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A Tribute to Barbara
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A Tribute to Barbara

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate


Barbara Kasoff would have thrown her head back and laughed at the commotion her passing created for so many women entrepreneurs and friends who loved her. She might even have said “reeediculous”—a favorite expression of hers when she found a situation to be over-the-top. But she would have been delighted at the number of family, old friends, new friends and colleagues that gathered to celebrate her life and her legacy. She would have been connecting people to each other, remembering details about each person’s accomplishments. She would have been thinking about how to harness the power in the room and what the next step should be.


The legacy she created carries on in the form of WIPP. Feeling women entrepreneurs did not have a seat at the policy table, she co-founded WIPP with a fellow entrepreneur she met through NAWBO leadership. As President of WIPP, she carried the torch and built an advocacy powerhouse for women entrepreneurs. A few years ago, she changed her tagline—she declared women were not only present at the policy table; they were at the head of the table—thanks to WIPP.


I discovered a YouTube video of a speech she gave in 2011 that was quintessential Barbara. She was the keynote speaker at Womenetics' 2011:  Turning Vision Into Value  that I hope you will take a minute to watch. She steps through WIPP’s accomplishments and her vision that led the organization. She recounts the hand-to-hand combat we engaged in to get the WOSB program put into place.


We had a lot of laughs along the way as we dealt with Congress and the Administration. I’ll never forget the time she testified about federal contracting and the need for the WOSB program and one Member of Congress blasted her/WIPP for its efforts. She turned around to me and gave me the wryest look. “Hey, you never told me they wouldn’t be nice,” she said. I was fuming and she laughed all afternoon about it.


Or the time we had a WIPP conference planned and the government shut down. As we totally rearranged the conference schedule within 24 hours of the conference, she took it in stride and had a good laugh about the jams we got ourselves into and out of. She and I would always have dinner in her room during WIPP conferences to marvel at what went right and what went wrong.


Collaboration was one of her favorite words. She took great pride in developing Memorandums of Understanding with many other organizations and engaging them in whatever legislative or training endeavor WIPP was undertaking. She spent much of her time engaging the leadership of those organizations and counted many of them friends.


Barbara and I shared our love of building WIPP together. But we also shared a love of red wine and art. Her WPO group in San Francisco brought great joy to her and she shared her friends with me. Maybe you didn’t know that she could throw together a dinner party effortlessly and made a mean poached salmon.


How she loved Jonah. She and her husband, Marv, were his strongest advocates and delighted in his achievements despite the challenges autism presented. Barbara would show me his math papers, tell me about his trips to museums and was grateful for the warm welcome from the rabbi at the synagogue she attended. But her other grandchildren were just as special and she brought the girls to WIPP events. “They have to learn early,” she once said.


She had so many admirers but would feel almost embarrassed by their proclamation of admiration, brushing them aside. She received many awards but never displayed them. She dutifully posed with politicians but didn’t hang the pictures.


Barbara was a close colleague and confidant. She was my kind of friend. Always there when I needed her but not needy. Strong, independent, smart and a great sense of humor. It is now up to all of us to build on her legacy. To move beyond where she left off with grace and dignity, never forgetting to bring others with us.

She would have wanted it this way.

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