Earlier this year the Charleston community lost a devoted and much-loved leader, Henrietta Freeman Gaillard, who courageously battled cancer for two and a half years. Henrietta is dearly missed by her family and many many close friends. She is also missed by acquaintances like me, who knew her more by the evidence of her quiet service to our community, by her legacy of servant leadership. You know the type – not so much the people who make the front page of the Post & Courier on a regular basis, but those Rocks of Gibraltar — the people who, through their single-minded service, naturally ascend to leadership positions. And in leading, point others to the cause they are promoting – not to themselves.
Among the many legacies Henrietta has left to our community, one that stands out to me is her dedication to developing the potential of women. She did this indirectly, through her various public service roles, modeling what it means to be a woman leader of excellence. She also did this directly by encouraging individual women in her personal life.
Henrietta served for eight years as the Director of Development for Ashley Hall. Walker Buxton, who worked under Henrietta at Ashley Hall, described her this way: “Henrietta had an incredible work ethic – I’ll never forget the time we hosted an event at a home south of Broad, and at the end of the long night of meeting and greeting prospective donors, there was Henrietta back in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up cleaning silverware – she was not above doing anything and that is why she was the kind of leader people wanted to follow.” Inflated ego was indeed never a struggle for Henrietta – and she modeled this humility to all those around her. “When I first started working at Ashley Hall, Henrietta said, ‘I don’t mind if people make mistakes, but don’t make a mistake because you didn’t ask!’ The point being,” Walker continued, “that no question is too dumb so don’t be too proud to ask it.”
Thanks to her many years of volunteer work and leadership training through her involvement with the Junior League, Henrietta brought to Ashley Hall’s development shop a focus on strategic planning (back in the 80’s, before it was common practice), an ability to motivate and train volunteer solicitors for a successful $1.5 million capital campaign (at that point in time, the largest capital campaign successfully undertaken by a nonprofit), and she always encouraged the women under her leadership to pursue professional development opportunities. She was more interested in their personal success, not in keeping them “under the thumb” – that never even occurred to Henrietta.
Henrietta served as President of the Junior League of Charleston from 1985-1986. Because of this and her devoted service to our community, her friends and family worked together to establish the Henrietta F. Gaillard Leadership Fund at Coastal Community Foundation. This endowed fund provides a permanent source of funding for the Junior League’s leadership training activities – as well as a perpetual reminder of Henrietta’s dedication to developing the potential of women.
Beyond being a great leader, what I hear most is that Henrietta had an amazing ability to be a great friend. As important as all her leadership and service to our community was, this is what she will be remembered for most.