By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to Barbara Crane’s house for dinner, you’ll be greeted warmly by a hostess born into the art of Southern hospitality, before being seated at an elegant table set with china and crystal from her collection.
As Woman’s Club’s president, Crane worked tirelessly to make the club feel as welcoming and lovely as her home, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the organization’s financial health.
This year, members selected Crane, who has presided over the club for the past three years, as its Woman of the Year. A luncheon in her honor will be held at the club on Friday, Aug. 18, from 11:30 to 2 p.m.
Initially a bit uncomfortable with being voted Woman of the Year, Crane regrouped, allowing her deep well of graciousness to rise to the surface. “I’ve been given a gift,” said the 64-year-old financial planner. “And if someone gives you a gift, you say thank you.”
Born in Detroit, but raised in Jackson, Miss., by a single mother with five kids, Barbara Miles moved to Washington, D.C. in 1975 when she was 22 years old. “I knew I just needed to move and grow,” she said.
She landed a job as a communication consultant on Capitol Hill arriving in D.C. “when women’s lib and integration were at their peak. As a Southern white girl, I knew that to make it in that town, I had to show I wasn’t prejudiced and that I was liberated. I dropped my Southern accent within days.”
She had attended a “small Mississippi college,” but said “my real education was working for Fortune 500 companies.”
While consulting with congressmen and departments like the National Institute of Health on their communication needs, Miles met her future husband, Peter Crane, who was also working in communications and assigned to the White House. “We’d meet on Capitol Hill,” she said. “It was fascinating. All of a sudden, I’d be in an elevator with someone notable.”
With her career booming, Miles took a position as regional marketing manager for Avery, the largest supplier to office supply outlets. When her new territory became the West Coast, she moved to California, beginning a two-year cross-country relationship with Peter, assisted by $99 round trip fares to L.A. from D.C. on World Airlines.
When the glamour of the weekend rendezvous dimmed, Peter secured a transfer to California and the couple moved to Laguna Beach where they were married at the tiny St. Francis by the Sea.
After their first child, Samantha, was born, Crane began working in finance for Citi Bank. Currently, she works as a Schwab investment advisor and for the past 20 years has partnered with her husband in Crane Investments.
Typically, Woman’s Club presidents serve a two-year term, but when Crane’s tenure was up, the board pleaded with her to stay another year.
“We couldn’t bear to have her quit because she’s done such a fabulous job,” said longtime club member, Anne Johnson. “Barbara’s big phrase was, ‘You know we have a standard,’ so the flowers, cutlery, dishes, had to be perfect. Future presidents are going to have big shoes to fill.”
Describing her tenure as “leadership with grace, “ club member Susan McNeal Velasquez said Crane has brought attention to detail and a touch of class to the club. “In the age of email, she does handwritten invitations. And we have matching tablecloths. We are all very grateful to her commitment to having the club thrive.”
“We just stepped it up a notch,” Crane said. “I wanted the club’s image to be a place where our members would be so proud to bring their friends. I went through the whole club one part at a time and put together a plan to revamp or enhance it.”
Early in her presidency, Crane spearheaded the drive to raise funds for “Ranger,” the first police dog that the force in Laguna has had in a decade.
During her tenure, events such as intimate “Wine and Cheese” gatherings have brought in newcomers, increasing the club’s membership from 128 to 190. Working closely with Doety Marks, who’s in charge of renting the clubhouse, rental revenues have increased “and we have been able to start remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms,” Crane said.
A portion of the club’s revenue stream goes to a charitable fund that provides gift certificates and backpacks to low-income families during the holidays, college scholarships and to support to women in need.
“I’ve always volunteered,” said Crane, who also was on the board of SchoolPower and the Chamber of Commerce. “Whenever you give you get back so much more.”
Along with marrying Peter, and bringing her two children, Samantha and Timmy, into the world, Crane would put her tenure as Woman’s Club president on the list of the “top five things I’ve done in my life.”
Even after living in Laguna for 30 years, “The number of friends and relationships I’ve gained through the Woman’s Club is priceless to me. I got so much from it so I have to say thank you to the club for giving me the opportunity to grow.”
Tickets for the luncheon, which will be prepared by Chef Azmin Ghahrema of Sapphire, are $45 for nonmembers, $40 for members or $320 for a table of eight. Tickets can be purchased at the club’s website: www.wclb.org/events or by mailing a check to Woman’s Club, 286 St. Ann’s Drive, Laguna Beach, 92651.