A cause born out of tragedy leads to EVE Lifetime Achievement Award.
The 2015 Arnolita J. “Mama” Williams Lifetime Achievement Award given to The Women’s Board Founder Ellen Cavert.
In 1972 Ellen Cavert’s daughter, Ray Martin, gave birth to premature twin girls, Annie and Abbie. Born at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, the twins were in grave danger. After eight days, Abbie died because Wolfson did not have the equipment necessary to support one premature baby, much less two. This event changed the course of Ellen Cavert’s life.
Ellen was born in Jacksonville in 1920. The eldest daughter of Clifford G. and Ray McGehee, she was raised at Heaven Trees, her family home in Old San Jose. She had five brothers and sisters, and a beloved cousin who lived with them. Her childhood was idyllic.
At age 18 she was sent to Nashville to attend Ward Belmont Ladies’ Seminary, where she met a dashing young lawyer and member of the Tennessee State Legislature, Tillman Cavert Jr. The two were married in 1940 and after moving around the Southeast while Captain (avert served first in the Judge Advocate General’s Department and then as a flight instructor for World War II pilots, the couple settled in Jacksonville. Tillman joined his father-in-law’s business, Jacksonville Paper Company.
The couple had four children — Tillman III, Ray, Ellen (BaBa) and Grace. Ray married banker Richard C. Martin and also made their home in Jacksonville. When their twins were born, the entire family was hit hard by the tragedy.
After Abbie died, Richard and Ray had to transport the surviving twin, Annie, in an incubator in the back of their station wagon down to Shands in Gainesville, so she would have the care she needed.
Ellen and Tillman Cavert believed that such a tragedy should never happen to another family. The lifesaving equipment existed; therefore, both babies should have had access to it. Soon after the funeral, Ellen, spurred by an inner drive to “make things right and to ensure that this never happens again,” went to speak with the family’s beloved pediatrician, the late Dr. J.W. Hayes. He encouraged her to move forward. So she did.
Ellen soon garnered the support of 40 women. Some of them were family members (daughter Ray and sister Berrylin were founding members); others were good friends. Wherever she could pull on heartstrings, she did. These women became united in an unparalleled effort. They became passionate about doing whatever it took to save the lives of future babies who would be born at Wolfson. They became dedicated, heart and soul, to Wolfson Children’s Hospital. They became The Women’s Board.
In 1976 the Boehm porcelain exhibit was the first Women’s Board event. One year later, the first Antiques Show was held. The Show is now in its 40th year and is the highlight of Jacksonville’s holiday social season. In 1992, the First Florida Forum speaker series was held, and it is now in its 25th year.
Now 400 members strong, The Women’s Board partners with valued corporate partners and friends in the community to ensure that Jacksonville’s families do not have to experience what Abbie’s family did in 1972. Countless other babies have been saved, countless other children made well. Through its efforts, The Women’s Board has raised more than $28 million for Wolfson Children’s Hospital during its existence. It is a blessing to the Jacksonville community that goes beyond description.
Wolfson is now one of the premier children’s hospitals in the world. A private hospital, it gives away more than $40 million in uncompensated and charity care annually, and no child is ever turned away, regardless of ability to pay.
Ellen has never wavered in her support of Wolfson. Her leadership of The Women’s Board, her mentorship of the many women who have followed in her footsteps, and the example she has set have served as profound models in the lives of Women’s Board members and indeed, all who know her.
Ellen lost Tillman, her “everything’ in 2013 after 73 happy years of marriage. At 96 years old, Ellen still takes part in The Women’s Board, attending Executive Committee meetings, serving on the Advisory Board, attending events and imparting wisdom. Her granddaughter Grace Martin Sarber, current President of The Women’s Board, says, “I visit her weekly with my children, and there is not a time I am with her that she is not advising me on Women’s Board subjects. The wisdom she offers me is invaluable, and I treasure it, as I treasure sharing this honor with my Granny.”