John O'Connor
John O’Connor

It’s no secret that women do much of the heavy lifting in our field. That’s often the case both figuratively and literally.

But while women account for roughly two-thirds of the senior living workforce, their efforts and accomplishments often go under-appreciated. Or worse, get taken for granted.

That’s one reason why nights like this past Monday’s are so important. That’s when some overdue credit was doled out, during the 2023 McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards ceremony.

It was a night full of happiness, cheers, hugs and even a few tears. It was also incredibly loud. I don’t think anyone who attended was unmoved.

It probably tells you something that 50 of this year’s 59 winners actually attended the live gala, where coworkers, loved ones and peers from across the country paid homage to those who are truly making a difference while leading the way.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner was Marilynn Duker, co-chair of Baltimore-based Brightview Senior Living.

Talk about earning your stripes: She has been with Brightview and its predecessor, The Shelter Group, for more than four decades.

“I couldn’t feel better about what we have all accomplished,” she said in accepting the well-deserved honor. Did you notice she said what “we” have accomplished? Not what “I” have accomplished?

This year’s winners represented four categories. They included Hall of Honor, for senior-level professionals in the C-suite or at a level equivalent to vice president; Veteran VIPs, with more than 15 years of experience making an impact in long-term care but still at a level lower than vice president or its equivalent; and Rising Stars, candidates 40 and younger (or with fewer than 15 years of experience in the profession) who have quickly demonstrated an exceptional commitment to the industry.

The Spirit Award, added in 2022, recognizes inspiring caregiving and service to residents, patients and communities. It also elicited some of the loudest cheers of the night, as the crowd enthusiastically applauded feats such as organizing hurricane evacuations and administering life-saving CPR off the job.

One of the evening’s most poignant moments came as the entire crowd gave a standing ovation in honor of Genevieve Gipson, director and founder of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants based in Ohio. Gipson died after she’d been selected as a Hall of Honor class member; a colleague picked up a posthumous award on her behalf.

While this year’s festivities are concluded, it’s not too early to start thinking about 2024. If you know of a colleague, boss or mentor who you think should be similarly honored, please submit an application for next year when the process opens up. Keep an eye on and this website.

I think those who were in Chicago Monday would agree that the effort is well worth it.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.