Home2023 Leading Women Dinner Honorees

The Leading Women Dinner honors women who have blazed trails in civic leadership. This year’s honorees have demonstrated in their unique ways how much can be accomplished when people work together. We hope you and others will be inspired to follow their examples and step into future leadership roles.

Leading Woman Honoree

Barbara Melvin
President & CEO, SC Ports

Barbara Melvin became president and CEO of South Carolina Ports on July 1, 2022. Melvin is the sixth leader in the history of the port and the first woman to lead a top 10 U.S. operating container port.

Melvin previously served as SC Ports’ Chief Operating Officer since 2018. As COO, Melvin oversaw terminal operations, carrier sales, information technology and support services, crane and equipment maintenance, engineering, environmental, Port Police, procurement, the logistics solution center and cruise operations.

During her more than 20 years with SC Ports, Melvin has held several senior leadership positions, including senior vice president of operations and terminals; senior vice president of external affairs; and vice president of government relations. In addition to overseeing numerous infrastructure projects, Melvin served as the lead staff person on the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project, resulting in the deepest harbor on the East Coast at 52 feet.

Leadership Legacy Honorees

“Sister Senators”
(L-R) Sen. Sandy Senn, Sen. Katrina Shealy, Sen. Mia McLeod,
Sen. Penry Gustafson, Sen. Margie Bright Matthews

Photo courtesy of Audra Melton for The New York Times.

S.C. State Senator Penry Gustafson, District 27

Penry Gustafson, 53, serves over 116,000 constituents in South Carolina’s third largest geographic district. Penry was the only female senator elected in 2020. Out of 46 senators, only five are women, and she is the first Republican elected to District 27 in over a hundred years.

She serves on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family and Veterans Services, Corrections and Penology, and Judiciary Committees. During the 124th Session (2020-2022), Gustafson sponsored or co-sponsored 15 general bills signed into law.

Senator Gustafson was named an “Elected Woman of Excellence” by the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL) and currently is a South Carolina State Director. She serves on the Board of Directors for Game Changers and the Santee Lynches Council of Government (SLCOG).

She graduated from Newberry College in 1992 and furthered her education with a full graduate assistantship at USC-Columbia. She has championed those most vulnerable or underserved through decades of community service and advocacy. Her wide-ranging career includes coordinator of Operation Inasmuch of the Midlands, top 10% sales producer with Delta Foremost, and case manager for adults with special needs. In younger years, she enjoyed owning a restaurant.

She and her husband Todd live in Camden, SC. Todd is a combat war veteran, retired Lt. Colonel from the US Army, and a retired CRNA. Their blended family includes children William, Maggie, and Drew and their goldendoodle Grace. They love spending time on Lake Wateree, traveling, and listening to live music. When the calendar allows, they both enjoy performing in local community theatre. Born and raised in the state capital of Columbia, South Carolina, Senator Gustafson is honored to represent her home state.

S.C. State Senator Katrina Shealy, District 23

Elected in November 2012, Senator Katrina Shealy was the only woman in the South Carolina Senate at that time and is now one of only five women in the South Carolina Senate. Senator Shealy serves as Chairman of the Family & Veterans’ Services Committee and sits on the Finance, Corrections & Penology, Rules, and Labor, Commerce & Industry Committees in the Senate. She is also a member and past chair of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, co-chair of the State Suicide Prevention Coalition, the State Child Fatality Advisory Committee, and the State Domestic Violence Advisory Committee. She is the past chair of the Southern Legislative Conference Human Services and Public Services Committee and past chair of the National Foundation for Women Legislators.

Senator Shealy is the founder of Katrina’s Kids, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which strives to give “Every Chance to Every Child” in foster care and group homes. She has been a champion of children’s and women’s issues for many years, having formerly served as the Chairman of the Board of the South Carolina Friends of Juvenile Justice, the Women’s Advisory Board for Lexington Medical Center and as a board member for the Girl Scouts of the Congaree.

Senator Shealy is an insurance executive who has been in the insurance industry for the past 40 years. She works as an insurance consultant for Keenan & Suggs of Columbia, S.C. She is married to Jimmy Shealy and resides in Lexington, S.C. They have three daughters, five grandsons and eight donkeys. They are active members of St. James Lutheran Church in Red Bank. 

S.C. State Senator Margie Bright Matthews, District 45

State Senator Margie Bright Matthews has served in the South Carolina State Senate since 2016, representing District 45. Her district includes Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties.

Senator Bright Matthews is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, Class of 1985, as well as a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, Class of 1989. As a proud lifelong resident of Walterboro, she opened her own law firm in her hometown where she still practices.

During her time in the State Legislature, Senator Bright Matthews has established herself as a leading voice on women’s rights, fighting for criminal justice reform, and improving public education for children across South Carolina. She serves on the Corrections and Penology, Family and Veterans’ Services, Judiciary, Medical Affairs, and Transportation Committees.

Margie Bright Matthews is married to her husband of over 20 years, Patrick. She has four daughters, Jessica, Patrice, Meredith, and Mattison.

S.C. State Senator Mia McLeod, District 21

Mia S. McLeod was born and raised in South Carolina, where she attended public schools along the infamous “Corridor of Shame.” With the support and guidance of her parents (a public school teacher and small business owner), she was able to get a quality education…something she believes every child deserves.

While a student at the University of SC, she served as a Page for then-Representative David Beasley, who later became Governor of South Carolina. After graduating, she worked in Human Resources at the SC Chamber of Commerce before earning her Juris Doctorate at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Since then, Mia has worked in and through state government, advocating for important issues like healthcare and education equity, jobs and workforce development, Medicaid expansion, pro-business and pro-worker initiatives, tougher domestic violence laws, common sense gun reforms, marijuana legalization and decriminalization, better race relations, equity & inclusion, racial and socio-economic justice and comprehensive systemic reforms. She is a strong, independent voice, working across party lines to achieve progress for the people of South Carolina.

During the 1990s, when South Carolina was number one in the nation for domestic violence homicides, Mia successfully launched a statewide initiative for Republican SC Attorney General Charlie Condon, that developed multidisciplinary protocols, curricula and training for law enforcement, solicitors and judges when investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating cases of violence against women. Mia was later appointed by Democratic Governor Jim Hodges to direct the State Office of Victim Assistance (SOVA). She was recognized by the National Crime Victim Compensation Program for creating satellite offices in rural, underserved counties to help broaden service outreach and access, ultimately easing the process for crime victims and our state’s Crime Victim Compensation Program was showcased as a model for other states in the areas of fiscal responsibility and expanded user access.

An 8th generation South Carolinian and proud mother of two young adult sons, Mia represents Senate District 22 (Richland & Kershaw Counties) and serves on Senate Judiciary, Medical Affairs, Rules, Corrections & Penology and Family & Veteran’s Services Committees. Mia is the first woman and first African American to represent Senate District 22 and recently made history again when she became the first black woman to run for Governor of South Carolina.

S.C. State Senator Sandy Senn, District 41

Sandy Senn is a wife and mother of three living in Charleston, South Carolina. She is a 1990 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law.

After graduation, Senn was a law clerk to United States District Judge Henry M. Herlong and to the South Carolina Circuit Judge David F. McInnis. Senn has practiced primarily in the area of civil rights defenses for first responders serving many governmental agencies throughout the state. She is also General Counsel for the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

Senn’s first political run was in November of 2016, where she was elected to serve as the Republican Senator for Senate District 41, which includes Charleston and Dorchester Counties. She current serves on the Judiciary Committee, Transportation Committee, Corrections and Penology Committee, Medical Affairs Committee and the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. Chair of the Charleston County Senate Legislative Delegation 2021- present. Conservation Voters of SC Green Tie Award 2021.

Rising Star Honoree

S.C. State Representative Heather Bauer, District 75

As a freshman legislator, S.C. State Representative Heather Bauer’s focus on government accountability had a direct impact on the 2023 legislative session and South Carolina residents.She secured more than $1.6 million to fund new projects in her district and passed multiple bi-partisan bills. 

Since taking office, she has asked more of her colleagues than they may have expected of themselves, inviting everyone to do better for our state. She sees clearly what needs to be done and speaks up when others are unwilling. She has been named Legislator of the Year from the SC Chapter of the National Associate of Social Workers and earned the Joseph Neal Elected Official of the Year award from the Young Democrats of South Carolina. 

Representative Bauer ran for office three times, working with minimal financial resources when her opponents were backed by larger interest groups.She  is one of four children raised by a single mother with the help of public assistance. She fights for a South Carolina where every child who works hard has the same opportunity she has had. 

When not lawmaking, Representative Bauer works as a insurance technology project manager, serves on the Nickelodeon Theatre Board and helps run Warrior Fitness and Martial Arts.