Activists Of The Year 2013
Photographed by Jeffery Johnston
St. Charles Avenue magazine is proud to present its Activists of the Year 2013:
• Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin
• Boysie Bollinger
• Julie Livaudais George
• Susan Read Johnson
• Allen Toussaint
• Rod West
By honoring these six locals, we’re honoring the gifts of their time, their efforts and their energies that they have given to our city.
ADELAIDE WISDOM BENJAMIN
When looking for ways to give back, Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin counsels you to look for things that you love. Benjamin, a lifelong lover of music, brought her extensive talents and undeniable passion to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, formerly the New Orleans Symphony. “Every great city needs a symphony,” she says, and a symphony has never needed anyone more than Benjamin. “I saw in the paper that the symphony was going under,” she remembers, “and I called them and asked them not to close. The next day, the president and members of the symphony board were on my front step.” Two months later she was on the board, and then president of the symphony for five years. She came into the position when the symphony was $3 million in debt, and five years later she handed it over to her successor with a perfectly balanced budget and completely debt free. Years later, Benjamin notes that it wasn’t an easy task, “My children were teenagers and my husband and I had always liked to travel when he took his vacation. I told him to take the kids and go without me, but after [everything] had settled down, he took me back to every place they had gone.”
Adelaide’s involvement with the New Orleans Symphony didn’t end at the administrative side – she was also a soprano in the chorus and sang with the Trinity Trio for 54 years. “Now I sing around the house,” she says cheerfully. Bejamin’s commitment to the community stretches beyond the bounds of music to education and the arts in general. She remains passionate about her involvement with Louise McGehee School, Metairie Park Country Day School, Loyola University, the New Orleans Opera Association and other organizations.
“My mother and father were givers,” she says immediately when asked what inspires her to give back. “It never occurred to me not to give back, it’s just the way I was raised.” Her grandfather started the RosaMary Foundation to provide for widows and children after his own father died when he was 13. “I’m the sixth generation of my family to live in New Orleans. I grew up in a house 100 feet away from my house now, and my son and his family live there now. This is home to me,” she says of the city.
New Orleans Magazine, Top Female Achiever; Loyola University, Honorary Doctor of Arts; Tulane University Emeritus Club, Outstanding Alumnus of Class of 1954; Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Award for Community Service; Loyola University, Honorary Trustee Emeritus; Loyola University, President’s Council Integritas Vitae Award; Loyola University, College of Business Jacques Yenni Award for Outstanding Community Service; Junior League, Sustainer Award for Civic Achievement; National Conference of Christians and Jews, Weiss Brotherhood Award; National Society of Fundraising Executives and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Outstanding Philanthropist; Young Leadership Council, Significant Role Model; Louise McGehee School, Distinguished Alumna Award; Gambit’s Classical Arts Patron Award; Epilepsy Foundation Award for Community Service; Family Service of Greater New Orleans, one of “Ten Outstanding Persons of 1994”; Louisiana Colonials, Outstanding Citizen of New Orleans; Hilton Hotel’s Walk of Fame Award; St. Elizabeth’s Guild, Volunteer Activist Award; Arts Council of New Orleans, Mayor’s Arts Awards; Girl Scouts, Woman of Distinction; Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Living and Giving Award; Freedoms Foundation National Award: the George Washington Honor Medal for Excellence in Individual Achievement; Contemporary Arts Center, “Sweet Art” Award; Governor’s Commission on International Trade, Industry & Tourism, Goodwill Ambassador for Louisiana; Josephine Louise Newcomb Society, inaugural member; Paul Tulane Society, member; Loyola University’s Heritage Society, inaugural member; Marquis Who’s Who in America, American Education, American Women, Finance and Industry, South and Southwest and the World
PAST AND PRESENT ORGANIZATIONS
New Orleans Symphony, former president; Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, executive board member; Louisiana Museum Foundation Board, former board member, former member of the executive committee, present honorary board member; Louise S. McGehee School, former honorary member of the board of directors, present member of the board, former vice president and present elected life member of the board; Ed and Adelaide Foundation, trustee; RosaMary Foundation, trustee; Mary Freeman Wisdom Foundation, trustee, former president and present secretary; Thomas Wolfe Society, honorary life member; Junior League of New Orleans, member and former member of steering committee; Tulane University Summer Lyric Theatre, former president of advisory board and present member; New Orleans Opera Association, board member; New Orleans Symphony Chorus, former chorus member and present board member; Quarante Literary Club, former vice president and present member; New Orleans Town Gardeners, former president
Although a native of Lockport, Donald T. “Boysie” Bollinger has a lot to give to New Orleans. Raised in Lockport and a graduate of Louisiana University, Lafayette, he’s President and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards, Inc., a family-owned business established in 1946 that provides full service for marine construction and ship repairs all over Louisiana and part of Texas; he also owns and operates a fleet of oilfield service vessels under its Beemar subsidiary. He served under the President (George H.W. Bush) Export Council and he’s currently a member of the National Petroleum Council, among a long list of other organizations. A husband and father of three sons, Bollinger acknowledges his family as his greatest achievement among many, “[Juggling a family and a career is] difficult, but when the focus is right, the missions are important and the effort makes a difference – there’s always time.”
Bollinger has supported a range of activities, from being a regular at the Port of New Orleans as his career calls for, to serving on numerous boards of charitable foundations. Most importantly to him, he’s a member of the board of trustees of the National World War II Museum. “I support many organizations,” Bollinger admits, “but that’s the one I’m most passionate about. It means so much to the city, the state and the nation. America’s experience in World War II, why it was fought, how it was won and what it means to future generations – these are all things that should never be forgotten.”
Bollinger credits his father for his inspiration to activism. “He always felt that God had been good to us and we should give back. It was natural, and seems the more we got involved, the more we wanted to do.” For New Orleans, he wants what many local businessmen wish for: “We need to induce more corporate headquarters to locate here. That’s one thing we’ve lost and it’s hard to re-establish. I love everything [about this city],” he says. “The culture, the music, the food, the people. It has personality, which most other cities don’t share.”
CityBusiness, 2010 Driving Forces Program, Honoree; Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship; Boy Scouts, Distinguished Citizen Award; The Chamber of Lafourche Special Recognition Award; C. Alvin Bertel Award; Louisiana Entrepreneur of the Year; Business Hall of Fame, Junior Achievement of New Orleans; Maritime Man of the Year, Propeller Club of the US, Port of New Orleans; Businessman of the Year Award
PAST AND PRESENT ORGANIZATIONS
American Battle Monuments Commission, former commissioner; American Family Business Institute, former member of board of directors; Blueprint for Louisiana, member of the board of trustees; Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. and its subsidiaries, CEO & Chairman, Board of Directors; Boy Scouts of America, Southeast Region, executive board member; Bring Back New Orleans Commission, former member of board of directors; Chief Executive Organization, regional vice president and member of the International Board of Directors; CSC Assurance, former advisory board member; Committee for a Better New Orleans, former member of board of directors; The Committee of 100 (C100) Economical Development, Inc., member; Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Energy Advisory Council, member; Federal Reserve Bank (Jacksonville Branch), former member of the Trade & Transportation Advisory Council Board; First Bank & Trust, chairman and member of the board of directors; First Trust Corporation, director; LA Workers Compensation Corp, chairman and member of the board of directors; Louisiana Committee for Republican Majority, co-chairman; Louisiana Recovery Authority, former member of the board of directors; National Ocean Industries Association, member of the board of directors and former chairman; National World War II Museum, member of the board of trustees; The Nature Conservancy, Louisiana Region, member of the board of directors; New Orleans Business Council, member and former chairman; NSU Foundation, chairman and member of the board of directors; President’s Export Council, under the administration of President George HW Bush, member; RAND, Gulf/Regional, advisory board member US Coast Guard Foundation, member of the board of trustees, trustee emeritus; Republican Governor’s Association, executive roundtable member; Signal Mutual Indemnity Association, member of the board of directors; Shipbuilders Council of America, executive board member Webb Institute, member of the board of trustees; United Way, General Campaign Chairman; University of Louisiana Systems, former member of the board of directors; University Medical Center Management Corporation, member of the board of directors; Webb Institute, member of the board of trustees; World President’s Organization, Louisiana Chapter, member
JULIE LIVAUDAIS GEORGE
Julie Livaudais George sparkles on and off the page; a partner at law firm Chaffe McCall, she has been described by friends and admirers as an inspiration and role model as she continues to lead a successful law career and serve the community in as many ways as she can, in addition to being a wife and mother. An alumna of Metairie Park Country Day School, Stanford University and Tulane Law, George began volunteering during her time at Country Day, though she acknowledges her parents, grandparents and their friends for piquing her interest at a much younger age, “They were involved in all kinds of capacities,” she remembers, “and had such a great time doing it! [In high school,] I learned how much need there was and that everyone has something to offer to help fill that need.” She continues, “I still remember the kids I mentored in summer programs back then – one of them calls me to this day!” She notes with pleasure that her own children, who she describes as her greatest success, are active volunteers in the community as well, passing on her family’s activist legacy. Country Day helped vault George into her adult volunteer activities, along with the Junior League of New Orleans. She served on Country Day’s board of trustees as member and chair throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, and as president and member of the board of directors of the Junior League. George credits her husband Ted for her success, as well as her children, friends and her law firm Chaffe McCall for their support of community service and her efforts.
For George, New Orleans is nothing if not its people, “What I love most about New Orleans is the joie de vivre and sense of humor of the people.” Indeed, her list of organizations spans across a great variety of groups, all with different goals and passions. “I want to see New Orleans retain her unique cultural identity while regaining her status as the Queen of the South,” she says. “Attracting and retaining businesses, intellectuals and young people is what we all should work on.”
Women of Fashion Prix d’Elegance Award; Junior League, Sustainer of the Year; CityBusiness, Leadership in Law Award; St. Elizabeth’s Guild, Top Ten Volunteer Activists; New Orleans City Council, Woman of Distinction; YWCA, Role Model; Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers; Top 25 Women Lawyers in Louisiana; Best Lawyers in America for Labor & Employment Law; Louisiana Super Lawyers; New Orleans Best Lawyers
PAST AND PRESENT ORGANIZATIONS
Louisiana Children’s Medical Center, vice chair; New Orleans Museum of Art, board secretary and former chair of Volunteer Committee; Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, chair; Garden Club of America, co-chair of 2014 Annual Meeting; Tulane Law School Dean’s Advisory Board, member and former chair; Agenda for Children, board member and former chair; Bureau of Governmental Research, board member; Longue Vue House & Gardens, board member and former president; Metairie Park Country Day School, former member and chair of the board of trustees; Junior League, former president, former member of the board of directors, and Endowment Campaign Cabinet member; Garden Study Club of New Orleans, former president; Women of Trinity Church, former president; Women of the Storm, member; Friends of NOCCA, former board member; Louisiana Children’s Museum, former board member
SUSAN READ JOHNSON
Love is undoubtedly the powerful force that drives Susan Read Johnson. Gracious and elegant, Johnson lights up when she mentions her family – her husband, three daughters and eight grandchildren, whom she describes as the loves of her life. They are also the inspiration for her myriad achievements and passionate involvement in the community. “My father, Louis Read, was always incredibly involved,” she says. “It’s something my brother and I learned from him, the importance of giving back.” She also credits her Catholic upbringing for instilling in her the passion of activism, especially Catholic Charities. “Whatever happens, they’re always there. During and after Katrina, the BP oil spill and Hurricane Isaac, Catholic Charities was there, out front. They just keep on giving, no matter what. I’m so proud to be a part of that.” Johnson has been greatly involved with the Archbishop Hannan Community Appeal, which funds the work of Catholic Charities projects. “I’ll have to find a way to stay involved after this year, I’m so sad to leave the board,” she says.
Johnson also holds Children’s Hospital close to her heart, especially after her granddaughter and namesake became very ill. “They took such amazing care of her and our family. I’ll never forget that.” Susan is doing great now, but Johnson continues to show her appreciation and gratitude towards Children’s Hospital as a member and former chair of the board of trustees. She was also honored at Children’s Hospital annual “Sugar Plum Ball” in 2009.
For Johnson, helping people is intertwined with the city she loves. “I was born and raised here in this delightful place,” she marvels. “The people, the culture, the diversity – I feel lucky to be here.” She sees Katrina and its aftermath as a positive experience that has forced New Orleans to become even more resilient. After Katrina she was involved with Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans that initially focused on reform and now directs its energies to education.
St. Elizabeth’s Guild, Volunteer Activist Award; Family Service of Greater New Orleans, TOP Award; Association of Fundraising Professionals, New Orleans Chapter, Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer; Archdiocese of New Orleans, Order of St. Louis Award; Junior League, Sustainer of the Year; Children’s Hospital, Sugar Plum Ball Honoree; Young Leadership Council, Role Model; Longue Vue House & Gardens, Honorary Chair
PAST AND PRESENT ORGANIZATIONS
Junior League, present member and former committee chair; Garden Study Club, member; New Orleans Country Club Ladies Golf Association, member; Lakewood Ladies Golf Association, member; United Way, former member of the board of directors; Maison Hospitaliere, former member of the board of directors; Children’s Hospital, present member of the board of trustees, former vice-chairwoman, former chair of the board of trustees; Longue Vue House & Gardens, former president, former member of the board of directors and former committee co-chair; Academy of the Sacred Heart, former member of the alumnae board and Capitol Campaign steering committee; Archbishop Hannan Community Appeal, present member, former member of the executive committee and former chair; Hermann-Grima+Gallier Historic Houses, former member of the board of directors, former benefit chair, former member of the executive committee, former board chair, former fund development co-chair; Archdiocesan Spirituality Center, former board member, present emerita board member; Catholic Charities, present chair of the board of directors, former vice president; Selley Foundation Board of Trustees, member; National Donor Awareness Foundation, former member of the board of directors; Ochsner Hospital Board of Councilors for Women’s Health, former member; Lambeth House Foundation, former member of the board of directors; Impact 100 Women’s Giving Circle, an Initiative of The Greater New Orleans Foundation, founding member; Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, member; Women of the Storm, member
One of New Orleans’ most illustrious musicians, Allen Toussaint is recognized on and off stage not only for his sheer talent, but also for the many good works he has done and continues to do for the city. If there could be a single person who encapsulates the spirit of New Orleans, it would be Toussaint. He even moves with the slow and content pace with which locals instantly identify. “To some futurists it might seem a little slow,” he allows. “I see it as relaxed and groovy. We’re in no big hurry to leave what we have to get someplace else, physically or philosophically.” Relaxed and groovy may be represent feelings in his music, but they hardly describe Toussaint’s long and successful career.
Magazines, books and biographies can go on for pages about Toussaint’s last 50 years in the music industry, but people close to him also praise his generosity and compassion for young and unknown artists, in addition to his love for our city. His willingness to work with lesser-known artists to further their own careers is demonstrated by guest appearances on projects as well as speaking on music business panels and at student workshops. Toussaint also considers his work with others as his greatest achievement, “I’m in a position which inspires others and employs others in a chosen field.”
When speaking of New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, an all-volunteer nonprofit Toussaint founded with Aaron Neville in 1985, he says, “There’s no greater need when people need people, which is the driving force of my participation in NOAAHH.” NOAAHH raises funds by giving concerts and donates all proceeds to the less fortunate. In 2010 it celebrated its 25th anniversary gala; in ’13, it marked Toussaint’s 75th birthday with a celebration fundraising concert featuring an all-star lineup including Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Trombone Shorty in addition to Toussaint himself. To date, NOAAHH has given grants to over 50 charities serving direct needs in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
Raised in Gert Town, Toussaint was briefly displaced to New York by Katrina, where he performed at numerous benefits for hurricane relief. He has since returned to the city for which he has become a symbol, as music he wrote years ago continues to drift from radio speakers and from young musicians in the French Quarter.
National Medal of Arts; Tulane University, honorary doctorate degree of fine arts; Blues Hall of Fame inductee; Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee; Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee; Multiple Grammy Nominations; Grammy Trustees Award; OffBeat, Best of the Beat Award, Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Best Traditional Jazz Album: The Bright Mississippi, Best Piano/Keyboardist; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inductee; Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award; Annual Heroes & Legends Award, honoree; Gambit, Lifetime Achievement in Music Award, Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year: River in Reverse
PAST AND PRESENT ORGANIZATIONS
New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, co-founder; Gulf Aid Benefit with Lenny Kravitz & Jimmy Buffett, sponsor; Tipitina’s Foundation, contributor; Friar’s Club, member; WWOZ Piano Night, sponsor; Faubourg St. John Fortier Fest, sponsor; Algiers Festival, sponsor; Children’s Fund, sponsor; Crime Stoppers, sponsor; YAYA, sponsor; Professor Longhair Foundation, sponsor; Vieux Carre Commission, sponsor; Make It Right, contributor; New Orleans Songwriters Festival, sponsor; Cutting Edge Music Business Conference, sponsor; New Orleans Musicians Clinic, sponsor; Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation, featured performer
Rod West casts a long shadow over the city where he was born and raised, as it has become increasingly difficult to live in New Orleans and not encounter something he’s been involved with, from providing power in your home to this year’s locally hosted Superbowl. An alumnus of Brother Martin High School, University of Notre Dame and Tulane University’s law and masters programs, it’s hard to say what West is more famous for, his handling of the reconstruction of the electric infrastructure post-Katrina in 2005 or his victory as outside linebacker and tight end for Lou Holtz and the Fighting Irish’s 1988 National Championship football team and his subsequent presence in the sport since. His was also the voice that made the closing arguments to the National Football League owners on behalf of the city’s bid to host Superbowl XLVII in 2013.
West’s list of civic engagements is also impressive, ranging from the Ochsner Foundation board of directors to the Bring New Orleans Back Committee. He feels that his biggest commitment is to the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation, as he currently serves as secretary and member of the board of directors. “We took a notion that youth recreation opportunities could dramatically impact the quality of life for all New Orleanians,” he explains. “We developed the idea to change the way New Orleans recreation was organized, operated and funded to align with best practices, and took the idea to the people of New Orleans, who voted 74 percent to change the city charter to create the NORD Commission and enable the NORD Foundation to bring the private sector back into the fold.” This particular initiative should come as no surprise to West’s admirers, as he has long demonstrated a commitment to the youth of New Orleans, especially their educational opportunities. “I want all of [New Orleans’] children to be educated as though each child’s preparation, regardless of socioeconomic status or public or private school, was treated as though the very existence of the city depended on that child’s success in the classroom,” he expresses. When asked what he would change about his hometown, he answers without hesitation that preoccupation with class and race in every facet of New Orleans life must end.
As a husband and father, West’s commitment to family cannot be denied as he considers his daughter Simone his greatest achievement to date. “[My wife] Madeline and I have raised a young woman of substance and consequence. She never ceases to amaze us and make us proud to be her parents.” Further, West credits his wife with his success, “[To succeed] you first have to have a supportive family. I have a wife who shares my desire to make a difference. But we understand that there is no such thing as ‘free time.’ Every second of every day counts, and there’s a price you pay for everything.” He continues, “Secondly, you have to pick and choose where you deploy your time, talent and treasure in a manner that makes a difference. The same level of efficiency we pursue at work we must employ in our civic lives. Success is never on sale.”
Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame Laureate; New Orleans Council for Community and Justice, Weiss Award; Young Leadership Council, Role Model; Black Enterprise Magazine, Top 50 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America; CityBusiness, Top 40 Under 40; Career Focus Magazine, Eagle Award; University of Notre Dame 1988 College Football National Champions
PAST AND PRESENT ORGANIZATIONS
University of Notre Dame, member of the board of trustees; Louisiana State University System, member of the board of supervisors and former chairman; National Football Foundation; Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee, member of the board of directors; New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation, secretary and member of the board of directors; First Bank and Trust/First Trust Corporation, member of the board of directors; Covenant House; New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee, member; Louisiana Recovery Authority; Bring New Orleans Back Committee, member; Ochsner Foundation, member of the board of directors; Bureau of Governmental Research; New Orleans Business Council; GNO Inc; Idea Village; NCAA President’s Advisory Commission