Women of Distinction

Master Deputy Marilyn Alvarez has been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for the past 26 years. She has worked assignments in Patrol, Street Crimes, School Resource, and Crimes against Children. For the last 18 years, she has been assigned as the Sheriff’s Office Hispanic Liaison. Master Deputy Alvarez serves as a bridge between the Sheriff’s Office and the Hispanic community.

Master Deputy Alvarez is considered a leader in the community. She sits on several boards such as, The City of Tampa Mayors Hispanic Advisory Council, where she was past Vice Chair, and the Tampa Bay Area Refugee Task Force. Master Deputy also serves as advisor and liaison to the Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council. Many members of the Hispanic community reach out to M/Deputy Alvarez for mentorship and advise. M/Deputy Alvarez also coordinates numerous Hispanic community outreach events throughout the year, including providing meals for deserving families facing financial hardship, providing computers to deserving youth and care packages to senior citizens. During her off time, she volunteers at local churches such as St. Joseph Catholic and Nativity Catholic. During the Christmas season she volunteers with the Diversity Action Coalition, Inc which engages our Tampa Bay community with military families and veterans at their event for children with disabilities. When she is not working, she continues to lend her support to many of the local community organizations by assisting or attending their events. She is currently serving as a mentor through the Hispanic Professional Woman’s Association for the 2023/2024 school year.

She has spoken at events hosted by the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association, the USF Delta Tau Lambda Sorority, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commission, and the Academy of the Holy Names. She has been a recipient of a commendation from the Hillsborough County Board of County Commission and received proclamations from City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the School Board of Hillsborough County. She has also been recognized in the CentroTampa, Tampa Times, La Gazeta, Libre and Mambi Newspapers. M/Deputy Alvarez has received the 2008 Hispanic Deputy of the Year Award from the Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council and the 2016 Deputy of the Year from All American Productions Viva Tampa Bay Festival 2016. In 2017, she was named the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc.’s Woman of the Year and in 2019 she received the Premios Enfoque Leadership Award for Community Service.

Alison Barlow is the Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District. The District is a public-private partnership formed in 2016 and located in the area south of downtown.  The mission of the District is to develop St. Petersburg into an environment that fosters job growth, economic development, and learning and inspiration by bringing innovative people and organizations together.  

Alison works with District partners to forge new career opportunities, grow businesses and entrepreneurs, and increase investment particularly in the fields of healthcare, marine science, data analytics and education. She leads several initiatives including the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub, the St. Pete Science Festival, and the community's smart city technology pilots.

Alison grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated from Boca Ciega High School. She received a Bachelor’s in Hospitality Administration from Florida State University, and a Master of Business Administration from American University in Washington D.C.  

For the first half of her career Alison was a technology and business consultant based in Washington D.C. supporting federal government clients. Upon her return to Florida and prior to joining the Innovation District, Alison was the operations manager and lead facilitator of Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College.

Alison is a graduate of Leadership St. Petersburg, and on the boards of the Grow Smarter Alliance, University of South Florida Research Foundation, and Friends of Strays Animal Shelter.

General Ann Dunwoody retired after 37+ years of service to our country. In her last assignment she led and ran The Army Materiel Command, the largest global logistics command in the Army comprising 69,000 military and civilians, located in all 50 states and over 140 countries. She managed a budget of $60B dollars and was responsible for oversight of approximately $70B in service contracts. She managed and operationalized the Army's global supply chain in support of Iraq and Afghanistan, contingency operations in Haiti, Pakistan, and Japan, while simultaneously moving the Command Headquarters from Fort Belvoir, VA to Huntsville, AL as a result of Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC).

As the commander of Army Materiel Command she was responsible for the Army's Research and Development, Installation and Contingency contracting, Foreign Military Sales, Security Assistance, Supply Chain Management, all Army Depots supporting supply and maintenance functions, manufacturing sites and ammunition plants. Dunwoody led the transformation of the Army's logistics organizations, processes and doctrine in support of an expeditionary Army.  Dunwoody offers visionary and strategic insights for managing large organizations to posture them for the future and ensure relevancy --- focusing on where to invest as well as divest.

In 2008, General Dunwoody earned the historic distinction of being the first woman in U.S. Military history to achieve the rank of four-star general. She is the fourth generation of her family to serve in the US Army. 

General Dunwoody has been recognized by the NCAA with its highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association with its lifetime Achievement Award, by France with its National Order of Merit, and in 2016, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.  She has been recognized by SUNY Cortland as a Distinguished Alumnus, received the Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award from the Florida Institute of Technology, and in 2018 was inducted in the inaugural class of the 82nd Airborne Division Hall of Fame. In 2019 the West Point Association of Graduates selected her for the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award.

In 2013, she authored the book, “A Higher Standard – Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General. ” Today General Dunwoody serves on a number of public, private and non-profit boards.

Bemetra Simmons is the president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of regional business leaders working together to improve the personal and economic well-being of Tampa Bay residents.

Simmons previously served as the chief strategy and operations officer for United Way Suncoast, where she led core operations functions, including finance and information technology, and community investment for a five-county region. In this role, she facilitated a COVID-19 emergency response process which resulted in the disbursement of $1.6 million in emergency relief to area nonprofits and participated in the planning of the organization’s new strategic vision. A former banking executive, Simmons also worked as the Florida Managing Director at Mutual of Omaha Bank and held leadership roles at Wells Fargo and BB&T.

She currently serves on the board of commissioners for the Tampa Housing Authority, the executive committee for the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Community Tampa Bay board. She is a 2013 Leadership Tampa graduate and a member of Leadership Florida Cornerstone Class XXXVIII. The Tampa Bay Business Journal named her an “Up and Comer” in 2013 and a finalist for its businesswoman of the year award in 2017. She is also a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Simmons is the daughter of an Air Force Chaplain and has lived in ten states and two countries. She attended Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN, on a basketball scholarship and received a B.S. in business administration in 1997, and her MBA from Wake Forest University in 2004.

Along with her twin sister, Demetra, Simmons co-founded Corporate Homie, a career, lifestyle, and advice company and podcast dedicated to assisting professionals in navigating the waters of corporate America.

Simmons and her lovely wife Abeba live in Tampa with their dog, Charlie.

Diana Walker is a Special Projects Coordinator with Hillsborough County MBE & SBE Programs. Diana oversees construction contract compliance of MBE participation, provides educational trainings on how to bid with the County and assists businesses with the MBE/SBE certification application. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of South Florida and has been living in Tampa Bay for over 10 years. Her passion for entrepreneurship and giving back to her community is shown by her involvement on the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association and Foundation Board of Directors, Vice-President of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce, and an active participant of Status of Latinos (SOL) at the University of South Florida. 

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs and from her previous roles at FSMSDC and Prospera, Diana has assisted and consulted with business owners on how to start & grow their business and/or expand into doing business with government. 

 She recently graduated from Leadership Hillsborough, Class of 2023 and is being recognized for her civic engagement by the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc, Leadership Class of 2023. 

Renée is President of the Williams Consulting Group, a public relations and marketing firm in Tampa - founded in 2003. Prior to the Williams Consulting Group, Renée was a senior administrator for the City of Tampa, FL. During her tenure, she represented the City or Mayor on over 50 arts and cultural boards and committees. She also was the City’s interface with educational institutions, business leaders, non-profit organizations and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Renée is a member of Leadership Tampa Alumni (past chair), Leadership Tampa Bay (past President), Red Cross Angels (past president) and University of Tampa Board of Fellows (past Chair). She was the Chair of the Leadership Tampa class of 2014 and the 2016/2017 Chair of the Circle of Red for the American Heart Association. Renée is a member of the Chiseler’s, the H.B. Plant Museum Society, the Moffitt Merit Society, Hospice Women of Philanthropy, the International Women’s Forum, Athena Society, the Tampa Museum of Art Board of Directors, The Centre for Women’s League of Exceptional Women and Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church. She was a finalist for the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s 2014 BusinessWoman of the year and recipient of the Angie’s Award, given to the finalist who best exemplified leadership in mentoring others. In 2015, Renée received the prestigious Parke Wright III Leadership Award from Leadership Tampa Alumni and was named a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. In 2019, she was the Leadership Award Recipient for the International Women’s Day Celebration by Working Women of Tampa Bay. This past year, Renée was inducted into the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity as an honorary member. In 2021, the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation honored Renée and Ron Vaughn as Community Heroes for their many years of extensive community service and leadership. They were also honored by the Tampa Bay BCA as Patrons of Culture and the Arts.

Married to University of Tampa President Ron Vaughn, Renée serves as the first lady of the University and is very involved in supporting the University’s mission through her numerous social, community and campus activities. She actively mentors students and graduates of the University on a regular basis.

Maruchi Azorin is founder and owner of Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens, one of Tampa's most successful specialty stores founded in 1984 and celebrating 40 years in business. She was recognized in 2010 as The Entrepreneur Business Woman of the Year by the Tampa Bay Business Journal and was selected as a 2010 Girl Scout Woman of Distinction.

A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Florida holding an M.B.A and a BA, she was:

 - The first Hispanic Woman inducted into the University of Florida Student Hall of Fame 

 - The first Hispanic Woman inducted into Florida Blue Key’s Leadership Honorary

 - Was elected as the first Hispanic Panhellenic President at UF. 

Ms Azorin served as the Chair of the Board of Directors for MOSI from 2009-2012 (the first Hispanic Chair) during her 20 year tenure on the MOSI Board of Directors. She created and chaired MOSI's National Hispanic Scientist of the Year event in 2000-2016. It was an award winning nationally recognized education initiative for mentoring students by internationally award winning scientists as the mentors.

She was appointed in 2007 to the City of Tampa Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council and chaired the MHAC for an unprecedented eight years. She was the founding chair for the annual "Latinos Unidos Luncheon," in 1998. This event raises support for the MHAC’s endowed college scholarships at USF, University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College for Hispanic students and has assisted over 100 students in pursuing college degrees.

Maruchi was the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors in 1992-1998.

 - Maruchi served on the West Central Florida Girls Scout Board of Directors for 2 terms. 

 - In 2013 she was selected as the Hispanic Honoree at the Florida State Fair Wall of Fame. 

 - She was selected as “Hispanic Woman of the Year” in 1999. 

 - She received The Martin Luther King, Jr. award in 1996 as well as the 1994 Human Rights Award from the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council.

Ms Azorin serves on the state board of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women by Gubernatorial appointment since 2016.

A native of Cuba, Ms. Azorin Blanco immigrated to the United States with her family in 1960 due to the nationalization and takeover of the Azorin family business by the Castro Revolution. The family eventually settled in Plant City, Fl, where she graduated with high honors from Plant City Senior High School and was named Plant City Senior High School Girl of the Year 1971.

Ms Azorin is married and they are parents to one son.

Doretha Wynn Edgecomb is a Tampa native whose career in education spanned 52 years as - teacher, learning specialist, reading supervisor and elementary principal in Hillsborough County Public Schools. After retiring from the school district, she joined Educational Testing Service (ETS) as a program developer and trainer providing assistance to schools, school districts and state departments of education in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. She later taught in the USF College of Education. In 2004, she was elected to the Hillsborough County School Board where she served 12 years. In 2010, she served as vice-chair and in 2011, as chair.

Her community service and involvement, past and present, include: member and chair of the Hillsborough County Children’s Board, president of the Athena Society Inc., trustee of the Plant Museum, member of the advisory committee of NOPE, Inc., a member of the social justice committee at her church and a committee member of the George Edgecomb Society at Moffitt Cancer Center. After several years serving on the board of the Hillsborough Education Foundation, she was named an Emeritus Member. In 2020, the Children’s Board honored her by naming one of its six family resource centers, the Doretha Wynn Edgecomb Family Resource Center. She is a 62 year member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a founding member of the Tampa Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter. She and her daughter, Allison are members of Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

In 2016, she was recognized as a Woman of Distinction.

Since moving to New Port Richey in 1978, Ellie has worked as a volunteer with several nonprofit organizations, with a focus on children’s issues and health care initiatives. Starting as a Brownie leader with Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council, to serving on various committees, she continued as a trainer, Area Association Chair, Board member and then President and Board Chair of Suncoast Council, now Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. She was honored as a Woman of Distinction and continues as a lifetime member of Girl Scouts of USA.

Ellie has held leadership positions with other nonprofit organizations in Pasco County and Tampa Bay including; past board chair of a the Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco, past president of the West Pasco Junior Women’s Club and the Pasco County Medical Society Alliance, secretary for the Pasco Pediatric Association, mentor with Take Stock in Children and Pasco’s Queen Chasco in 2018. Currently, Ellie is a member of the Nature Coast Council of Community Foundation Tampa Bay, the Premier 1000, board member for Morton Plant North Bay Hospital and President of the Florida Medical Association Alliance.

Ellie was married to Dr. William Paladine, now deceased, and has 2 adult children, Heather and Bill. When not busy with her volunteer work, Ellie enjoys tennis and travel.