Who is the most inspirational woman you know? | Contributor Q&A

At age 30, my sister was diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which has a poor prognosis and doesn’t respond to the typical cancer treatments.

Kelli Weir
At age 30, my sister was diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which has a poor prognosis and doesn’t respond to the typical cancer treatments.

Her treatments were grueling. She lost her hair, considerable weight and her energy, which taxed her ability to care for her then 20-month-old daughter. But through it all, she never lost her faith in God, trusting that he had bigger plans for her.

Not only has Beth Ann beat cancer—she celebrated her seventh survivorship anniversary in January—but the mother of three has co-founded a nonprofit organization called This Means War Against Breast Cancer that has raised more than $55,000 to help other breast cancer survivors with their out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by their health insurance.

For my most inspiring woman, I’m going with a recent discovery. The singer-actress Joy Ellis has emerged in the past couple of seasons as a theatrical dynamo at the Players Guild Theatre for her fabulous leading performances in the musicals “Sister Act,” “Memphis” and “Ragtime,” and a smaller but memorable turn in the dramatic play “Doubt.” Ellis has genuine star power, Broadway-caliber talent and the kind of polish that results from good decisions and hard work. She is a devoted wife and mother, and nurtures other area talent in private voice lessons. I’ve interviewed Ellis several times for Ticket magazine and have been impressed by her thoughtfulness, modesty and easy humor. God has blessed her with beauty both inside and out.

My mom’s mom, Jean, who was born in 1924 and turned 94 on Valentine’s Day.

My grandma had twins by the age of 23 and cared for them in a walk-up apartment where she and my grandpa shared a bathroom and a kitchen with another couple—in Minneapolis, 800 miles away from her family in Canton. She finished nursing school but never took the test to become a nurse because my grandpa was a pastor, and back then, it wasn’t appropriate for a pastor’s wife to have a job. (She tells me now how important she thinks it is for a woman to have a career before she gets married.)

I have heard my grandma say she’s thankful she had four children because she already has buried two of them—both her twins. Her life has been challenging, but she is funny and kind and strong and positive and never bitter and exactly the kind of woman I hope I am becoming.

Newspaper journalism can boast a strong record on gender equity, with many women holding senior management positions here, at our parent company (GateHouse Media), at my former employer and across the industry. To rise to such positions of responsibility while (in many cases) also raising a family never ceases to amaze me for the time management, intelligence, patience and commitment needed “to do it all.”

Interacting with so many highly skilled and successful women who were role models at some point in my career, I truthfully could say they all have inspired me and leave it at that. To avoid such a cop out, I will highlight one: Jan Leach, currently an associate professor at Kent State University and a former vice president and editor at the Akron Beacon Journal.

Jan proved it was possible to climb the corporate ladder without stepping on the people under her direction or forgetting her roots. She challenged me to accept a position outside my comfort zone, and that inspired me to become a better manager, and, I hope by extension, a better person.

Thanks, Jan!

When I think of Grandma Brown, I smile.

No matter how trying the day—perhaps because the day is trying—I still see her face in my mind and happiness returns. My grandmother also is smiling—sipping life from a glass half filled—in my memory.

My dad’s mother was a farmer’s wife, which means, unless to pause and converse with visiting family, Grandma wouldn’t hesitate in her daily duties.

Until she suffered her stroke.

She came to live with us then, her world narrowed to her bed and the chair in which she sat throughout the day, watching life pass.

Except she wouldn’t let life—wouldn’t let us—pass by her without her becoming a part of it. She called us over to ask us about our day at school or at play. She called us over to talk to us about something she read in the paper. She called us over just to kiss us hello or goodbye, depending upon our direction.

All the while, she smiled. Through her adversity, through the rest of her life, she smiled, teaching us to smile by her example. She was the happiest kind soul in our house.