The Independent Women’s Forum honored Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao as our second Woman of Valor at our annual gala dinner, held on May 24.

Speaking to a packed ballroom at Washington’s Fairmont Hotel, IWF president Nancy M. Pfotenhauer hailed the event as “a very special evening for us as we honor the memory of one remarkable woman and the achievements of another.”

The award is given to honor the memory of Barbara Olson, an IWF founder, who perished in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. Last year’s recipient was Lynne Cheney.

Heather Higgins, chairman of the IWF board, spoke about IWF’s rising profile with the media. She also praised the organization’s high quality of publications and its ability to draw people to the website for serious policy debate.

Higgins also mischievously noted that IWF is a women’s organization where the women actually like men!

“We searched the world over for the person best qualified to kick off our evening with a few well chosen words about our honoree,” Pfotenhauer said. “We thought there could be no one better than the man she describes as a brilliant political strategist, incredibly loyal — particularly to his football team — and her soul mate. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the senior senator from Kentucky, the assistant majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and (most importantly) Elaine’s husband…Sen. Mitch McConnell.”

Senator McConnell proudly recalled his wife’s achievements, noting that she had come to the United States from Taiwan as a child who spoke no English.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson was on hand to honor his wife’s memory and to present the award to Secretary Chao. Olson noted that Barbara would be proud of IWF’s recent achievements, including its leading role in the U.S. government’s Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative, for which the IWF received a grant from the State Department.

Olson praised Ricky Silberman, IWF chairman emeritus, for her vision in helping to found the organization before reciting Secretary Chao’s distinguished resume. Secretary Chao joked that she’d had so many positions that everybody in the room was going to think she couldn’t hold a job.

Chao recalled that her father had worked several years in the U.S. before he was able to send for little Elaine and her mother to join him. She movingly said that, when she and her mother passed the Statue of Liberty, they had high hopes but that they could not have guessed that Elaine would one day be a cabinet member.

On a sadder note, Olson praised Dr. Amal MaMalchi, as another woman of valor. She was one of the courageous Iraqi women who have participated in the democracy education programs led by IWF senior vice president Michelle Bernard. Dr. MaMalchi was assassinated in November 2004.

Chairman of the gala committee was Gloria Dittus, whom Pfotenhauer praised as a “person of boundless energy and ability possessing the two crucial components to putting together an evening like this: a phenomenal sense of humor and a phenomenal team. They say the sign of real talent is when someone can do something difficult and make it look effortless.”

More than 350 Washington movers and shakers attended the gala at the Fairmont Hotel. Among those in attendance: Rep. Deborah Pryce, Rep. Mark Foley, Meryl Chertoff, Rep. Paul Ryan, Rep. Trent Franks, Ed and Cathy Gillespie, Grover Norquist, Kellyanne Conway, Barbara Comstock, Karl Rove’s assistant Susan Ralston, Susan Allen, Rhonda Keenum (soon to be head of White House liaison office) Cari Dominguez of the EEOC, Ambassador Steven Steiner, and Judge Laurence Silberman.