The Willey Award – By Janet G. Elsea, Ph.D.

As I watched the Grammy award show last night, I was thrilled at the number of women awardees and at their sharing the stage with one another—women of all races, ages, sexual orientation, even height and weight—singing their hearts out!    

I thought: wouldn’t Dorothy Willey be proud that the mission of the YWCA for which she devoted much of her time and resources may finally be coming into reality: to eliminate racism and empower women.

I’m fortunate to have been given an award named after Mrs. Willey.  She was a Texan, born and educated, a college graduate with a degree in chemistry—unusual for a woman in the 1930’s. She spent time in New York and Ohio. It was at a job in Cleveland where she met and married Arthur.  It was there that she got involved  in its YWCA, eventually serving as Board President.

The Willeys moved to AZ, where Dorothy continued her volunteer activities. Chief among them was working with our local YWCA. She started a capital campaign fund drive for the national office, out of which came the YWCA’s Leadership Development Center, here in Phoenix. She served on the YWCA World Council and traveled extensively on behalf of the national board.

After Arthur’s death, she helped establish the Willey Award, the highest honor our local chapter can give. She was its first recipient and handed out the award to her successors for the next decade. Dorothy Willey died in 2010 at the ripe age of 103—her mind sharp until the near the end. She once said that her “dearest and most lasting friendships were made through the YWA. “

I was thrilled to receive a Willey in 2006. Were she there that day, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had said to me: Keep up your service to the YW, Jan. You will get back double what you give in time and treasure. . . and friendships!