Saying Goodbye to Carol Virostek, an AAUW Champion Whose Legacy Lives On

September 29, 2014
Carol Virostek

We surprised Carol at the 2013 National Convention with an endowment named in her honor.

“You changed my life!” That’s what a group of college students kept saying as they surrounded Carol Virostek at the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. These students attended the conference with the support of AAUW of Connecticut and their schools, and Carol was one of the reasons they were able to do so.

Carol hugged each of them, eager to hear about the new confidence and skills they gained from this experience. But more than anything each student wanted a picture with Carol, the person who made it possible for them to dream bigger.

This is one of the many stories in my mind as I remember Carol, who passed away earlier this month. Anyone who met her was struck by three things: her vision, her positivity, and her empathy.

Carol’s AAUW legacy runs deep. She served as AAUW’s College/University Committee chair from 2007 to 2014; she was part of AAUW’s Program Integration Committee; and she had a rich history in leading AAUW of Connecticut as state and branch president, state and branch program chair, and state and branch college/university relations chair.

Kate and Carol, center, with AAUW staff members Catherine Heffernan, left, and Christine Hernandez, right.

Kate and Carol, center, with AAUW staff members Catherine Heffernan Gibson, left, and Christine Hernandez, right, at the 2013 National Convention in New Orleans.

Her vision for women’s equality was based in AAUW’s investment in the next generation of women leaders. Throughout my six years at AAUW, my work with our campus leadership programs would not have been possible without Carol. When AAUW discussed the future of college and university initiatives, it was Carol who rekindled the organization’s commitment to these programs.

Together, Carol and I paved the way to triple our college/university partner membership to nearly 1,000 schools and to add thousands of e-student affiliates to our AAUW membership. Together we worked to grow the National Conference for College Women Students Leaders from just over 400 participants in 2008 to nearly 1,000 in 2014. We guided thousands of college women into the AAUW community by strengthening our National Student Advisory Council, Campus Action Projects, and newer programs like $tart $mart and Elect Her.

Carol was the most positive person I’ve come across. She faced life’s ups and downs with a spirit of resilience and class. Carol’s daughter, Leslie Virostek, summed this up best during a speech she gave at the 2013 AAUW National Convention, when we surprised Carol with an endowment named in her honor. Leslie took to the stage and said, “This is her life philosophy: There is no challenge that can’t be overcome. All you need is a proactive approach, a way to include others, a positive attitude — and, of course, the appropriate item of clothing.”

In 2013, we surprised Carol with an endowment named in her honor.

Carol with her daughter Allison Hopkins, left, and her sister Kathleen McCarthy.

Carol approached all of her work with empathy. In her interactions with members, staff, and students, she sought out ways to connect with others. She focused on others’ strengths and was the first to offer to be a sounding board and adviser.

I posted on my personal Facebook page about Carol’s passing and heard from people she’d inspired with kindness and mentorship all over the country, a testament to her connection to others.

Just like those students at NCCWSL this year, I get to say that Carol changed my life. She taught me to dream big and give generously. Her life reminds me, and us, to be grateful for the friendship, mentorship, and inspiration we find in each other through AAUW.

By:   |   September 29, 2014

4 Comments

  1. Amy Blackwell says:

    Moving tribute to Carol. Thanks, Kate!

  2. Melinda Rising says:

    Thanks for your beautiful tribute to Carol, Kate. Se was my soul sister and will share a part of my heart always. She was a motivator, a mentor, an advocate, and let’s not forget a patron of the arts and an avid sports fan. The real deal. Loss of her leadership and friendship in Connecticut is already being felt. Brava, Carol. She lived her life to the fullest and really made a difference.

  3. Patricia Fae Ho says:

    Thank you for helping us remember Carol’s legacy as a remarkable AAUW leader, community advocate and mentor friend. Several years ago, Carol created a tagline for me “a visionary leader for a vibrant AAUW”, saying “You have to have those alliterative v ‘ s!” Here’s back to you, Carol, you were a visionary leader for a vibrant AAUW. Thinking of you with gratitude…

  4. Mardy Stevens says:

    Kate, your comments bring to me the feeling of Carol’s hugs, her smile, her enthusiasm for updating ourselves on the latest in our lives. Your words identify the Carol I knew, and I continue to feel her inspiration and influence. Serving as state president at the same time — Connecticut and Oregon — we almost immediately connected professionally and personally. Carol welcomed connections and collaborations. Our conversations at national conventions were all-too-brief, but enriching and rewarding. I will be one of those channeling Carol’s spirit at the next national convention in San Diego.

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