By LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion Ledger
In a day and age when many young women view Hollywood celebrities as role models, the Girl Scout Council of Middle Mississippi is reminding them that strong, positive female role models can be found in their own communities.
Chosen for their courage, confidence and character, five former Girl Scouts who are now business and community leaders in the Jackson metro area will be honored at the council’s third annual Women of Distinction Induction Ceremony Thursday at the Country Club of Jackson.
“We wanted to give our girls positive female role models, women they could look up to, emulate and talk to,” said Tina Crump, CEO of the Girl Scout Council of Middle Mississippi.
The 2007 Women of Distinction are: Liza Cirlot Looser of Rankin County; Toni Cooley of Jackson; Tyler Lott Armstrong of Brandon; Hope Bynum of Madison; and Libby Aydelott of Clinton.
Here’s a look at this year’s honorees:
TYLER LOTT ARMSTRONG
As the daughter of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, Armstrong, 37, grew up dividing her time between the nation’s capital and her home state.
“I had the best of both worlds,” said Armstrong, whose first job was working as an elevator operator in the Capitol, providing information and assistance to elected officials, international dignitaries and heads of state.
She earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Mississippi in 1992 and later completed George Washington University’s Tourism Management Program.
Armstrong began her tourism career with the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development and is now the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce’s chief operating officer.
Travel Agent Magazine named Armstrong one of its 100 Rising Stars in 1999, and the Mississippi Business Journal declared her one of the state’s 50 Leading Business Women in 2003.
“It is exhilarating to be honored … especially with the amazing group of ladies that are also being honored this year,” said Armstrong, who is married to Matthew K. Armstrong, owner of PowerSportsPlus and Deep South Hunting Ranch. They are parents of two daughters, Shields, 6, and Addison, 3.
In 1932, Aydelott, 86, became a Girl Scout in Poplarville and never left the organization behind.
Aydelott served as a Scout leader while attending Mississippi University for Women, and after marrying husband Bill and having children, Charles and Beth, she became involved in Scouting again.
Aydelott led Scout troops in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
She holds the organization’s highest honor, the Thanks Badge II, for her efforts to break Girl Scout racial barriers in Chattanooga and numerous surrounding Tennessee communities.
For the past 26 years, Aydelott has served in almost every Girl Scout leadership role. She is now the Girl Scout Council of Middle Mississippi’s trainer and program consultant and heads the Still Growing Strong alumni group.
“In my lifetime of Girl Scouting, I have seen the program change many times in order to remain relevant to the ever-evolving needs and interests of girls,” she said. “What has not changed is the organization’s founding principle of service to God, county and our fellow man. This is how I have tried to live my life.”
Aydelott’s past honors include the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Ageless Hero award and the Goodwill Industries Outstanding Volunteer.
Bynum, 44, grew up as an only child in North Carolina. The Girl Scouts became her extended family and taught her valuable lessons about the importance of giving back to the community.
She now volunteers at many area organizations, including Stewpot Community Services, the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, Goodwill Industries, the Mississippi Children’s Museum Partners, St. Andrew’s Parents Association, Jack and Jill of America, LeFleur’s Bluff Chapter of Links, Inc., and the Junior League of Jackson.
“I felt truly unworthy,” she said, recalling how she felt after learning she had been selected for the Girl Scout honor. “There are so many wonderful deserving women, but I was indeed humbled by the nomination.”
Bynum is married to Bill Bynum, CEO of Enterprise Corporation of the Delta/Hope Community Credit Union, a regional development financial institution that serves the financially disadvantaged.
Their daughter, Blythe, is a junior at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
TONI D. COOLEY
Cooley, 47, has a lengthy history in the business industry and as a community servant.
As president of the Systems’ Companies, which include Systems IT, Systems Consultants Associates Inc., and Systems Electro Coating, her responsibilities include managing the Mississippi and Michigan operations.
Prior to joining SCA in 1994, she worked for Turner International, helping prepare the sale of broadcast and cable licenses for programming like CNN International and Headline News in international markets.
Cooley holds a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and a juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
She serves on the boards of Sanderson Farms, Trustmark National Bank, MINACT and the Mississippi Economic Council.
She said Scouting helps young participants feel empowered.
“Being recognized by such a respected organization causes me to strive to be better and seek to move closer towards those ideals,” she said.
LIZA C. LOOSER
In 1984, Looser, 49, founded The Cirlot Agency, the public relations firm that recently captured attention with its Mississippi, Believe It! campaign created to showcase the state.
She has also made her mark in Jackson as the first female member of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce Board.
In 1989, the Mississippi University for Women graduate was selected as the school’s Young Alumni of the Year, and she is a recent Harvard Business School graduate.
Looser also was named one of the Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 and Top 50 Outstanding Women.
“Looking back, Girl Scouts actually helped young women learn how to become self-sufficient and understand the value of working together as a team at a young age – even before the women’s liberation movement,” she said.
Looser is married to Rick Looser, co-CEO of the agency. They are the parents of Regan and Tripp.
To comment on this story, call LaReea Rucker at (601) 961-7034.