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2010 Founders Award Recipient - Lillian Press



(From the printed  introduction of  keynote speaker Lillian Press)

Lillian Press


Lillian Press, a Kentucky hero and advocate / practitioner of divergent thinking, serves as a wonderful example of how educated people today can have many different careers in one lifetime. She has been an inspirational leader in a variety of careers throughout her life.


Following her education at Boston University, Lil and her husband Leonard found their way to Kentucky where Len became the founder of Kentucky Educational Television and Lil continued her series of careers…..........…...


(From the Daily Independent (Ashland, KY) March 16, 2010  by RONNIE ELLIS)


"Their lives strengthened Kentucky and its people. They did, when it wasn’t easy for women to take leadership roles. All born before 1925, Dr. Grace Marilynn James, Verna Mae Slone and Lillian Henken Press changed their state and made others’ lives better.

Portraits of all three were unveiled by the Kentucky Commission on Women and Gov. Steve Beshear in a “Kentucky Women Remembered” ceremony at the state Capitol rotunda Tuesday before a crowd of more than 150. Those portraits will hang in the west wing of the Capitol.

The women were recognized for their impact on Kentucky and the lives of its people. And at least one of the honorees — Press who was instrumental in establishing Kentucky’s mental health system and the Governor’s Scholars Program — intends to keep doing it………….…………
Dr.Daniel Mongiardo, Lieutenant Governor, said all three "blazed a trail for women in Kentucky's history." (Dr.James  and Ms. Slone were honored posthumously)….."

The above excerpts cover a period from 1952 when Lillian Press came to Kentucky and 2009 when she was honored at the ceremony Ronnie Ellis reports above.


Lillian Henken Press was born and educated in Boston. She received a bachelor's degree magna cum laude from Boston University in 1946 and a master's degree from the then- new Boston U. College of Communications. She and her husband, O. Leonard Press, entered graduate school together in 1947 two weeks after their marriage and were one of the first couples to receive graduate degrees together at Boston University.


Prior to their move to Kentucky in 1952, Lillian worked as a newspaper reporter and as a public relations executive. Shortly after her move to Lexington, she joined the staff of the newly-arrived WVLK .She remained there until 1960, rising from commercials copywriter to program director


Several years after the birth of their only child, Lowell, in 1961 "Lil" became a volunteer for the newly formed Central Kentucky Mental Health Association, a decision that would change the direction of her life. In 1964 Lil, at the behest of the association, directed a survey of mental health resources and needs in nine Central Kentucky counties, as part of a nationwide initiative by President Kennedy.  The recommendations offered and publicized in the final report of that survey were significant factors in the later development of Kentucky's' statewide mental health system of community mental health centers.


To implement the recommendations, Lil then organized and developed Kentucky's first Regional Mental Health Board which in turn, under her direction launched Kentucky's first two Comprehensive Care Centers with help from the Kentucky Department of Mental Health, led by Commissioner Dr. Dale Farabee, This became the prototype for a state system of community mental health centers  that Dr. Farabee spread across the Commonwealth and was proclaimed in a news release "the best in the nation" by the National Institute of Mental Health.  (The Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, now covering 17 counties, grew from that first Board).


In 1967 Lillian Press was appointed Executive Assistant to Commissioner Farabee and served in that post until 1975.


In late 1982 when she was in Washington as Special Assistant to Appalachian Regional Commission's Federal CoChairman Al Smith, she was recruited by Governor John Y. Brown to organize and direct Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program that he was about to launch the next July. Lillian Press served as executive director for its first 10 years.

In only its second summer, this innovative, challenging liberal arts program for Kentucky's brightest rising high school seniors, was heralded as an "Educational Utopia" by Fred Hechinger, education editor of the New York Times, in a five-column article he wrote after a visit to the Program. It became a model for other such schools, and today approximately 22,000 students have been motivated and inspired by this life-changing program, many already serving in leadership positions in the Commonwealth.


Recognizing that it would help herself and others, Lil  organized 28 other state Governor's Schools into the National Conference of Governor's Schools (NCoGS) in 1987 and served as its chair/president until her retirement in 1992. NCoGS has since established a Distinguished Achievement Award in her name and that of Jim Bray, who served for 30 years as director of the nation's first Governor's School in North Carolina.


During her retirement, Lillian Press turned her attention to increasing the participation of citizens, particularly women, in the political process, In late 2002 she organized The Women's Network, Advocates For Democratic Principles with an emphasis on those  Principles and a future based on FDR's Four Freedoms. That Network now includes branches and chapters throughout Kentucky with close to 1000  members.  The  Women's Network has recently established a new Commonwealth Institute For Policy Issues and Civic Engagement and has become a force in local and state politics.


The Women's Network has been cited by state political leaders as the most important political development in recent history.  Governor Beshear has stated publicly that "I would not have been elected governor, nor Jane, First Lady, were it not for The Women's Network."  Lillian Press has continued as president of The Women's Network since its inception. 


She received an honorary degree from Centre College in 1992 and has been a member of the Centre College Board of Trustees for 17 years.  The late Lucille Little, a Lexington philanthropist, endowed the O. Leonard and Lillian Press Distinguished Lecture Series at Centre College in tribute to their service to the state.


In 2006 Lil received the Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award from Women Leading Kentucky, and in 2008, another surprise, when The Women's Network elected her the first recipient of  the Lillian Press Distinguished Leadership award. She also received

 A Distinguished Achievement Award from the Kentucky Department of Mental Health in the 1970s.


Other community service:

President for thee years, Kentucky Oral History Commission

Board of Trustees, St. Catharine College

Secretary, Headley-Whitney Museum Board

President, Central Kentucky Mental Health Association

Board member, Community Fund (later called United Way of the Bluegrass)

Board member, Hospice of the Bluegrass

Organizer and member,1st  Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board

Advisory Board, Women Leading Kentucky

Advisory Board, Emerge Kentucky

Transition Team for Governor Steve Beshear