Jane Pauley, Patricia Ireland help celebrate 30th anniversary of women’s group in Miami-Dade

When Jane Pauley began her career as a journalist more than 30 years ago it “wasn’t what women did,” she said Thursday.

But when opportunity knocked, she grabbed it.

Pauley, who later became co-anchor of two popular shows — NBC’s Today show for 13 years and Dateline NBC for 11 years — was speaking to a group of businesswomen at the Women’s Chamber of Commerce 30th anniversary celebration in Coral Gables.

She joined Patricia Ireland, former president of the National Organization for Women, at the chamber’s 15th Annual Thelma Gibson Awards of Excellence & Installation Luncheon in the Alhambra Ballroom at The Biltmore Hotel.

“I just kept pushing forward,” said Pauley, now on a 10-city tour promoting her recent book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life. “It’s what I had to do to get what I wanted.”

Thursday’s stop at the women’s luncheon was a perfect fit for her message of reinvention, she said. The chamber “sort of tracks my career,” she said.

“We have come a long way,” she said. “It’s an honor to be in front of all of these successful business women.”

The luncheon also featured Patricia Ireland, NOW president from 1991 to 2001, who is practicing labor law in Miami.

“In the last 30 years there has been enormous progress for women,” said Ireland, also an author. “But progress doesn’t mean equality.”

Ireland urged leaders to step up and help the community and continue to fight for women’s rights “so we don’t go backwards.”

“I want to encourage you to know that giving back to the community, making change, improving others’ lives is an enormously satisfying way to live,” said Ireland.

Both speakers delivered messages of encouragement to the women.

Pauley, who was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder 14 years ago, told them to not be afraid of change.

“One thing is constant and that is that nothing stays the same,” she said.

Thelma Gibson founded Miami-Dade County’s first women’s chamber in 1984 as a way to promote women’s roles in the workplace.

On Thursday, Gibson, 87, said she never could have imagined the diverse group reaching where it has today — with more than 200 members.

“We’ve had our struggles, but we kept working at it and we are still here,” said Gibson, who began her nursing career at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1947. “It makes me very proud to be a part of this.”

The speakers’ messages resonated with many in the room.

Thema Campbell, the president of Girl Power, a nonprofit organization that helps young girls, said she grew up listening to Pauley and was impressed with her motivational speech.

“She gave me the inspiration I need to continue to do what I do,” said Campbell.

And while the speakers were a huge draw for Thursday’s event, celebrating the chamber’s existence in Miami-Dade County was also an important part of the event.

“Today as we honor the 30th anniversary of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce,” said the chamber’s president Naomi Berry, “I want to thank Ms. Gibson and her co-founders for their vision and for persevering when others thought it was not necessary.”

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