State Sen. Anthony Portantino recently saluted his district’s “women heroes of the pandemic” during a virtual ceremony, and at least five of the honorees have ties to Burbank.
Joyce Powell and Cynthia Triola, longtime nurses at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center; Sharon Springer, a Burbank City Council member; and Simone McFarland, the city’s assistant community development director — all were commended by Portantino. Additionally Burbank resident Marcella Marlowe was recognized as a hero in San Marino, where she is city manager.
Portantino’s office said the honorees were “exceptional women” from the 25th Senate District who showcased “dedication and commitment to the health and safety of our communities during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary who is now the state’s highest-ranking elected woman officeholder, was the keynote speaker during the ceremony.
“The pandemic created tremendous challenges for Californians, and each of our honorees went above and beyond the call of duty to protect, serve and heal,” Portantino said in a statement. “Whether it was through their job, volunteer efforts or community acts of kindness, our honorees embody the kind of strength, compassion, love and leadership that we needed to get through these difficult times.”
Powell has been a nurse at Providence Saint Joseph for 21 years and worked on the front lines of the coronavirus response in the hospital’s emergency department. She is also a union leader at the hospital.
”I think [this past year] really pulled at the heartstrings the most, because there were no visitors and family members had to leave their loved ones at the door,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s really hard to look at someone who is struggling and [to] not have any family members go with them.”
Powell also thanked the Burbank community for its support of nurses and said she was honored by Portantino’s recognition.
Her colleague Triola has been a nurse at Providence Saint Joseph for 46 years and, as a member of the intensive care unit, helped implement new safety protocols on the front-line response to the pandemic.
She described the past year as the most difficult of her career, but said her long experience prepared her well to face the pandemic.
“It was very challenging, but it’s my career and it’s what I chose to do,” Triola said, “and there was a compelling need during this pandemic to take care of these patients.”
Triola also said she was grateful to receive the recognition, and added that she appreciates the verbal support that members of the Burbank community have given to her and her fellow nurses.
Springer served as Burbank’s mayor for much of the pandemic, helping guide the community through a plethora of changes mandated by the state and Los Angeles County. As mayor, she also conducted the City Council meetings where major decisions were made for the city.
In a statement to the Leader, she thanked Portantino, her colleagues in the city government and residents, also acknowledging the toll the pandemic has had on the Burbank community.
“I’m sorry for our losses, for each and every precious soul. We’ve lost businesses and residents have lost jobs. Many in our community are faced with starting over. We grieve together. We heal and recover together and we must support each other,” Springer said. “Please, let’s honor those we’ve loved and lost by moving forward in a transformational and evolutionary way. We survived. Let’s be better.”
“Let’s move forward so that now and in the future everyone is cared for, protected, supported and no one is left behind. Let’s use our individual talents and experiences to thrive, and help those around us thrive.”
McFarland, whose responsibilities include housing and economic development, helped develop Burbank’s Economic Recovery Plan as well as the Rental Assistance and Small Business Assistance programs, which utilized CARES Act and Community Development Block Grant funding. She also is the city’s public information officer.
“I feel privileged to be included in this auspicious group of women who have given so much of themselves to help others during the pandemic and I could have not done my job during the last year without my fantastic team and the leadership of my colleagues in Burbank,” McFarland said in a statement. “I’d like to thank all of the women, and men, who have worked tirelessly this last year to help our community members when they have needed it most.”
Marlowe was credited for guiding San Marino through the roller-coaster ride of the pandemic. As part of the response, San Marino City Hall routinely publishes newsletters on any changes in city operations and local rule changes, including video updates from officials and Mandarin language translation for residents.
“The COVID-19 time period was an exceptional challenge, compounded by many other factors that occurred over the last year,” Marlowe said. “Our City Council and city executive team have been wonderful partners during this unprecedented time, but it has truly been the most difficult year of my 25-year career in public service — not all of my choices were popular and there were some lonely decisions.”
— Zane Hill and Mitch Lehman contributed to this report.