It’s not possible to look back over an entire year and include everyone who’s had an impact on this community in a year-end “Hall of Fame” style spread. There are just too many to be counted.
In October, however, we began soliciting reader input and several names came up over and over.
And so we present these noteworthy samples—a few individuals who’ve helped to shape the character of central Kentucky in arenas like social justice and grassroots activism.
This List is not intended to be all encompassing—it’s not inclusive or exclusive—it’s just a brief introduction to a few of the inspiring folks our staff and readers have met over the past year.

Most locals know Diane Lawless as the executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center. Her advocacy work is well-known. She was quoted in a Courier-Journal article last year opposing clemency for rapists that would reflect new sentencing guidelines.She said, "When they committed their crimes, life without parole was the punishment, and I think they should serve the sentences they got."

But when she was nominated as "This Year's Model" (i.e., a Model Citizen), most everyone had a personal reminiscence to share, or a hosanna to sing.

Jim Gray, for example, said, "You know, there's a big difference between intelligence and wisdom. Diane is one of the wisest people I've ever known, with a heart of gold and a spirit that gives and gives and gives."

Dr. Nick Kouns, a close friend (who sits on the board of Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center) submitted this anecdote of how they met, acknowledging her commitment to the community by prefacing his comments with, "I think heroes walk around everyday. Diane is one of those heroes. I can't tell you how many times I've thought to myself after Diane's said something to me over a Diet Coke, 'you need to call Oprah up and tell her what Diane's doing for this community, or what Diane's doing in Congress, or what she thinks about how money is being taken away from Rape Crisis/VOCA.' And I would say, 'Holy Cow', you're like the Ghandi of Lexington, and she'd say 'Ya know Nick, I don't think Ghandi would have run the Bingo Parlor to keep the movement alive for all those years'…And that's just Diane. So modest."

As for how they met, he considers it indicative of the kind of role she's played in his life (and in so many others).

"I met Diane Lawless on the floor, which, in my experience, is not a particularly good way to start a close and meaningful relationship. However, Diane always was one to defy convention. I had been invited to a birthday party at a Chinese restaurant. I remember that evening for the somewhat odd fact that there was Chinese karaoke in the bar that night…that and meeting Diane for the first time.

"I was really sad too. I has just buried my dad the previous week. He'd been ill for some time, and it had really torn me up pretty badly. The funeral had been monstrous, and I was still shakey. Everything seemed a little hyper-real and the most mundane things struck me as curious. That night at the chinese restaurant, it was edamame.

"Diane remarked upon it, practically reading my mind. 'I really don't get edamame. I mean, they're really just a bunch of salted green beans. Oh, I'm Diane.'

She had been talking directly to the edamame, seen me gawking with a big shocked grin on my face—the first since the funeral—and caught herself.

'GOD. I know exACTly what you MEAN! You just LITERALLY read my MIND'

‘I was talking in all capital letters. 'I'm Nick…and are you supposed to eat the outside part too?' And it was that easy.

If Jesus would have descended upon a cloud with the hallelujah chorus, she would have remained oblivious to it all—she wanted an answer about that damned edamame, and then she short of shrugged it off and said, 'So, tell me about you, honey.' And just looked at me.

Now anyone who knows Diane will recognize this as one her endearing characteristics. Her loveable but sometimes startling propensity to wander from subject to subject. Rapidly. "Tell me about you."

Now I'm not sure if it was the Jedi mind trick she'd just pulled with the edamame—I'm not sure if it was the shock of my father just dying…I'm not sure if it was the lack of sleep, or just the simple, sincere, honest, and unassuming love in her eyes, but I told her everything. Now let me preface this by saying that as a person, and as a physician, I know the importance of being....prudent with personal feelings. And I certainly know when to keep my mouth shut about things.

I have never been emotionally inaccessible by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am not one to pour out my life to strangers on the street (or on the floor). I find that sort of thing not only unseemly, but, quite frankly, sort of comical.

However, there have been a very few people in my life that, for whatever the reason, I'm willing to take the gamble. It's almost like there's not even a choice in the matter.

Before that night, I'd never heard of her, had no idea of who she was, what she did, what her convictions were, or where her heart was. The first time I saw Diane Lawless, she was sitting on the floor, talking to a bowlfull of edamame. Within a few weeks, I was calling her on a daily basis. Today, I consider her a member of my chosen family.

I have gotten to know a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. It's funny. Some people I know from the outside in, and some people I know from the inside out.

Diane, I just happened to get to know from the inside out.

Anyone who knows Diane also knows that this last election just about killed her. She was a delegate to the convention. She kept us updated with her reports from the floor, let us know what was going on and all. After the results came out, I didn't hear from her in a couple of days. Of course, I got a little bit worried. She finally gave me a call.

She'd actually taken to her bed for two days.

The election results had made her physically ill. Now this is someone who has the courage of her convictions.

After the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association (KDVA) announced in June 2004 that it would be moving domestic violence services from the YWCA Spouse Abuse Center in Lexington, there was widespread local concern as to how victims of domestic violence in the region would be served.
Not content to simply voice concern, JD Lester and Abigail Billings formed the "100 Women" grassroots fundraising effort—targeting 100 prominent local women to pledge $1,000 each to the effort.
The grassroots fundraising efforts of 100 Women raised more than $132,000 earmarked specifically for a new domestic violence shelter.
“This has been a true regional effort,” says Kathy Plomin, president and chief professional officer of United Way of the Bluegrass. “The quick action by volunteers, community leaders, and all those who want this region to be the best it can be, has allowed us to come together…six months after the process began…to announce our progress.”

Susie Cavanaugh had retired from teaching high school social studies first at Tates Creek High School and then Dunbar High School. She had a rewarding career working with her students, teaching them social studies and preparing them for their future even before she became a highly skilled educator with the Kentucky Department of Education and had enjoyed the experience of helping other educators.

But after years of working for others, Susie was ready to relax and enjoy her well-earned retirement—maybe even do some volunteer work at her church and in the community.

At least that was her plan before she read an email about the Get On Board program.

The Get On Board Initiative is no small project—this program works to strengthen the entire Bluegrass community through the cultivation of a widely diverse pool of candidates who can be accessed for greater nonprofit governing board effectiveness.

At first she dismissed the idea of going back to work and forwarded the email on to several friends whom she thought would be interested. But as time passed, she found she couldn’t stop thinking about that email. So, finally after much thought, she sent in her resume, just to see what would happen. What happened is that became the new champion of this community project.

After she was hired as the coordinator of the Get On Board program sponsored by United Way of the Bluegrass, Urban League of Lexington/Fayette County, NCCJ Bluegrass Region, Kentucky League of Cities, she hit the ground not just running but sprinting.

She put together an advisory board and assigned volunteers to the tasks of recruitment, curriculum development, placement and retention.

As a result: the inaugural class of 24 people trained graduated in June 2004 and were placed on boards of directors.

Not being one to rest after her initial success, Susie and her volunteers just saw a second class of 22 graduated in December 2004 and they have also been placed on community boards.

These 46 people attended classes and learned about a wide-variety of topics to help them become highly effective board members.

In the course of 10 months, Susie Cavanaugh has led the charge to help diversify the leadership of our community.

She came out of retirement to lead Get On Board because she feels a real calling to this mission. n