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Costco’s Heather Shavey And Frieda’s Karen Caplan Honored At United Fresh

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 28, 2009

This year’s Women in Produce event at the United Fresh convention honored Costco’s Heather Shavey. Heather is a veteran, having joined Costco when it had only seven stores. After a quarter century of continuity, she has become one of the most powerful women in produce.

Yet interesting enough Heather is quite representative of what we see as a future filled with women in the produce trade.

Since Karen Caplan organized the first Women in Produce reception back in 1995 when the United convention was in Anaheim, California, there have been 12 honorees. In addition to Heather, these are the women who have been named “Woman of the Year”:

• Tonya Antle, Earthbound Farm

• Frieda Caplan, Frieda’s, Inc.

• Margaret D’Arrigo, D’Arrigo Brothers of California

• Jan DeLyser, California Avocado Commission

• Jan Fleming, Strube Celery & Vegetable Company

• Janice Honigberg, Sun Belle, Inc.

• Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission

• Dr. Martha Rhodes-Roberts, Florida Commissioner’s Office for Food Safety

• Steffanie Smith, River Point Farms LLC

• Rosemary Talley, Talley Farms

• Jenny Tenney, The Kroger Company

It is interesting because most of these honorees were either entrepreneurs or had family ties to the business. It is only a few people, including Heather, mostly working for large companies or organizations that have begun to demonstrate a different path — one more likely to lead to large numbers of women in leadership roles in the industry.

Heather seemed to tie in to this reality with her gracious comments sent out before the event: “Now more than ever, women play crucial roles and are needed in all stages of the fresh and fresh-cut produce industry — from farm to fork. This recognition is as much theirs as it is mine.”

The transition was evident in more ways than one. In addition to the award to Heather, a special award was give to Karen Caplan. Not only did Karen originate the concept and organize the first event, Karen was also the first female Chairman of United.

Lorri Koster, Co-Chairman at Mann Packing, was the first female Chairman of a national produce association, as she was Chairman of the old International Fresh-cut Produce Association, now merged into United. But Karen Caplan was the first female Chairman of either of the “big 2” national produce associations — PMA and United.

The award was a thank you and recompense for the fact that Karen herself never was given the award — although her mother, Frieda, was — and that was really because she was too close to the event, and it would have been unseemly to give Karen the award.

Yet it was also a kind of passing of the baton. Karen has a close relationship with her daughters, a growing family business, and a mom to take care of — if Frieda, still quite vibrant, needs any caring.

After a dozen years stewarding this event, she has had the satisfaction of seeing what she created grow beyond herself.

As we were writing this piece, we received word that Bea Arthur passed away. In the early 1970s her character, Maude — created with producer Norman Lear — first appeared as Edith Bunker’s liberal feminist cousin on All in the Family. Then her role was spun off into her own show.

Maude became a feminist icon and Bea Arthur’s personal views seemed to change and become closer to the character as time went on.

The show was very controversial, dealing publicly with issues such as abortion, drugs, alcoholism and sexuality.

Later, her role on The Golden Girls continued to deal with other issues related to feminism, as well as issues related to growing old in America.

She had many other parts, from originating Yente in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof, to playing Larry David’s mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and she won many awards.

Whatever one thought of the politics she represented in her premier roles, she was a great actress and comedic talent.

Yet the great controversies over her roles now seem almost quaint. The author of her obituary in the Los Angeles Times made the point that actresses today don’t get the theatre training that Bea Arthur — born Bernice Frankel — received, but in headlining the obit Beatrice Arthur: A towering comedic talent from another era, we think the paper was touching on something beyond the roots of her acting skills.

Although in her remarks Karen Caplan could still chastise United for not having more female board members and executives, it seems that the course is set. There are more female college students than male, more female law school students than male, more female PhD candidates than there are male PhD candidates.

The industry is changing and jobs that are done at places such as Wal-Mart and Costco no longer require years of lugging heavy boxes as prerequisite. So we suspect that ultimately events such as the Woman in Produce gathering will have less to do with women not being recognized elsewhere but more a matter of networking and friendship. Because no matter how high or low a position, both men and women sometimes enjoy being with their own gender.

The death of Bea Arthur is appropriate for that as well, because long before she was Maude, she was Vera Charles, the acerbic sidekick of Auntie Mame. She played the role opposite Angela Lansbury on Broadway, and The New York Post called her “a portrait in acid of a savagely witty, cynical and serpent-tongued woman.”

She later reprised the role in the film version of Mame, as Lucille Ball, who played Auntie Mame, insisted on Bea Arthur over Bette Davis.

In that role she sung a duet with Mame about the nature of female friendship. Years later she reprised the duet with Angela Lansbury. We congratulate both Heather Shavey and Karen Caplan and leave with you with this rendition of “Bosom Buddies.”

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