Tampa Bay trailblazers honored at 2024 Women of Distinction Luncheon

This International Women’s Day, the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida honored six Tampa Bay area women at its annual Women of Distinction Luncheon.  

“For more than 30 years, we’ve been honoring amazing, trailblazing women who set the standard for what our Girl Scouts really aim to achieve – in their lives, in their careers and by giving back to the community,” says Mary Pat King, chief executive officer of GSWCF. 

The Women of Distinction, for 2024, included a Woman of Promise, Diane Walker, and a Hall of Fame Inductee, Renée Vaughn. Each of the honorees spoke at the luncheon. It’s the only GSWCF fundraiser all year and it gathers more than 600 business and community leaders to celebrate women’s empowerment, alongside the great work of GSWCF. 

GSWCF always welcomes new sponsors to support women leadership, in the Tampa Bay area, but especially this year, with a 25% increase in growth as GSWCF now serves 18,000 members, across eight counties. In the run-up to this year’s luncheon, all sponsors will be invited to an Executive Forum to discuss the future for women in innovation and leadership around the Tampa Bay Area. 

“All of our 2024 nominees represent excellence in the Bay Area, from innovators in technology and economic development, like Alison Barlow and Bemetra Simmons, to public servants, like Marilyn Alvarez and Ann Dunwoody, who have spent their whole careers really giving back and making sure we are safe in our communities,” King says. “This year we honor trailblazers, like Renée Vaughn, who has helped increase educational opportunities for youth across the whole country with her service and support of the University of Tampa. And then, finally, our Woman of Promise, Diane Walker, who is making opportunities for local small business owners, especially entrepreneurs from the Hispanic community.” 

The 2024 Women of Distinction are:

Marilyn Alvarez

Marilyn Alvarez: As master deputy of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and a liaison for the Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council, Alvarez is a leader across the Bay area, serving as a bridge between the Sheriff’s office and the Hispanic community. In her 26 years of service with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, she has worked in such diverse areas as patrol, street crimes, school resources and crimes against children. Alvarez also volunteers at local churches, coordinates numerous Hispanic community outreach events each year, and sits on several area boards such as The City of Tampa Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council and the Tampa Bay Area Refugee Task Force. 

Alison Barlow

Alison Barlow: Barlow is a native of St. Petersburg and a graduate of Boca Ciega High School. As the executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District, she works with local partners toward realizing a shared vision of growth for St. Petersburg, especially in the fields of health care, marine science, data analytics and education. Barlow started her career as a technology and business consultant, based in Washington D.C., supporting federal government clients. Upon her return to the Bay Area, and prior to joining the Innovation District, she was the operations manager and lead facilitator of Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College. Barlow is also a graduate of Leadership St. Petersburg and on the boards of the Grow Smarter Alliance, University of South Florida Research Foundation and Friends of Strays Animal Shelter.

Ann Dunwoody

Ann Dunwoody: Dunwoody retired, after more than 37 years of service to the United States Army. In 2008, she earned the historic distinction of being the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve the rank of four-star general. She is the fourth generation of her family to serve in the U.S. Army. Over her career, Dunwoody has managed, and operationalized, the Army’s global supply chain in support of Iraq and Afghanistan and contingency operations in Haiti, Pakistan and Japan, in addition to various stateside roles. In her last assignment, she led the Army Materiel Command, the largest global logistics command in the Army. In addition to numerous accolades, and awards, Dunwoody authored the 2013 book, “A Higher Standard – Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General.” Today, she serves on a number of public, private and non-profit boards.

Bemetra Simmons

Bemetra Simmons: Simmons is the president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of regional business leaders working together to improve the personal and economic well-being of Tampa Bay residents. She is also the co-founder of Corporate Homie, a career, lifestyle and advice company, and podcast, dedicated to assisting professionals in navigating the waters of corporate America. Before her current role with the Tampa Bay Partnership, Simmons served as the chief strategy and operations officer for United Way Suncoast, helping to facilitate a COVID-19 emergency response process which resulted in the disbursement of $1.6 million in emergency relief to area nonprofits. She currently serves on the board of commissioners for the Tampa Housing Authority, the executive committee for the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Community Tampa Bay board. 

Diana Walker

Diana Walker: Walker is the 2024 Woman of Promise, an award for women under the age of 40. She is the special projects coordinator at Hillsborough County Economic Development Minority & Small Business. Her passion for entrepreneurship and giving back to her community is demonstrated through her involvement on the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association and Foundation Board of Directors, as vice president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce, and as an active participant of Status of Latinos, at the University of South Florida. 


Renée Vaughn

Renée Vaughn: Vaughn is president of the Williams Consulting Group, a public relations and marketing firm, in Tampa, founded in 2003. Prior to the Williams Consulting Group, she was a senior administrator for the City of Tampa. In Vaughn’s decades of service to the Bay Area, she has served on numerous boards and societies. Married to University of Tampa President Ron Vaughn, she also serves as the first lady of the University, supporting the University’s mission through her numerous social, community and campus activities. Vaughn has received multiple accolades and awards for her service to the Bay Area, most recently (alongside her husband) the 2021 Patrons of Culture and the Arts IMPACT Award from the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts. 

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