“Be bold, think big, and make a difference” was the theme chosen by the new President of Soroptimists International (Great Britain & Ireland), Marguerite Woodstock-Riley, a Jamaican and the first Caribbean national to head the organization.
In a glittering Change of Insignia ceremony in Harrogate, England, last November, the new president received her chain of office from the immediate past president, amid a rousing applause from the gathering.
Founded in 1921 with a group of eighty women in Oakland, California, Soroptimist International is now a worldwide organization for women in management and the professions, and works through service projects to advance human rights and the status of women.
The word Soroptimist is derived from the Latin words soror meaning “sister” and optima meaning “best”, and loosely translates as “best for women”. Membership now stands at almost 95,000, making the group the largest classified service organization for women.
Woodstock-Riley, a practicing attorney-at-law in Barbados, was never in any doubt as to what she wanted to do with her life. Her mother, Ena J. Collymore-Woodstock, herself a past president of the Soroptimists in Jamaica and the Caribbean, and resident magistrate in Jamaica and later in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Montserrat and Anguilla, was a trailblazer in her own day, and through her own achievements set a pattern for her three children to follow.
The apple never falls far from the tree.Growing up in Jamaica, the St. Hugh’s High School alumna was influenced by her mother’s involvement in public service, her leadership in the Girl Guides and her concern for the plight of women. “In Jamaica, my mother was at the forefront of campaigns to assist unwed and single mothers, and the Soroptimists were the face of professional women with a conscience,” she reflects.
Called to the bar in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Woodstock-Riley now practises civil law from Epworth Chambers in Bridgetown, specializing in family law, insurance law, personal injury cases and civil litigation.
She sees her appointment to lead this prestigious organization as an opportunity to increase the awareness of the mission of the Soroptimists.
“The early soroptimists were trailbazers,” she says. “They campaigned to enable women to work after marriage, and for financial independence.”
As one of its projects, the organization is currently supporting a scheme in Thailand, where especially vulnerable women are being offered scholarships as a deterrent to their involvement in the burgeoning sex industry.
At 20 years old, Woodstock-Riley’s daughter Amanda is following in her mother’s footsteps, making law her chosen profession as well. Her mother admits that her own challenge is to ensure that “the only other thing she’ll want to be is a Soroptimist.” It is almost certain that this Caribbean woman of action will meet that challenge.