Starr Women’s Hall of Fame Welcomes Laura Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush

First Lady and First Daughter speak during event honoring the legacies of women leaders in Kansas City
Former First Lady Laura Bush, right, and her daughter, Barbara Pierce Bush, discuss their White House years and beyond

UMKC welcomed Former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter, Barbara Pierce Bush, in conversation at this year’s Starr Women’s Hall of Fame luncheon. Both recounted their work in humanitarian causes to a room of more than 1,000 attendees.

They spoke with fondness about their relationships with President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, who died within months of each other last year. Barbara Pierce Bush recalled being conflicted about sharing her name with her grandmother and the occasional confusion it caused. Her thinking changed following her grandmother’s death.

“She finally chose hospice after having lived so fiercely and fearlessly. I realized that she taught me how to live and how to die,” she said. “It was incredible to get the gift of a reminder every day of her bravery and to be more fearless in life.”

Laura Bush was grateful, too, that her mother-in-law had been a strong role model in life and as first lady, a position she referred to as “a role without a rule book.” Since her husband left office, Bush has focused her efforts on education and literacy inspired by her career as a teacher. She is working, too, on initiatives through the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum with women leaders in the Middle East to use their roles as platforms to help the people of their countries. 

As their talk concluded, Pierce Bush asked her mother if she could offer a piece of advice. Bush told the story of former First Lady Barbara Bush in the last years of her life, who made a regular practice of walking her dogs on the beach daily. As her health deteriorated, she drove a golf cart with the dogs running behind. Bush felt that her mother-in-law knew that her life was waning and she was making the most of it. 

"Take advantage of your life as it is," Bush said. "All we know we have is now."

In addition to the Bushes, previous speakers at the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame events have included actress Ashley Judd, “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Inducting the 2019 Class of the Starr Women's Hall of Fame

The 2019 inductees to the Starr Women's Hall of Fame at UMKC

The Starr Women's Hall of Fame is held biannually at UMKC, and is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. This year’s inductees are:

Bunni Copaken envisions the arts as a vehicle to promote racial understanding and inclusivity, which led her to create opportunities for people from disparate backgrounds to meet, connect and create together. Copaken is a founding board member of the Women’s Foundation, the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, and a longstanding member of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre board of directors.

Mary Tiera Farrow (1880-1971), is the founder of the first organization to welcome women in the legal field in Kansas City, first female judge in the City of Kansas City, the first woman in the United States to defend a woman on trial for murder and the first woman to argue before the Kansas Supreme Court. She graduated from Kansas City School of Law (now UMKC School of Law) in 1901, at a time when women lawyers were very rare.

Laura Rollins Hockaday (1938-2017), longtime society editor for The Kansas City Star, transformed race relations by expanding the newspaper’s previously racially restrictive society page to be inclusive. In recognizing and addressing the injustice in lack of coverage, she quickly and efficiently used her small part of the paper as the impetus for wider change for Kansas City as a whole.

Mamie Currie Hughes has made her mark on the Greater Kansas City community as a tireless advocate for cutting through racial and gender biases and discrimination. She has been a charter member of the Jackson County Legislature, former Chair for the Mid-America Regional Council and founding member of the Central Exchange. She serves on the Council of Advocates for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.

Dr. Patricia A. McIlrath (1917-1999), was a longtime chair of the Department of Theatre at UMKC and founder of the Summer Repertory Theatre, which became the Missouri Repertory Theatre in 1966 (now KC Rep.) She opened auditioning to the community and directed racially-integrated productions. The majority of theatre companies in the Kansas City area trace their roots back to her mentorship and influence.

Janet Murguía, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders, has fought for equal rights throughout her career. As a legislative assistant to former Congressman Jim Slattery and deputy director of legislative affairs to President Clinton, Murguía counseled and convinced U.S. leaders on the economic needs of minorities. She is president and CEO of UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of LaRaza), the largest Hispanic advocacy group in the United States.

Mona Lea Perry has lent her voice to furthering civil rights and diversity inclusion for minority and ethnic groups for more than 60 years. She worked as an employment specialist with the American Indian Center in Kansas City and has volunteered with a myriad of organizations including the Homeless Service Coalition, Stand for Children and KC Harmony. Perry has received four certificates of service as a member of the Missouri Advisory Council for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and in 2014 she was honored with the Martin Luther King Olathe Kansas NAACP Hero of Diversity Award.

Nell Quinlan (Donnelly) Reed (1889-1991), a pioneer in employee rights, established the Donnelly Garment Company in 1919 and for much of the 20th century it was the largest dress manufacturing company in the world — making more than 75 million dresses and employing 1,300 people for years in Kansas City. She was also a pioneer in employees’ rights and implemented many improvements in work conditions and compensation including air conditioning, life insurance and pension plans.

Beth K. Smith (1921-2017) consistently worked to help women in Kansas City reach their full personal and professional potential. A co-founder of The Central Exchange and The Women’s Employment Network and instrumental in establishing the Women’s Foundation of Kansas City, Smith created organizations that aim to promote equity, inspire confidence and foster economic independence for women.

Dr. Linda Hood Talbott, founder of the Center for Philanthropic Leadership and founding member of the Greater Kansas City Foundation, Women’s Employment Network, Central Exchange and Women’s Foundation, became the first woman from Kansas City to sit on the board of a Fortune 1,000 company when she was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of Kansas City Power & Light in the early 1980s. Talbott has established a number of scholarships at UMKC, her alma mater, and in 2015 announced her commitment to leave $1 million of her estate to the Honors College.

Published: Mar 22, 2019