Behind the gates at Oak Hammock are hundreds of stories about achievement, failure, dedication, and service. The diverse residents breathe life into the retirement community and make its very heartbeat as we reflect on the incredible women who enroll in this vibrant community. Three women stand out: Oak Hammock residents Mary Kilgour, Edna Hindson, and June Girard. This month, and always, we recognize them for their strength, perseverance, and resilience.
Growing up in a period of radical change, these three women’s resistance to succumb to the socio-political standards revolutionized an era. With tension building in the pre-women’s liberation landscape, the movement echoed through their hearts. They found opportunities where walls still stood and defied the unreasonable expectations society cast on them. These three women spoke up where voices were silenced and paved the way for change.
Growing up in the shadow of World War II and the glow of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, Mary Kilgour redefined traditional female roles and led a life of dedicated service. She repeatedly sought after promotions promised to only men, and her extensive resume boasts a catalog of professional successes and achievements, in addition to various book and journal publications. Mary’s ability to thrive amidst chaos helped her turn peril into a promise for millions of people around the world.
After graduating from the University of Connecticut, Mary began her career in foreign service by joining the United States Peace Corps. Throughout her two-year assignment in a small village in the Philippines, she developed a passion for international relations and American diplomacy. Upon returning stateside, Mary went back to school to cultivate her global interests by getting her master’s degree in political science. After that, she began her long career with the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.
Mary continued her education at Harvard University, studying public administration and development economics, where she completed a second master’s degree and a doctorate in political economy and government.
In the mid-‘70’s, USAID was posted for a senior position in Washington. With women’s liberation not yet in full swing, women weren’t aspiring for senior positions. However, Mary carried the proper credentials and years of experience, making her a viable candidate for senior administration. Her career with USAID took her to the Philippines, Pakistan, Columbia, Libera, and Bangladesh before she officially retired in the 90s. Mary has continued to dedicate her life to serving others. She’s lectured at universities all over the country. She volunteers for several organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and Guardian ad Litem.
Even though a neurological disease rendered her disabled, Edna Hindson overcame obstacles and lived a life of peaceful activism. She revolutionized the educational landscape for people with disabilities and creatively tapped into resources to make life better for others.
Before the deadly and paralytic virus polio infected her, Edna was just a normal six-year-old kid. She loved music and swimming and admired her mother and aunt, both employees within the Florida school system. Being diagnosed with polio at such a young age, Edna spent a lot of time in various hospitals throughout Florida and Georgia. She eventually lost the use of her left leg and had to spend her 7th birthday in the hospital. Edna developed a courageous spirit despite such a severe diagnosis, specifically after being cared for at the same hospital where doctors treated Franklin D. Roosevelt for Polio. She adopted President Roosevelt’s hope and determination, and she regained the use of her leg.
Edna’s mother, Lassie, was a significant source of strength for Edna and an influential role model. As one of the first women to attend the University of Florida in 1925, Lassie shined as a beacon of resilience and determination for several young women who followed after her. After Edna’s diagnosis, Lassie was highly active with the March of Dimes at the local, state, and national levels. She played an enormous role in polio research and led several organizations that provided public funding and resources resulting in the polio vaccine. Lassie kept a detailed journal written through the eyes of her ailing daughter, documenting Edna’s years spent in and out of hospitals and various physical therapies. While the actual journal is now the property of the Smithsonian Institute, Lassie and Edna made their remarkable journey available to the public in publishing My Scrapbook of My Illness with Polio.
Edna faced many challenges growing up with a disability, but she stayed positive and never let obstacles stand in her way. Still, decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities were kept hidden, considered abnormal, and were often excluded from all sorts of activities. Edna was inspired to embrace her differences and strive for change for herself and others with disabilities in college. She challenged campus staff, served as a voice for others like her, and spread awareness about disabilities. She dedicated her life to tearing down barriers for disabled individuals and strived to normalize disability. She changed her major from nutrition to early education and got certifications in special education. She earned her master’s in remedial reading and taught special education in public schools for many years. She
created programs within the school to spread awareness and create accessibility for disabled students. She coached college students and helped them find support groups. Now, just 82 years young, Edna still advocates for people with disabilities and continues to drive awareness through her story.
As a risk-taker, June Girard has always lived by the mantra, “If it fails, try something else.” Perhaps early suffragists inspired her life of activism or the fire burning within that she inherited from her mother. As a political campaign volunteer, her mother always encouraged June to go out and stand up for what she believes in. June fondly remembers going door to door as a child to pass out campaign literature with her mother. When she asked her mom why she didn’t run for office, she replied, “Daddy wouldn’t like it.” Even though she was competent and would have been an influential leader, women’s liberation and equal rights were too far into the future. When June got older, she turned obstacles into opportunities and dedicated her life to propelling women to achieve greatness and equality.
In 1957, June was a young mother of two tired of talking about laundry soap. She craved mental stimulation and desperately wanted someone who would engage in lively debates with her. In her 20s, she joined the League of Women’s Voters, a grassroots organization encouraging voters to play an active role in democracy. She found other intelligent and articulate women part of that group who had the same passions as her. The education she acquired through LWV felt much like what she would have learned had she attended a university. She learned critical thinking skills and how to speak in front of a crowd. She learned about government and lobbied at the state and national levels. The experience nurtured her inner activist and illuminated her path toward revolution. In 1972, the LWV launched a campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. June was a significant contributor to the peaceful drive-through marches, national conferences, and lobbying endeavors. June met many distinguished politicians, lobbyists, and activists. The governor of Illinois appointed her to the legislative commission on the Status of Women, the global intergovernmental organization dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, where she delegated to the White House and wrote articles and reports to the governor and general assembly.
When June was in her early 40s, she pursued her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She later created her public relations and media consulting firm, JG Communications. She conducted investigative reporting and created campaigns for political and not-for-profit issues and calls to action.
After years of spending winters in Florida, June and her husband moved to the Florida Keys. In 1991, she hosted the long-running TV show “Countyline with June Girard,” She interviewed prominent figures regarding controversial topics. She also became the first woman on the hospital board when the governor of Florida appointed her President of the Lower Florida Keys Hospital District. June leveraged her hospital connections to create an effective program and fundraising benefit for breast cancer awareness. She lobbied for free mammograms for underprivileged women and initiated the ABC Run/Walk for breast cancer. In 2002, she was awarded by Zonta International, an organization dedicated to the advancement of women, the Zonta Outstanding Community Service Woman of the Year.
Despite all of her extraordinary contributions, June says her most significant achievement is raising her two children to be survivors and to fight for their beliefs. She taught them the importance of peaceful protests, gaining followers, and how to be a leader. Even though her calculus teacher daughter swore she would never follow her mother’s footsteps in politics, activism still courses through her veins as she is an active voice in her local teacher’s union. Carrying on generations of justice, June’s great-granddaughter had the pleasure to interview Ruth Bader Ginsberg for an article in the Chicago Law Review.
Mary, Edna, and June are examples of fierce determination and unwavering resilience. Their lifetimes of selfless dedication expedited equality, having a trickle-down effect on the world around them, echoing in the hearts of future generations.
Written March 2021