SANTA CRUZ—Former United Nations goodwill ambassador and actress Linda Gray urged local women leaders to embrace the speed bumps in their lives and focus on the greater service they can contribute to the world at the 13th annual Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce Women’s Leadership Forum Thursday.
“We were all born with a spark of magnificence and how easy it is for us to forget,” Gray said. “We have forgotten so many, many things. I’m here to say, ‘C’mon girls, shake it up. Things are going to change.’”
Gray, 75, published a memoir earlier this month, “The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction,” was the opening speaker at the chamber event attended by about 175 people. She is probably best known for her role as Sue Ellen Ewing in the long-running television series “Dallas,” a role that transformed her from being a 38-year-old, traditional homemaker and mother with occasional acting gigs to sudden international stardom. It was a role that also cost her a marriage, she said.
“Should I have given up on my dream? No.” Gray told her audience. “That was a major speed bump. It could have been a pot hole.”
Embracing the largesse of life, self-care and inspiring women to pursue their dreams was a prevailing theme for the Leadership Forum.
Other speakers included Sarajevo refugee Belmar Bovorac who is an executive assistant for a vice president at Facebook; and women’s business coach Sage Lavine, who is the founding chief executive of Conscious Women Entrepreneur.
The day included networking, workshops, book-signings and “all-day shopping” at retail booths featuring local, women-owned businesses. Workshop topics included entrepreneurialism, women’s health, conflict resolution, life coaching and navigating art careers.
“It’s a nice re-set,” said Daisha Marsh, a supervisor at Stanford Health Care who drove from Felton to attend the event at the Cocoanut Grove along with several colleagues.
For attendee Anna Hirst from the marketing department at Ecology Action, the day was an opportunity to network with other businesswomen in the community.
“I get to know my peers and see the amazing things that they’re doing,” Hirst said. “It’s a good tribe to be in.”
Gray, who chided herself for having to don sportswear at the podium because she forgot to pack her speaking outfit, said success lies in how we look at the inevitable challenges that come into our lives.
She recounted how she contracted polio at the age of 5 and lost a younger sister to breast cancer. She recited her first rejection letter, which she has kept for 55 years as an inspiration to remain steadfast in her pursuits. The author suggested that maybe if Gray changed her makeup and hairstyle she’d be able to make something of herself one day.
Gray, an award-winning actress and director, went on to perform in numerous other television, film and stage productions. During her 10 years as an UN ambassador, she traveled to developing countries. She has also worked with hunger programs such as Meals on Wheels, and organizations serving people with AIDS and the environment.
She returned to the stage last year to be the Fairy Godmother in the British stage production of “Cinderella,” a Christmas pantomime and is in two new movies, “Wally’s Will,” an independent film and “The Perfect Wedding,” a Hallmark TV movie.
“I know you’ve got a to-do list to end all to-do lists,” Gray said, urging her audience to take a daily gratitude walk without a smart phone, say thank you often and pursue dreams and passions. “Do something beautiful and be grateful.”
This article was first published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.