Business and community leader Meredith Strang Burgess was celebrated as the 2014 Girl Scouts of Maine Woman of Distinction at a dinner and auction Thursday night that drew more than 350 people.

“We find women to honor who are courageous and strong – something we hope all our girls aspire to,” said Joanne Crepeau, chief financial officer and interim chief executive officer for Girl Scouts of Maine. “This event honors a special woman who exemplifies the Girl Scout values.”

The dinner at the Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland had a dual focus of raising funds for Girl Scouts and honoring Burgess.

Since 1986, Burgess has strategically directed Burgess Advertising & Marketing (BAM), the Portland communications company she founded. BAM has received the Governor’s Award for Excellence and was named one of the Best Places to Work in Maine in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

“She’s probably the most philanthropic person I know – always, always helping and doing,” said Ellie Duley of Farmington, who met Burgess when they were both in chemotherapy in 2000.

A breast cancer survivor, Burgess launched the campaign to create the successful pink ribbon Maine license plate program. Since 2008, more than 19,000 of the plates have raised more than $542,000 for breast cancer organizations in the state. She also was a founder of the Tri for a Cure fundraising triathlon.

“Breast cancer was a life-changing experience for her and the whole family,” said Matthew Burgess, who joined his mother’s company last year. But, he says, her community involvement was always there, even before her diagnosis.

In 2006, Burgess was elected to the Maine House of Representatives and served three terms, working on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee, serving as the House chair in her final term.

Burgess has also given of her time and talents to a large number of organizations, including the Maine Cancer Consortium, Maine Public Health Association, Maine Historical Society, University of Maine Board of Visitors, Hebron Academy and the Maine Children’s Growth Council. And at age 50, she started running triathlons.

Keeping the dinner audience laughing with her remarks, Burgess wore her Girl Scout sash covered in earned badges. Digging through her box of memorabilia, she found that she had been the publicity chair for the Brownies in 1965-1966.

“You know what they say, that all you really need to know you learned in kindergarten?” she said. “Apparently it was all right there from the beginning.”

“I’m always excited to see ladies who are successful,” said Jessica Halfacre, a Girl Scout mom from Westbrook.

“She really empowers women,” said Judy Tammaro of Portland.

Burgess concluded by asking all the men there to go home and ask the women they love – mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends – whether they are getting mammograms and doing breast self-checks.

“Women are often taking care of everybody but themselves,” Burgess said.

In just moments she had turned an audience from laughter to tears, as several in the crowd – men included – could be seen wiping their eyes.

One on one, she said, “I’m having a hard time digesting all this. I’m not used to it being all about me.”

And that, in a nutshell, is what makes her a Woman of Distinction.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough – and a former Girl Scout. She can be reached at:

amyedits@aol.com