Jill Dinwiddie has helped get women elected to office, led campaigns to end domestic violence and led the Planned Parenthood movement in the Carolinas – advocating for quality reproductive health care for women.
Over the years, she’s served on 14 Charlotte boards, four state, three multistate and two national boards.
Susan Patterson has been involved with journalism since she was in junior high school in Tennessee. She’s been a reporter, editor and publisher, and in December retired as program director for Charlotte at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a position she held since 2001.
Now Dinwiddie and Patterson can add another line to their crowded resumes: The two were named the 2015 Women of the Year by previous winners.
They join a list of 67 civic-minded women who for six decades have helped make Charlotte a more caring city. The award will be presented to both winners on March 22 at the annual “A Woman’s Place” program at ImaginOn uptown.
Dinwiddie and Patterson fit in well with past winners. The group includes elected officials; civil and human rights warriors; philanthropic, nonprofit and religious leaders; lawyers and judges; doctors, broadcasters, builders and, in recent years, corporate executives.
The award began in 1955, in the days of pearls and white gloves, honoring local women for civic work. It was created by a WBT Radio executive and in 1991 was taken over by Woman of the Year recipients, who began choosing the winners.
Activist for women
Dinwiddie grew up Detroit. She was a high school English teacher and had run the International Center at UNC-Chapel Hill before moving to San Francisco in the late 1980s.
In 1992, she began to work to get more women elected to federal office, becoming deputy finance director for San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s successful U.S. Senate campaign. After running Feinstein’s northern California offices, she worked for an executive search firm and helped other women run for elected office.
In 2003, she and her husband moved to Charlotte to be close to a daughter.
Here, her board appointments have included the N.C. Arts Council and N.C. Conference for Women, and she co-founded and led the eNOough campaign, a public awareness campaign to end domestic violence in North Carolina.
Dinwiddie is outgoing chair of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which includes the Carolinas and most of Virginia and West Virginia.
She said the organization’s work is misunderstood by opponents because some clinics provide abortions.
“I can’t imagine being on the other side of this issue – where women aren’t allowed to be in control of their own bodies,” she said. “Most of what we do is prevent abortions. It’s a place for college girls to get contraceptives and women to get annual health exams. Abortions are only about 3 percent of what we do.”
Way to contribute
Patterson went to the University of Tennessee to get a business degree, but journalism kept tugging at her. “I kept hanging around the Daily Beacon office, and the rest is history,” she said.
She graduated with a communications degree and came straight to Charlotte, as a page designer and copy editor in the “women’s department” of the afternoon Charlotte News.
Patterson ultimately became lifestyles editor before The Charlotte News and The Charlotte Observer merged in the mid-1980s. At the Observer, she became city editor and ran regional publications before striking out to Milledgeville, Ga., where she was The Union-Recorder’s editor-publisher. At that time, that paper and the Observer were owned by Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
After six years, she was hired to be Charlotte program director for the Knight Foundation.
There, Patterson oversaw $50 million of Knight investments that included the Carolina Thread Trail; the cultural facilities campaign and naming of Knight Theater uptown; laptops for elementary students in Project LIFT; the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte and Center City Partners’ work in Historic West End.
“I look at some of the past Woman of the Year winners. They’ve run organizations, or led specific causes or by their personal means have contributed to important efforts,” Patterson said. “To a certain extent, I felt that’s what I got to do at the Knight Foundation.”
A Woman’s Place
Jill Dinwiddie and Susan Patterson will be honored 7 p.m. March 22 at the annual women’s lecture at ImaginOn. A panel discussion on “Civic Activism” will include N.C. Treasurer Janet Cowell, Janeen Bryant of Leadership in Education Equity and Amalia Deloney of the Media Democracy Fund. Moderator: City Council member Vi Lyles.