If there’s one thing we quickly learned in the search for Westchester and Fairfield’s most fascinating women, it was that we were going to be hard put to keep the list to 40. And while the women who made the cut undeniably have a great deal in common – dedication, tenacity, self-belief, altruism and passion, no matter their field – what they have most in common is their diversity. Each is unique in her particular sphere.
Put another way: fabulous, fired-up and faithful = fascinating. Throw in a pinch of fun, because what is life without humor? and the whole “fascinating” personality of each of our exceptional women becomes a characteristic greater than its constituent parts. From dyed-in-the-wool feminists to new converts to a cause; from longtime Westchester or Fairfield residents to recent arrivals; from politicos, corporate heads and legal eagles to writers, actors, artists and free-thinkers – each has forged strong ties with WAG country.
So here it is: our list of 40 Fascinating Women, as diverse in our community as our community itself is diverse. To these women who give so much to the region and in doing so enrich the lives of all of us, WAG salutes you.
- Carole Haarmann Acunto
There’s not much that vivacious Tuckahoe High School graduate, producer Carol Haarmann Acunto, doesn’t know about good food and hospitality. She’s a publisher at Greenwich-based Food &… magazine,which explores the world of chefs and restaurants across the US and Europe. And as we learned in our interview with her in April WAG (see also Avril Graham), she’s totally at home in the world of luxury too: as a cable and network TV producer, her upcoming show “Platinum Eye” will focus on “curated luxury.”
- Silvia Baldini
“Chopped” Champion in 2015 – she was the first woman in Connecticut to win the culinary TV competition – and co-founder of The Secret Ingredient Girls, an online store centering on women’s health, food, and cooking, Silvia Baldini has nothing if not energy. Founder of Strawberry and Sage, a think tank about food and a member of New York women’s Culinary Alliance, the Italian-born chef and mother of two is also a prolific food and recipe writer. Her cooking series on FabFitFun.com attracts more than 7 million viewers.
- Georgina Bloomberg
Susan Brown and Michael Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgina, looks as poised on a horse (she’s been riding since she was 4) as she does at the Met Ball – as elegant in Under Amour pants and T-shirt as in evening Prada and Jimmy Choos. An accomplished horsewoman, she’s also the owner of the equestrian team New York Empire, and between her horses and philanthropy has found time to co-author a clutch of young adult novels about the equestrian show circuit. She divides her time between New York City and North Salem, where she lives with her son Jasper, 4, four rescue dogs, a rescue goat, two rescue mules and two mini-horses.
- Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson
Winning the “Miss Westchester” crown when she was 19, the perfectly-coiffed Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson has gone on to wear another crown. She’s the undisputed queen of Westchester advertising, a founding partner of the public relations and advertising wizards, Thompson & Bender – think Mad Men and then fast forward 50 years. An original and inspired publicist, if there’s a Westchester community project Liz is not involved with, or a professional local board she has not sat on, we want to know about it.
- Ursula Burns
The first black American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company believes that education, along with courage and a strong work ethic, are the keys to making your dreams come true. Which is why, when she gets a moment away from her desk – she’s chairman and CEO of digital services provider giant, VEON, senior adviser to Teneo, a nonexecutive director of Diageo and a member of the board of directors of Uber – she works with organizations that help minorities and women get the education and self-respect they need to “someday pay it forward.”
- Paula Callari
Talk about girl power and being in the driver’s seat – when car connoisseur and businessman Felix Callari passed away in 2008, it was his daughters Paula and Flavia who stepped in to the breach. Now president of the hugely successful Callari Auto Group, with four dealerships in Fairfield County, when she’s not behind the wheel or selling cars, the “driven” Paula gives her time as a committee member of the Stamford Health Foundation Dream Ball and is also a committee member of GO Red Corporate Leadership Council of Fairfield.
- Mary Calvi
As the author of “Dear George, Dear Mary: A Novel of George Washington’s First Love,” a co-anchor on CBS2 and a winner of no less than 10 Emmy Awards, Mary Calvi has taken all the honors in writing and journalism. But don’t think this historical novelist is all wrapped up in the past. As wife of Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano (she’s often referred to as the first lady of Yonkers) and with three children to keep her busy, Calvi is a hardworking and very contemporary mom.
- Gina Cappelli
It’s been 21 years since Mercy College graduate and Port Chester resident Gina Cappelli founded Formé Urgent Care and Wellness Center, single-handedly transforming urgent care by taking pressure off hospital emergency rooms, providing rehabilitation services and doing it all at a reasonable price. Big on aesthetics such as trending vampire facials (hint: it’s all in the plasma), education on health and preventative care is also key at Formé centers, where – whether insured or not – no individual is ever turned away.
- Hillary Clinton
Lawyer, New York senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s no slouch when it comes to public life. But it’s not all presidential shenanigans and political slog for Chappaqua’s most well-known female resident – HRC has also written a very charming children’s book, “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets,” featuring pictures of her own dogs. And when it comes to downtime, there’s nothing the former first lady of the U.S. likes more after a hard day’s work than to sink into the couch for an episode of “Love It Or List” on HGTV.
- Glenn Close
There’s life beyond Hollywood and Broadway for the acclaimedproducer, singer, and actress, seven times Academy Awards nominee, Bedford Hills resident, Glenn Close. (She’s also a winner of three Tony awards, three Golden Globes, and three Primetime Emmys). An active Democrat, Close has also contributed generously to the cause and in 2019 was declared one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Timemagazine.
- Megan Fairchild
A principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and winner of the prestigious Mae L. Wien award and a clutch of others, Megan Fairchild may dance like a dream but life for the Dobbs Ferry resident isn’t all adagios and arabesques. She took time out from the ballet in 2014 to star in “On The Town” (to prove to herself she could do it) and when she ends her dancing career in five years time as she intends doing, taking a French immersion course in Bordeaux, France, and attending Stern at NYU to get her MBA are on her bucket list.
- Kendra Farn
Former news anchor and CBS reporter Kendra Farn, who along with her husband, sports director, Noah Finz, calls Old Greenwich home, has had plenty of experience speaking on camera and in front of others. These days, the couple head up a highly successful video company, P Garyn Productions, producing captivating videos for businesses and nonprofits, but Kendra still finds time to volunteer at schools, churches and with civic groups.
- Eileen Fisher
The Irvington-based clothing designer and founder of her eponymous company, Eileen Fisher Inc. – 35 years old this year – has made a profound impact on the world of fashion. The simplicity of her designs has always won her plaudits. With 70% of the cotton used in her clothing certified organic, and a recycling scheme for “gently used” garments (some of the profits of which go to business grants for young women), Fisher has long been ahead of the sustainability game. Meditating and yoga keep this exceptional Westchester lady “anchored.”
- Susan Fox
The first female CEO of an acute-care hospital in the county, White Plains Hospital President Susan Fox, herself a resident of Larchmont, has made an enormous impact since taking the reins four years ago. Her achievements include expanding a cancer care clinical research program, orchestrating a $100 million upgrade to the hospital’s campus and implementing a vital affiliation with Montefiore Medical Centre. She’s also one of the visionaries behind the new White Plains Family Health Center and Pediatrics Center.
- Kirsten Gillibrand
Although sheno longer sleeps with a gun under her bed, the U.S. senator from New York, and former member of the House of Representatives has lost none of her feistiness. She has spoken out on sexual assault in the military and supports the abolition and replacement of the U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement. In March she declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in the 2020 election. Home for this hardworking senator is upstate Brunswick, where she lives with British-born husband, Jonathan, and sons Theodore and Henry.
- Leslie B. Gordon
The CEO and president of Feeding Westchester, an Elmsford-based nonprofit whose mission is to end hunger throughout Westchester, Leslie Gordon is a highly-personable but no-nonsense fourth-generation Tarrytown resident who has the knack of getting things done. Since taking over at Feeding Westchester, Gordon, formerly at City Harvest in New York City, has increased food distribution by more than 20%, to more than 10 million pounds annually and introduced partnerships with healthcare institutions to connect diabetic patients with healthy food.
- Avril Graham
The Scottish-born, polo-loving executive fashion and beauty editor of Harper’s Bazaar – she of the winning smile and translucent skin – is also a regular TV commentator and public speaker. Her upcoming show “Platinum Eye,” with Carole Haarmann Acunto – with whom she was profiled in April 2019 WAG – is slated to launch in the fall. When not writing about beauty or talking “luxe,” Avril waves the flag for the British Royal Family and Formula One racing, of which she is a keen follower.
- Hélène Grimaud
Piano may be the first love of the scintillating Hélène Grimaud, who started playing when she was 9 and by the age of 12 had entered the Paris Conservatoire. But it was her interest in the social behavior of primates – and meeting one wolf in particular – which led to her founding the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem. With a countenance as iridescent as her piano playing – listen to her interpretations of Brahms or Rachmaninov to be entirely transported – and her love for the natural world, “fascinating” barely begins to describe the remarkable Grimaud.
- Janet T. Langsam
“Art for art’s sake but money for God’s sake” (as the line in the 10cc song goes,) might just be Janet Langsam’s mantra – the long-serving ArtsWestchester CEO knows you can’t have one without the other. During the Koch administration she successfully used federal stimulus funds to help cultural institutions get through the city’s fiscal crisis, and during her time at the top in Westchester she has seen her organization grow nearly fourfold to a $4.5 million agency. A brilliant administrator, fundraiser and promoter of the arts, the Armonk-based Langsam is no mean artist herself – though when she finds time to paint is anybody’s guess.
- Audra McDonald
The Croton-on-Hudson-based actress and singer with six Tonys to her name – and the first performer to win in all four acting categories – along with two Grammys and an Emmy, the multitalented McDonald refuses to be stereotyped. She was the first black actress to play traditionally white roles (such as Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel”) and is equally at home in musicals, drama and even opera – although many who heard it claim that her greatest performance of all was when she sang “Smile” at Joan Rivers’ funeral in 2014.
- Rebecca Minkoff
The sky seems to be the limit for the California-born designer, who landed in New York age 18 with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Known for edgy design combined with wit and a whiff of attitude, Minkoff’s eponymous bags can now be found in 900 stores across nine countries worldwide, which means a lot of travel for mother of two Minkoff, who runs the company with her brother and co-founder, Uri. Husband Gavin Bellour, an actor and producer, gets to hold the fort while mom’s away.
- Josie Natori
The Philippines-born designer, who divides her time between New York City and Pound Ridge, is no stranger when it comes to awards, having received, among other prestigious gongs, the Order of Lakandula, one of the Philippines’ highest awards for civilians, and the Peopling of America award, given by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. A former pianist who once considered a McDonald’s franchise as a career, Natori, who is known for her distinctive lingerie, sleepwear and home accessories, enjoys downtime with husband, Kenneth, and taking her grandkids to school each day before her own workday begins.
- Indra Nooyi
Type ‘Indr’ into Google and the first response that pops up is Indra Nooyi – not surprisingly, perhaps, since Indian-born businesswoman Nooyi has been on the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women multiple times, and was named the 2ndmost powerful woman on The Fortune list in 2015. A former CEO and president of PepsiCo, the Greenwich resident and former all-girl rock band member currently serves on the board of directors of Amazon and in 2018 became the first independent female director of the International Cricket Council board. For relaxation, a spot of karaoke does the trick.
- Pam Pagnani
What public-spirited Greenwich resident Pam Pagnani doesn’t know about real estate, insurance and the law isn’t worth knowing. Among many other distinguished positions, Pagnani has been COO for The Hartford, an insurance and investment company, and on the general counsel of Vanderbilt Properties, a real estate company, while currently serving on the board of directors of the Greenwich Land Trust. Her “day job’,” however, is vice president of Sotheby’s International Realty, where she brings her experience, insight and formidable knowledge of the industry to bear on a daily basis.
- Fran Pastore
The CEO and founder of the Women’s Business Development Council, mother of two grown girls, is one of life’s givers, someone who – motivated by her own hardships as a young single mother – has done so much for women in Connecticut. The WBDC offers classes, mentorships and financial training for women, helping them (as told to chef Darlene B in her interview in April 2019) create a better life and be role models for their children. “It’s okay to depend on a man but not be dependent on a man,” says Pastore, wisely.
- Melissa Prospero
If you want to learn about Italian wine there can’t be many regions better to visit than Montepulciano, Tuscany, just one of the places Melissa Prospero’s travels took her before she joined her parents’ Pleasantville winery over a decade ago, and where she is now vice president. A great ambassador for the wine trade generally, Melissa travels all over the U.S. and internationally, buying grapes and promoting the various brands. The winery’s Sweet Melissa (red wine) is named for her, but as she says, “Every girl named Melissa can relate to the wine.”
- Trish Regan
Author and television personality Regan was a host for CNBC and Bloomberg Television before moving to Fox News, where she hosts “Trish Regan Primetime” for the Fox Business Network. A former Miss New Hampshire, the glamorous mother of three studied voice in the New England Conservatory of Music and has a Bachelor’s Degree in history from Columbia University. Her 2007 documentary “Against the Tide: The Battle for New Orleans,” won her a Best documentary Emmy Award nomination in 2007.
- Virginia Rometty
The extraordinary Ginnie Rometty worked her way up from systems engineer at IBM to become chair, president and CEO, the first woman to head the company. On the way up she has served on the board of directors of AIG, and remains on the boards of overseers and board of managers of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ranked in the top 10 of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business for the last 10 years, on the international scene Rometty co-chaired the Davos Economic Forum in 2017. What’s that they say about all work and no play? This American powerhouse is a scratch golfer, as well as an avid scuba diver.
- Avideh Safaei
Executive director and financial adviser at J.P. Morgan Securities, a wealth management division of J.P. Morgan, mother of two and Scarsdale resident Avi has been recognized by Forbes as one of America’s Top Next-Gen Wealth Advisors. The highly approachable Avi was recently a guest speaker at a WAG spring event luncheon, where she encouraged more women to invest and take a long-term perspective.
- Rabbi Deborah Salomon
The charismatic Deborah Salomon founded her religious school, Hebrew Wizards, in 2004, first operating out of her house and then a variety of rented locations until finally snagging a permanent home in a former rug showroom in Cos Cob in 2017. The school waves goodbye to traditional Jewish teaching methods, instead aiming to captivate the minds of its young students through song and dance, field trips and games. And the school is not limited to Jewish kids, but offers activities for children of all denominations. If anyone can bring communities together, it is surely Rabbi Deborah.
- Esmeralda Santiago
The Puerto Rican writer, journalist and essayist, who lives in a ranch in Katonah with her husband, the filmmaker Frank Cantor, is also a poet and editor. Her most well-known book is perhaps her 1993, biography, “When I was Puerto Rican,” the first of a trilogy, which she followed up with “Almost a Woman” and “The Turkish Lover.” Alongside her work on behalf of public libraries and community-based programs for adolescents, the seemingly tireless Santiago is vociferous about Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and is the founder of a shelter for battered women.
- Bonnie Saran
If you want to eat out in Mount Kisco, you’ll be hard pressed not to end up in a Bonnie Saran-owned restaurant. The Indian-born chef, whose motto is – or was –“keep it small, keep it all,” is now the owner of four “Little” eateries on East Main Street, as well as Little Mumbai Market in Pleasantville, while the just-opened branch of Little Drunken Chef in White Plains has moved Saran’s culinary compass south. The easy-going, self-effacing Saran – who counts Martha Stewart and the Clintons as customers – takes inspiration from her late father, whose last words to her she has tattooed on her forearm: “Let no-one steal your dreams.”
- Martha Stewart
The former model and stockbroker is living proof that a strict upbringing can be a very good thing – the all-round domestic goddess is said to be worth in excess of $600 million. Schooled in perfectionism by her disciplinarian father, Stewart channeled the household skills acquired in childhood to become a one-woman, multimillion-dollar industry, across a host of disciplines. It’s hard to believe that nearly 30 years have passed since Martha Stewart Living first hit the stands, or that 15 years ago her conviction for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators led to a prison sentence. But that was in another country, as the saying (from Christopher Marlowe) goes, and Katonah-resident Martha Stewart remains, indeed will always be, an American icon, representing self betterment and gracious living.
- Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Most people know Andrea Stewart-Cousins, mother and grandmother, is an educator, politician, and Democratic Party member, but only some people know she was the first female Senate majority leader and the first woman (and first black woman) in New York to lead a conference for the legislature of the state. Even fewer know that she was an early proponent of gay marriage, and hardly anyone at all knows that the Yonkers native had her first child at 19 and as a single mom still managed to earn a college degree.
- Julia Takeda (New York, New York)
It’s up, up and away with the Chappaqua native and Columbia graduate Julia Takeda, who founded Fly Louie, an affordable air service that uses private planes to create a faster alternative to commercial travel, after a phone call to a regular airline allowed her to spot a gap in the commercial airline market. But lest you think it’s all hot air, you should know that Fly Louie (named for Takeda’s Great Uncle Lou) is proving a very successful business, with more routes in the offing. “Fly Louie restores dignity to air travel,” says Takeda, something which passengers on flights from the private terminal at Westchester County Airport to Nantucket and Pittsburgh – and vice versa – will undoubtedly attest.
- Maggie Timoney
Last year, Maggie Timoney became the first female executive to lead a major U.S. beer company when she was named CEO of Heineken U.S.A. A former Iona basketball star (she graduated in 1989 and was inducted into the college’s Goal Club Hall of Fame in 2001) the single-minded Timoney, who is Irish by birth and the mother of two teenage boys, will now be concentrating her efforts on maintaining and increasing Heineken’s annual U.S. revenue, which is in the region of $7 billion, as she continues to fight alcohol abuse at home and abroad. Who wouldn’t say sláinte to that?
- Yonni Wattenmaker
Executive director of the Greenwich Breast Cancer Alliance since 2011 and a member of the National Council for Arts & Sciences at The George Washington University, Yonni Wattenmaker insists that her son Max, now aged 19, comes first. But the tireless Wattenmaker is still utterly devoted to the BCA cause, which includes supporting scientists looking for cures, funding fellowships for young men and women to become breast surgeons, and of course improving survival rates and quality of life for breast cancer patients.
- Emily Weiss
It’s amazing what you can do between the hours of 4 and 8 a.m. That was the time during which Vogue styling assistant, Emily Weiss, who grew up in Wilton, worked on Into the Gloss, a blog about women’s beauty products and regimes that launched in 2010. Three years later, she raised $2 million in seed funding to launch Glossier.com, an e-commerce platform. After three further rounds of funding, Glossier – which has expanded to include shower gel, body lotion and fragrances among other products – is today valued at $1.2 billion, and Weiss no longer works at Vogue.
- Fran Weissler
With seven Tonys and four drama Desk Awards under their belt, you’d think National Theatre Company founders Barry and Fran Weissler would be sitting pretty. They’re not. Their production of “Chicago” ran for 20 years in London’s West End, ending its run only in January this year, while their Broadway musical, “Waitress,” transferred to London in February and is playing to packed houses. “Barry is really the driving force behind our business,” the then octogenarian Fran, who has a home in Waccabuc, New York, told The New York Times in a 2014 interview. “I work in creative.” With a partnership that has lasted more than 50 years, she can say that again. Broadway royalty.
40. Vanessa Williams
The first African-American Miss America – actress, singer and fashion designer –Vanessa Williams never seems to stand still. Her second album, “The Comfort Zone,” sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S. when it was first released and has since been certified triple platinum; she has had a successful career in television; co-authored a book with her mother, Helen, which discuses the struggles of her childhood; launched a clothing line, V. by Vanessa Williams and is involved with a swath of good causes. In 2018, the indefatigable Chappaqua resident announced she was working on a new studio album.