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The Five Women I Fear the Most in Pittsburgh

John Denny takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the women who scare him the most--in a good way. Substitute your own word: powerful. Impressive. Change-making. These women are for real and while we could add dozens to this list, we only wish there were more like them in Pittsburgh.

Women scare me.  There, I admit it and I'm a bigger man for it. I've always been afraid of women.  It started with my mother, which should surprise no one who has ever met her. Things didn't get better when I married my wife – oh boy, am I afraid of her!  And now, I find myself afraid of my two daughters ages 12 and 7.

The ironic thing is, and you can ask anyone who knows me, I enjoy working with and for women a whole lot more than I do with men– especially highly motivated, inspirational women leaders. So here are five highly motivated, inspirational Pittsburgh women I fear the most. In a good way of course.
1.     Helen Hanna Casey --- Now this is one scary woman. All I can say is, "get out of her way and follow where ever she leads." Helen Hanna Casey is one of the most successful women business leaders in Pennsylvania. As President and CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate Company, Helen has led her company into new markets like Ohio, New York and West Virginia making Howard Hanna the 4th largest real estate company in the United States.  Helen also makes sure the company gives back to the community – to the tune of $5.5 million to the Children's Hospital Free Care Fund.
I've had the great honor to serve on two boards that Helen chairs.  The first was Carlow University and now the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. Helen has a way of making every meeting fun, every issue easy to understand and every meeting productive. The last two things I will say about Helen:  first, you know when she enters a room. Second, she has the fastest "walk with purpose" that makes you fear she might run you over.  Don't worry. She'll stop, apologize, help you up, and then keep right on going!
2.     Ann McGuinn – There is only one person more scared of Ann McGuinn than me and that's her husband Marty McGuinn. But what would you expect from a girl raised in Brooklyn with a great deal of southern charm?  If you ever have something important you want done, a cause to champion, a mission to complete, Ann McGuinn is the right person to lead the charge.
Ann is a passionate, tireless leader of many causes.  I first experienced her leadership style as a member of the Children's Institute board ,which Ann chaired, and she led the organization through a very successful capital campaign.  Her style of leadership is to charm you all the way to the edge of the plank and before you know it you're jumping feet first into doing whatever Ann asked (no, make that told) you to do. But the best thing about serving with Ann? She always makes you feel needed and wanted and she has the wonderful ability to laugh at herself which makes everyone feel at ease.  Whether it's the Children's Institute, the Women for a Healthy Environment Initiative,  or the opening of our new Convention Center, Pittsburgh is lucky to have this scary woman. (and can you imagine she has a twin sister Margaret?  Poor Marty!)
3.     Agnus Berenato
I immediately became afraid of Agnus Berenato, Pitt Women's Basketball Head Coach, when I picked my twelve year old daughter up from the "Agnus Berenato Girls Summer Basketball Camp".  This is what she told the campers: "You look your parents in the eye when you get in the car and tell them to put down their cell phones, quit texting, and listen to my day." Wow! I didn't need any more help having my daughter give her father orders, but Agnus really set her loose.
Forget about what this amazing, mother of five grown children, native of Gloucester City, New Jersey has done to revive the Pitt Women's program, leading them to five straight post-season games, ranking in the top twenty and breaking all Pitt records. Agnus Berenato inspires young girls to be better women!  The point she was making about the cell phones was, talk to your parents. Make sure they are listening and hear you and listen to them. I've never felt so good entrusting my daughter to anyone like I did to Agnus.
Even more than a basketball coach, Agnus is a community leader. She serves on the Magee Research Institute Foundation board, has been honored twice by the Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year, was named by the Pittsburgh Magazine as one of "12 Phenomenal Women," and started the Pink the Pete to raise breast cancer awareness.  Most of all, she has led her team to high academic achievement with a nomination to the All-American Academic Team. Go watch Agnus and the women's Pitt Panthers and you'll be scared of her, too.
4.     Barbara McNees
Barbara scares me because I know that under that velvet glove is an iron fist. Under that "I've got it all together" persona and her calming nature, she's eventually gonna blow, right?  How can she not as President of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce?  In fact, I don't know how she has survived all these years without one eruption.  As President of our region's Chamber of Commerce, Barbara spends most of her time either in Harrisburg or Washington lobbying legislators urging them to look way beyond their individual piece of the puzzle and support larger, important regional initiatives that help make Pittsburgh the #1 place to live, work and raise a family. I don't know how she does it.  I can barely spend one day in Harrisburg meeting with legislators let alone a life time.
And if that isn't scary enough, Barbara also chairs the dreaded Intergovernmental Cooperation Agency – the City of Pittsburgh's Fiscal Oversight Committee. If you think Harrisburg is tough, try telling City Hall how they can spend or not spend money.  The point is that Barbara takes on the impossible and not only succeeds but does so with incredible grace and credibility. This mother, grandmother and Sunday School teacher (As Presbyterians, Barbara and I are part of God's "frozen" people), is one scary lady!
5.     Susan Everingham
Smart women really intimidate and scare me, and Susan Everingham is one of the smartest women I know. Susan is the Director of the Pittsburgh Office of the prestigious  RAND Corporation.  Listen to this scary description from RAND on just how smart Susan is; "A quantitative policy analyst at RAND since 1988, Susan S. Everingham has been involved in a diverse array of policy studies, concentrating on the mathematical modeling of complex systems as well as cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses of policy alternatives."  Yikes, a mathematician – I'm already under the covers.
But seriously, Susan is a wonderful, new addition to our Pittsburgh community. She has either conducted or helped oversee studies on a variety of challenging, complex and sometimes controversial issues/initiatives locally in an effort to help Pittsburgh do better. She has led efforts to review school performances, reduce gang violence, and consolidate government to improve maternal and child healthcare.  Susan has also brought many world leaders into our community so that we can better understand how issues in places like the Middle East impact our corner of the world.

So now every time I see this really smart, scary woman, the only thing I can think to say is, "homoscedasticity!"  I have no idea what it means but I heard it once in a statistics class and it sounds really smart.

To my fellow male scaredy cats, not all is lost.  To either overcome your fear of smart, powerful women, or learn to live with it as I have, here are two suggestions:

·       Get in touch with your inner woman by becoming involved with some great local organizations like Strong Women, Strong Girls, The Women and Girls Foundation of Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh YWCA or the Girls Scouts of Western PA; and
·       Do what you're told.  Trust me; it's a whole lot easier that way.

Who would make your list of scary women? Email us here.
John Denny is director of community relations for the Hillman Company and one of these days, someone will write about how scary he is and Pop City will be happy to publish it.
  Captions, top to bottom:  Helen Hanna Casey at Howard Hanna; Ann McGuinn at the Children's Institute; Agnus Berenato at the Petersen Events Center; Barbara McNees at the Allegheny Conference/Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; Susan Everingham at Rand.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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