Presenting the 2020 Women of Western Wake

A signature Cary Magazine feature that each year introduces you to a handful of women who embody our own aspirations.

Here, our honorees share their stories and advice on taking risks, finding rewards, and working hard to better our world.

The 2020 Honorees are:

Willa Brigham

Emmy-winning performer and storyteller

The multi-talented Brigham calls herself an “inspirational humorist,” a term she uses to describe how she uses humor to encourage people to seek their best selves.

“I love performance art because it gives me an opportunity to be on stage, and I’ve always been a showpiece — even as a child.”

Brigham especially enjoys sharing her stories and songs with children. A children’s book author, she has also recorded six albums of stories and songs for young people. In the Emmy-winning “Smart Start Kids,” airing on WRAL-TV, Brigham accompanied children as they participated in educational activities around North Carolina — everything from puppet-making to clogging.

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Rev. Dr. Rose Cornelious

Development Director at Dorcas Ministries

Cornelious serves the community through Dorcas Ministries, which began more than 50 years ago. The Cary nonprofit includes a thrift store and food pantry, and it offers job readiness training and financial assistance.

In her role as development director, Cornelious can be working on a grant one day and speaking to potential donors the next. She tells client stories and asks for support from private citizens and large organizations alike.

“I’m able to be at a lot of tables where I bring my experience, my culture, and my voice to the table. I don’t think if you’re called to the table you should be quiet.”

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Lisa Higginbotham

Owner of Five Star Awards & Engraving

At Five Star Awards & Engraving in Cary, Higginbotham, her husband Jeff and their staff create everything from glass awards and paperweights to customizable plaques and drinkware. And, as a charter member and past president of the Apex Sunrise Rotary Club, she has helped give back over $300,000 to the local community in the past 10 years.

Since March, Higginbotham and her team have also made over 1,000 shields and 1,000 replacement shields. All of these were given – at no cost – to regional hospitals.

“I’m very much a believer that as a business-owner, you can have a business, but you also have to contribute to your community.”

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Carla Mantilla

Director, Global Markets Division at Credit Suisse

Mantilla has had a lifelong passion for service, and at Credit Suisse in Raleigh, she has integrated her volunteerism and her professional career. Through her work with the Credit Suisse Philanthropy Working Group, Mantilla has been able to enrich countless lives.

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve had a really good life, various experiences that have shaped who I am, but I think giving back has always been part of my core.”

In 2019, 94 percent of employees at the bank’s Raleigh location engaged in volunteering, either by donating money or time. Colleagues say that level of engagement has much to do with Mantilla’s leadership.

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Anne Clem Whitaker

CEO of Aerami Therapeutics

Called ‘a force of nature,’ Whitaker has long been a change agent in the pharmaceutical industry. At GSK, she helped design a groundbreaking accelerated female leadership development program.

“I’m most proud of when I can have an impact on someone’s life and be able to see them grow into a great leader.”

At Dance, a pharmaceutical startup, she led the company as it developed an inhaled insulin and a device to deliver the drug. Now, as the CEO of Aerami Therapeutics, Whitaker says her focus is on ensuring Aerami becomes the pharmaceutical company she knows it can be, potentially changing lives for people with chronic respiratory illness.

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