Leading Ladies

by Ryan Miller

Coastal Virginia’s Fearless Females Are Breaking The Mold—And The Glass Ceiling—Through Successful Careers, Community Engagement And Family Values

Coastal Virginia is made up of a gamut of strong, intelligent, thoughtful, female leaders in various industries making powerful decisions in their roles and influencing people to work together to make a difference. We’ve chosen just a dozen of these local leaders to participate in this year’s Leading Ladies feature, focusing on female professionals who are passionate about their careers, demonstrate excellent and fair management, influence positive change within our community and serve as mentors that others can respect and admire. Get to know these Leading Ladies in these stories as they discuss excelling in their careers, thriving in often male-dominated industries, balancing work and family time and sharing advice for future female leaders to succeed.


Andrea Kilmer, CEO, ESG CompaniesPhoto by Ramone Photography

Andrea Kilmer, CPA, CFF, CGMA
President & CEO of The ESG Companies

Andrea Kilmer has been working in different roles for The ESG Companies for more than 30 years and now serves as president and CEO. The firm develops and manages a variety of properties and ventures, and under her leadership ESG is taking on a $220 million Virginia Beach Oceanfront arena project.


Caroline Taylor, Leading LadiesPhoto by Jim Pile

Caroline Taylor, RN
President, Taylor Made Diagnostics, Inc. (TMD)

Caroline Taylor started her own business, Taylor Made Diagnostics, providing medical services to 1,600 companies to date through its mobile unit and clinic. With over 20 years of success while growing her company, Taylor Made has been named as the Chesapeake Small Business of the Year and Virginia Small Business of the Year.


Christine Early, Leading Ladies, Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton RoadsPhoto by Melissa Blue Photo

Christine Early
COO of Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads

Always a planner, Christine Early has found her vocation with Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads and building homes for those who are less fortunate. With her executive position, Early's tasks and challenges can be far and wide, but her work makes all of the difference for the lives of families that move in to their new home.


Photo by Jim Pile

Dr. Desiree “Desi” Williams, PT, DPT
Director, William R. Harvey Leadership Institute and Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy

Dr. Desiree Williams is devoted to her day-to-day duties as director of the Leadership Institute at Hampton University, in addition to working in the Department of Physical Therapy and one day a week for Riverside Health Systems in one of their outpatient clinics. On top of this, she's competed in Miss Virginia and Miss America beauty pageants, which have attributed to her own personal growth.


Photo by Jim Pile

Erin Widener
President of Widener Corporation

Erin Widener focuses on the vertical construction of the family-owned business, and has been asked to serve on the board of directors for the Tidewater Builders Association. Despite the challenges of the housing industry from the past decade as well as working in a male-dominated industry, Widener hasn't just gotten by—she's thrived.


Photo courtesy of TowneBank Mortgage

Jacqueline Amato
Chairman and CEO of TowneBank Mortgage (Retired)

With 30 years experience in the mortgage industry, Jackie Amato credits her success as a leader for TowneBank Mortgage to her family's emigration to the U.S. and her natural tenacity for the job. As a part of being a woman in a high-stakes, male-dominated industry, Amato isn't afraid to speak up and stand out.


Photo by David Uhrin

Katie Collett
Morning Anchor at WAVY-TV

Katie Collett has been breaking the mold for women in the media for years and has followed the path of success to her role as a morning anchor at WAVY-TV. Her on-air personality is a reflection of how personable she is in everyday life. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), Collett has used her platform to give others with the disease a voice to know they have support.


Leading Ladies, Suffolk, Linda JohnsonPhoto by Jim Pile

Linda Johnson
Mayor, City of Suffolk

Linda Johnson became Suffolk's first directly elected mayor in 2009, and since has shown her skills as a leader for the city as she was elected to a third term in 2016. Despite challenges she's faced as a woman in politics, she's kept an open mind and the right attitude, and is proud of her work for Suffolk and its economic development and regional transportation intiative.


Suzy Kelly, Leading Ladies, CEO, Jo-Kell Inc.Courtesy Photo

Susan "Suzy" Kelly
CEO of Jo-Kell Inc.; Member of Chesapeake City Council

Suzy Kelly didn't always plan on being the CEO of Jo-Kell Inc., a locally based electrical distribution and engineering company, but discovered she loved the work, the challenges, making a profit and employing others. She brings her enthusiasm and humor to the company, building a family atmosphere at Jo-Kell while crediting her religious upbringing for her passion for work.


Toni Stubbs, Cox Communications, Region Vice PresidentPhoto by Jim Pile

Toni Stubbs
Region Vice President of Engineering and Operations for Cox Communications

Toni Stubbs took on her current role as Region Vice President with some doubters saying she wouldn't last due to her lack of engineering background in her field. She's now been at job longer than any of her predecessors, and attributes her success more to leadership than skill. She also sees it as part of her professional responisbility to encourage women considering a career in technology.


Portsmouth Chief of Police Tonya Chapman, Leading LadiesPhoto by Jim Pile

Tonya Chapman
City of Portsmouth Chief of Police

Wanting to be a police officer from a very young age, Tonya Chapman jumped at the opportunity when it opened in Portsmouth, and now she is the first black female chief of police in a municipality within the Commonwealth of Virginia. As she has broken several glass ceilings, Chapman regularly participates in activities to mentor others to become fellow positive role models.


Photo courtesy of NASA

Zena Cardman
Microbiologist and NASA Astronaut Candidate

Zena Cardman is one of 12 people chosen as a NASA Astronaut candidate from a field of 18,000 applicants. Inspired by her own high school biology teacher to achieve great things, Cardman now passes on her own advice to anyone who wants to pursue their dream, telling them that it's possible.

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