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When the pinch hitter at the 40th annual Mother’s Day Luncheon happens to be Bill Clinton, the 42nd U.S. president, one can’t be too disappointed.

His daughter, Chelsea Clinton, one of the recipients of the Outstanding Mother Awards, was stuck in Omaha, Neb., and couldn’t get a plane out, so her father happily obliged to accept the award on her behalf.

Clinton told some endearing stories about his daughter, who is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation.

Bill Clinton and Joanna Coles 

“Here’s what I’d like you to know about my child. In some ways she had a remarkably privileged upbringing though we weren’t wealthy by conventional standards until I got out of the White House. I had the lowest net worth of any president ever elected since World War II. I was governor for 12 years, but it was always tough,” said Clinton. He explained that Chelsea started reading the newspaper at six years old and he was in a very hot reelection campaign, and she read things that people were saying about him.

“So I talked to Hillary at breakfast every morning in the election year — 1986 — and we turned it into a political debate. Three people were running and people were saying I was the worst thing that happened since a volcano erupted in Italy. We taught Chelsea to care about issues, put people first and take criticism seriously but not personally. And she debated with us. Some days she would be me, and some days she would be one of my opponents, and we tried as hard as we could to protect her from the slings and arrows and meanness from what has otherwise been a particularly wonderful life,” Clinton said.

Consequently, he added, “She grew to be somebody who was ferociously smart who had a heart bigger than this room, but can be hard-headed and disciplined and is unflappably calm in the face of chaos. Much better than me. Totally calm.”

He said his grandson knew his numbers well before he was two years old, and his dad would grab a number out of a box, and ask Aidan what the number was and he would say “71.” So Clinton complimented him and now whenever he sees his grandfather, rather than say hello, he says “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…,” said Clinton. His granddaughter, on the other hand, says just like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

Another honoree was Jessica Simpson, who WWD learned will be launching a beauty line in the fall.

Simpson, an entertainer and founder and chief executive officer of Jessica Simpson Collection, said, “I am so honored to be standing up alongside such extraordinary women…and Mr. President, I admire you all.”

She thanked the National Mother’s Day Committee “for actually thinking that I have it all together. It’s very kind.”

“I have been given many titles over the course of my adult life — singer, designer, actress, ceo, wearer of ‘mom jeans’ — but there’s not more of an important title to me than mom,” Simpson said. She said she comes from a line of strong moms, who also have unique Texas personalities, but they share two things in common — their faith in God and their fierce loyalty to family and their children.

She said her mom taught her to be a dreamer, and was her personal stylist when she was growing up. “We had very little money so we had to be creative. As long as my mom wasn’t teaching her aerobics class called ‘Jump for Jesus,’ at our local church, she would be mixing and matching my wardrobe with all sorts of unconventional accessories. So I would never wear the same thing twice. This made me feel confident on the outside, which helped me find shreds of confidence on the inside during those tough teen years. From this creativity came boundless inspiration,” she said.

She said most of her team at the Jessica Simpson Collection is women, and many are moms. “I see first-hand all the moms on our team walking the tight rope between school pick-ups, assembly costumes, birthday parties and deadlines at work. All while trying to find some personal time or time with their husbands,” she said. “That balancing act in some way makes us all better at our jobs and at being mothers,” she said.

Jan Singer, chief executive officer of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, was another recipient of an Outstanding Mother Award.

“I love a good poll or vote. We’re going to do audience participation. Raise your hand if you have ever, as a mom, paused and said, “Wow, I am the outstanding mother of the year.” She said she has absolutely never had that moment, and felt the award was a mistake. For instance, she had an opportunity to meet Bernard Arnault, ceo of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and she obsessed what would she say to him and what would she wear. “My bag was packed and went to kiss Sophie and Max goodbye,” and she noticed she had lice in her hair. So instead of being at Charles de Gaulle on time for her meeting, she was dealing with lice. “Can you imagine making that call?” She did make it to Paris.

She said outstanding mother of the year looks different from what you think. “It’s not June Cleaver, it‘s not superwoman, It’s just different….Different brings us innovative thinking, different brings us ideas and solutions and different is how we change the world,” she said. For example, she pointed to taking Uber instead of cabs, staying in people’s homes, rather than a hotel, or the teenagers in Florida “who can move a nation and change the world.”

“Different is good and what we need right now.”

Artemis Patrick, chief merchandising officer of Sephora, said she was born in Iran to an unwed 18-year-girl. “Needless to say in Iranian culture that didn’t go over too well. My mother was never one to follow rules. Who else living in Iran would name her daughter Artemis, who was a Greek Goddess and a protector of all single women?”

In 1979, during the Iran Revolution her parents came to America, and then her mother went back to Iran to see her family and couldn’t come back to the U.S., so it took Patrick almost a year to be placed in a foster home. Her foster parents were older, never had kids of their own and were as Americana and apple pie as one could get.

Her mother got out of Iran and went to Germany, and as an angry teenager, Patrick wanted no contact with her. Over time, she forgave her. “The sacrifice she made to not send for me when she was in Iran was the greatest gift she could give me,” Patrick said. Eventually she and her mother became close again until her mother passed away. The twists and turns in her life taught her to be flexible and to constantly reevaluate her values, be thankful for her foster parents, a supportive husband and being thankful for her story.

“Yes my mother made mistakes but she got me to a country that was full of possibilities,” Patrick said. Finally, she said to try to have empathy as a leader and as a mom. “Because you never really know people’s stories, and everyone has a story,” she said. She dedicated the award to her mother, her foster mother and all the mothers who make sacrifices everyday to give their children a better life. And to her daughter, Tula Belle, “who always will remember where she came from and be thankful for it.”

The Mother’s Day event raised more than $600,000 for Save the Children’s U.S. programs.


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