By turns serious and witty, the woman who transformed cooking, gardening, crafting, organizing and decorating into lofty pursuits told a group of Miami female leaders to embrace change, however it arrives.
“You have to change,” lifestyle guru and entrepreneur Martha Stewart told 1,200 women gathered for the 16th annual United Way Women’s Leadership Breakfast at the University of Miami’s Watsco Center Thursday. “When you’re done changing, you’re through.”
One of Stewart’s latest evolutions is her show with Snoop Dogg on VH1, appropriately titled “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.” The unlikely coupling of the doyenne and the rapper — “You have to think a little differently” — has already developed a cult following. It also has served as a learning experience, or as she put it, “a culture merge,” for the Emmy Award-winning television show host and bestselling author.
And, she added, delivering one of her many funny one-liners: “It keeps me young.”
In a departure from past breakfasts, where the keynote speaker delivered a speech, Stewart participated in a question and answer period with Melissa Medina, chair of the breakfast and a member of United Way’s Young Leaders. The questions were selected from among those submitted by the women in attendance, and most sought advice from a successful businesswoman whose brand reaches 100 million consumers across different media and merchandising platforms.
When asked what she would tell her younger self, Stewart joked that, for a long time, she didn’t recognize herself as being attractive and even had to beg a boy to take her to the high school prom. Yet she lived up to this motto: “Don’t ever be afraid of what’s coming.”
She also offered her secret for looking young: “Good living,” she quipped, to the collective laughter of the room. Then she recommended “exercise, exercise, exercise,” eating well and “as many serums and creams as you can slather on.”
But she didn’t sugarcoat the difficulties women face trying to balance the demands of work and family and advised the audience to “pick and choose what you’re passionate about.”
“It’s really hard being a working wife, a working mother, a working woman,” she said, sharing how she was “shattered” when her husband asked for a divorce.
Work-life balance, she added, is an ongoing quest, one she is still trying to achieve as she works to maintain an equilibrium between her yearning to spend more time with her grandchildren and her desire to work every day. “You have to set up your life as best you can,” she said. “But you can’t loll around.”
The United Way breakfast has become a celebration of Miami’s most successful and philanthropic female leaders. It honors women who have made an annual donation of $1,000 or more to support the organization’s work. Most of these women also serve on boards and volunteer at different United Way-sponsored events. Over the years they have raised millions and contributed thousands of hours for the United Way.
The breakfast committee was able to land Stewart after Miami philanthropist Yolanda Berkowitz, a personal friend, extended the invitation. Stewart’s professional life, said breakfast chair Medina, is particularly relevant to the group.
“She has a fascinating array of businesses and of course we’re all interested in how she puts all this together,” said Medina, executive vice president of eMerge Americas, an annual event that seeks to create a tech hub for the Americas.
Iliana Castillo-Frick, Women’s Leadership Council chair, said Stewart serves as “a great example of the success a woman who works hard can have,” not only in business but in changing a community.
At the breakfast, Castillo-Frick called the gathered women “an unstoppable force for good” and urged them to continue sharing both their time and treasure. A Women’s Leadership gift is divided equally among the United Way’s community plan, the United Way Endowment and the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education. Last year, the leadership launched Continue United to encourage retirees or those nearing retirement to stay engaged in the community through volunteer, educational and social programming.
In headlining the event, Stewart joined a roster of high-profile women who have spoken at the annual breakfast, including Chelsea Clinton, Donna Karan and Goldie Hawn. But the 2017 event was the first Women’s Leadership Breakfast without its founder, philanthropic powerhouse Sue Miller, who died in November. A touching tribute by various community members, including her daughter Leslie Miller Saiontz, was part of the program.
“She built something that outlived her,” Miller Saiontz told the crowd, later challenging them with these words: “It’s our turn to understand the needs of our city and leverage our resources to do good.”