Rancho Santa Fe-based organization honors women’s accomplishments


By Kristina Houck

Lucille Ball. Maya Angelou. Jane Goodall. Mother Teresa. They are just a few of the many women who have been recognized by Women’s International Center.

The Rancho Santa Fe-based nonprofit organization will once again honor women during the 28th annual Living Legacy Awards Feb. 22 at Crowne Plaza in San Diego.

“No matter how often or how little somebody has been honored, there is an electricity,” said Bridget Brigitte McDonald III, president and executive director of Women’s International Center. “When you see somebody come up on stage to applause and receive a physical emblem that represents their hard work — that lasts lifelong. I think it send our honorees home with a mission. It emboldens them to go on and do more work.”

For nearly 30 years, Women’s International Center has celebrated the accomplishments and contributions of more than 300 people from around the world.

The organization was founded in 1982 to acknowledge, honor, encourage and educate women. In addition to the Living Legacy Awards ceremonies, Women’s International Center co-hosts the Spotlight on Women Speaker Series and provides scholarships and sisterships in support of women’s education and empowerment.

WIC has been entirely volunteer-run since it was founded by Gloria Lane, who died in 2013 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. Creative Director Neville Engelbrecht became WIC’s first employee in November.

“I’d love to see us grow as much as we possibly can and share our duties and opportunities,” said McDonald, a Rancho Santa Fe resident.

McDonald began volunteering for WIC soon after her mother, Marianne McDonald, received a Living Legacy Award and became an active volunteer. A distinguished professor at the University of California, San Diego, Marianne McDonald serves as co-chair of the Living Legacy Awards, along with Sally B. Thornton.

“The Living Legacy Awards ended up being my favorite night of the year,” said McDonald, owner of Bionic Sisters Productions, a record label and online marketing company. “I just thought it was fantastic to be a young woman seeing these very inspirational women.”

Originally, Women’s International Center aimed to build a San Diego-based Women’s International Pavilion as a tribute to the contributions women have made to humanity. Although McDonald said she would still like to have a physical office for the organization someday, WIC is focused on building a comprehensive and useful website.

“With the web at your fingertips, it’s a very democratic tool,” she said. “Everybody can participate; everybody can visit. This is the direction that we’re going. I’m trying to keep it as strong as it possibly can be within our means, which means having a far-reaching website that offers links to resources women can use.”

McDonald would also like the organization to grow and launch other chapters throughout the country and the world. Until then, Women’s International Center will continue to build its website, host events, and provide scholarships and sisterships.

The Living Legacy Awards is the organization’s largest fundraiser. The inaugural event was held March 8, 1984, at Hotel del Coronado.

“It’s been an exciting group — all different kinds of people from authors and athletes, to doctors and film producers,” McDonald said. “We’ve honored a whole variety and continue to.”

The 2014 honorees include philanthropist Betty Beyster, oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle, special education advocate Kristin Farmer, author and professor Nadine George-Graves, and horsewoman and veterans advocate Marilyn Lane.

A number of other awards will be presented during the ceremony, which will also include a tribute to Lane.

The Women’s International Center Living Legacy Awards will take place 5:30-8 p.m. Feb. 22 at Crowne Plaza, 2270 Hotel Circle North. Tickets include a four-course dinner.

For more information about Women’s International Center, visit