Founders, family, directors and staff gathered at Public Citizen’s headquarters on Tuesday to honor one of their own. Aileen Walsh, winner of Public Citizen’s ninth annual Phyllis McCarthy Public Interest Award, received praise from speaker after speaker including Public Citizen founder Ralph Nader; Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group; President Robert Weissman; former President Joan Claybrook; Don Spero, Walsh’s boss at her former job; and Jackie Gillan and Judy Stone, both of whom are from the organization Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The common theme among the speakers was Aileen’s perpetual good mood and multitude of roles that she fills within the organization – therapist, social director, event planner (the staff couldn’t even keep her away from setting up for her own event), successful fundraiser – as well as her willingness to do any job (as long as it was done right).
Public Citizen created the award after Phyllis McCarthy passed away in November 2002. McCarthy began her career in 1978 with Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and was key in the development and preparation of all our health publications. The award recognizes individuals who have worked for a public interest group for many years, performing critical functions as did McCarthy, but who have not received public credit for their contributions.
Aileen Walsh (maiden name Coyne), a Pittsburgh native, is the first award-winner who worked with McCarthy. Walsh joined Public Citizen in July 1993 as the executive assistant to then-President Joan Claybrook and continues to take on many roles at the organization.
Walsh assists the president, board members and the directors in scheduling conferences calls, making travel arrangements and setting up meetings. Around the organization, her nickname is “queen mother.”
“With her high energy, good spirit, sense of humor, experience, wisdom, commitment, passion, insight, intelligence, wit, common sense and sense of fun, Aileen Walsh keeps a very intense staff functioning, effective and happy,” Weissman said. “There’s no royalty at Public Citizen, but we make an exception for our Queen, Aileen Walsh.”
“It was so great to see such a big turnout – and seeing all my friends from over the years was so nice,” Walsh said the next day. “I didn’t expect this award and I am still in shock from Tuesday night.”