decades and actually tells the correct time is part of my DNA.”
Von Babylon says the hardest part of getting NOWC up and running was “staying above or ahead of the economy,” but takes great pride in his professional reboot, his family and “knowing that my dogs still like me.” His son, Kristopher, has inherited the watch-making mantle, continuing the family tradition; von Babylon also enjoys spending time with his wife, Lynn, and his daughters, Samantha and Emily.
Walter M. Kimbrough
President, Dillard University
Walter M. Kimbrough knew he was where he was supposed to be when he became the president of Dillard University in July 2012. Raised by a United Methodist preacher for a father and a religion teacher and book author for a mother, Kimbrough grew up learning the idea of “fulfilling your calling.” “Being a college president is my calling, to engage young people so they can serve their communities,” Kimbrough says. “My favorite thing is being with the students.”
The Dillard University position is Kimbrough’s second college president role. He came to Dillard from Philander Smith College, located in Little Rock, Ark., where he tackled the development of the school’s unique brand identity. He also greatly improved student performance, which was measured in retention and graduation rates. Kimbrough says he helped make Philander Smith College a stronger institution, a goal he also has for Dillard. “My long-term goal is to be at Dillard,” Kimbrough says. “I want to provide stable leadership so that we can secure the future of this institution, as well as determine how we can best meet the needs of the Gentilly community as well as the city of New Orleans.”
Kimbrough spent his first days on the job meeting faculty and staff. He is looking forward to meeting new people and meeting with constituent groups and community partners as he continues his role. For those who don’t get the chance to meet Kimbrough in person, they can join the more than 4,200 users that follow him on Twitter (@hiphopprez).
Fred Luter Jr.
President, Southern Baptist Convention; Pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church
June 19, 2012 was a blessed day for Pastor Fred Luter Jr. after 29 years of preaching the word of God; on that day he became the first black President of the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest protestant denomination in the country.
While the presidency is a two-year term, since 1983, Luter’s life has been focused on his calling – that was the year he preached his first sermon at the Law Street Baptist Church in the 7th Ward.
Raised in the Lower 9th Ward as the middle child of five siblings, in 1977, Luter was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident that left him hospitalized. Soon after he could be found preaching every afternoon on the corner of Galvez Street and Caffin Avenue. In ’86 he was elected pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, a congregation that he has helped grow from 65 to more than 7,000 members – and that was before Hurricane Katrina struck. Since 2008, the congregation has continued to increase, outgrowing its sanctuary. In 2011 he was elected the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American Vice President, and how he holds its highest office.
His greatest challenge this past year has been starting a new program to construct a larger sanctuary and he’s excited to break ground on the new building.
Luter says his greatest accomplishment, however, is, “being married to my wife, Elizabeth, for 32 incredible years and raising two children (Kimberly and Fred III, also a pastor) who have a genuine love of God.”
Peter J. Fos
President, University of New Orleans
After working in higher education administration for the last 25 years, Peter J. Fos was appointed as President of University of New Orleans in January. He says that while he has experienced many accomplishments during his career, he hopes that his greatest accomplishment during his career will be leading UNO into the future and helping the university reach its full potential as a premier university in the nation.
Fos, a graduate of UNO, says that his biggest challenge as president is to continue to grow the university and improve it each day. “My favorite thing about what I now do is that I have the opportunity to represent my alma mater, the University of New Orleans, and the students, faculty and staff who work at UNO. Meeting people who are UNO alumni or supporters is one of the fun aspects of the job.”
While the student body is 6,000 students less than before Hurricane Katrina, Fos is working hard to reach pre-Katrina numbers, a tough feat with recent reductions in state appropriations. Despite this challenge, Fos says he’s looking forward to increasing the number of students at UNO and showing the community that UNO is an asset to the Greater New Orleans area.
Todd P. Murphy
President, Jefferson Chamber of Commerce
The new leader of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce has made it his goal to improve the environment of business and quality of life in the area, something he knows he can accomplish given his past experiences. Before taking the president position at the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Murphy was the Senior Vice President of Business Development and Governmental Funds for IBERIABANK. He enjoys using his business skills to help companies grow through advocacy, professional development and relationship building.
Since becoming the Chamber’s president June 1, Murphy has started short-term initiatives including organizing staff, systems and strategic plans. He is also planning on the next phase of the Jefferson Chamber by reaching out to community stakeholders and building on the Chamber’s success from the previous 15 years. The family man – he considers his two daughters, Kaci and Kelli, his biggest accomplishment – hopes his business expertise can help the organizations of Jefferson Parish, but also all of the parish’s residents.
“My long term goal at the Jefferson Chamber is to increase the organization’s presence in policy and quality of life initiatives,” Murphy says. “When we improve the business and living climate in our parish, we not only will grow our organization, but our parish will prosper, as well.”
Designer and Owner, Stephanie Young fashion label
Stephanie Young once wanted to be an orthodontist, but as the “Top Designer” winner at Fashion Week New Orleans 2012, Young won’t be examining any teeth in the near future. The young designer completed her collection for Fashion Week New Orleans in only six weeks, while she worked full time as the assistant manager for Bridal Boutique in Baton Rouge. She left the store in April 2012 to be a full-time designer.
The St. Gabriel, La. native attended Louisiana State University to major in business, but she later graduated with a degree in apparel and fashion design. She is now recognized as a hot new face in the Southern design world, something fashion insiders have pointed out by showcasing her work.
New Orleans-based fashion magazine Amelie G featured her designs in a fashion feature in the midsummer issue. One of her gowns will be part of the costume wardrobe in the upcoming film, Playing For Keeps, which stars Gerard Butler and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The film also stars actress Judy Greer, who will wear one of Young’s designs.
Young is grateful for all of the honors she’s received in her early career, and she’s happy with the new path her career is taking as a designer, even if it wasn’t her original goal. “I tell people all the time, ‘This wasn’t the plan.’” Young says. “I was going to be an orthodontist. Sometimes we choose a path and sometimes it chooses us.”
Young says her next challenge is to continue to sell her custom pieces and create a successful business. In the future, she hopes to open a flagship store.
Suresh K. Alahari
Fred. G. Brazda Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry and Stanley Scott Cancer Center,
Louisiana State University School of Medicine
Growing up, Suresh K. Alahari always wanted to be a doctor, but when he entered into the research field almost 25 years ago, he never looked back.
Dr. Alahari now works for LSU School of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Stanley Scott Cancer Center as a professor of Biochemistry.
Alahari’s most recent achievement is the protein his laboratory discovered – called Nischarin – that can inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.
Alahari’s study discovered that normal breast cancer cells have significantly higher levels of Nischarin. When that protein is blocked, Alahari and his researchers discovered that the cancerous tumors grew faster. The breakthrough came to light when the team discovered that when tissue samples were altered to overproduce Nischarin, cancer growth was reduced – a huge discovery in the world of cancer research.
Dr. Alahari’s research was published Sept. 14, 2011 online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Alahari says that while getting his research published was his biggest challenge in the past year, he likes the challenge his career creates. “My favorite thing is to explore new and challenging approaches to a particular problem,” he says.
“My long-term goal is to find a cure for breast cancer; I know it isn’t an easy task. I will try everything possible from my side. Towards the goal, we’re exploring many new avenues to attack this devastating disease.”
Though he’s on the forefront of breast cancer research, he considers teaching his greatest accomplishment, particularly when all his students and postdoctoral fellows become independent scientists doing their own breast cancer research.
James B. Cook
General Manager, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel
James B. Cook took over as general manager of the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel in June of this year, in the midst of a hotel renovation and at the beginning of a revamp of the main lobby and the hotel’s Club Lounge. At a $45 million price tag, the hotel renovation is part of a larger series of renovations for Sheratons worldwide, coming in at $9 billion at the end of the day.
“Through my work, I’m able to contribute in so many ways to the well-being of our guests from far away – and our neighbors right here,” says Cook.
“The hospitality industry is incredibly complex and dynamic. It touches all sectors of our community.” Close to one-fifth of New Orleans residents are hospitality professionals.
As he has with other hotels in the past – including his last post at a Sheraton in Boston – Cook looks forward to transitioning out of the Sheraton’s renovation and keeping the hotel on an even keel. “I feel the greatest pride when I think about some of the high-performing teams I have been a part of,” he says. “Finding ways to mentor and act as a catalyst for someone’s personal or professional growth is very rewarding to me.”
Not one to sacrifice a personal life to the demands of the professional, Cook began taking “crossfit” classes recently. “I couldn’t walk after the first one, but by the third one they were trying to keep up with me!” he boasts.
Cook also keeps sacred his family time with his three children, Chris, Elisa and Storie.
Host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry;” Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project at Tulane University; and Columnist for The Nation
Melissa Harris-Perry is MSNBC’s newest television host of the two-hour long “Melissa Harris-Perry” show, which airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings. During the week, Harris-Perry is a full-time political science professor at Tulane University, where she works as the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South at the Newcomb College Institute.
“I love my work as both a professor and as a television host,” she says. “The two jobs may seem quite different, but both rely on research, offer opportunities to ask probing questions and allow me the opportunity to teach. My ‘classroom’ on television may be larger than my classroom at Tulane, but the tasks are more similar than you might initially expect.”
“I am working hard to be good at many different tasks at once,” she continues. “It is important to me to be a present, active and responsive professor.
It is also extremely important to air a quality political analysis program each weekend.” Harris-Perry says that besides her career, she never wants to forget my roles as mother and wife. “Supporting my husband’s dreams and helping my daughter grow into an exceptional young woman are important goals to me.”
Harris-Perry says that in the next year, she’s most looking forward to the presidential election. “I am a political nerd and I can’t believe I have a television show in an election year. I am completely beside myself with excitement.”
Colonel Bill Davis, USMC (ret.)
Commandant, New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy
Colonel Bill Davis, USMC, is the Commandant of the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy (NOMMA) and one of the creators of the recently founded school. Davis and the school’s principal, Dr. Cecelia Garcia, built the school from nothing but a concept on paper in April 2011.
Though they began with no staff and no structure, the academy now has a staff of 26 with more than 230 cadets registered for the 2012-’13 school year.
“We are building an outstanding staff one year at a time dedicated to developing individual potential and collective team work,” Davis explains. “We are in the midst of designing and constructing a first class campus at Federal City, leveraging century-old historical buildings. We are establishing traditions of citizenship, leadership and world-class academics that will firmly establish this institution amongst the best in the country.”
The academy is the only program in the country that’s a charter school with all the students being cadets in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
Davis says that he’s looking forward to completing the academy’s campus at Federal City by next summer and moving into the new school for next year’s grades nine through 11.
“I am expecting us to grow even more next year and have greater impact on the lives of our cadets. Three years from now and thereafter, when someone asks one of these young leaders where they went to high school, I want them to be able to say with pride that they went to NOMMA.”