May 26, 2017 | last updated May 26, 2017 3:59 pm
Lifetime Achievement Awards 2017

Lawson's fundraising prowess leaves lasting Hartford legacy

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever

Margaret Lawson

Organization: Independent consultant, marketing and event management

Education: Bachelor's degree from Bryant University

Previous job(s): Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce, Hartford Financial Services Group, Gladdings Inc.

Special events coordinator Margaret Lawson, who is now a private consultant, has led a storied career. She's rubbed elbows with U.S. and foreign presidents, was a contestant (and winner) on the TV game show "To Tell the Truth," and earned the keys to the city of Munich, Germany.

Lawson is best-known in Greater Hartford as a fundraising machine, having procured millions of dollars from donors over the years for various organizations, ranging from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra to the American School for the Deaf.

She's also broken barriers, becoming the first female president in the history of The Hartford Club.

The daughter of Scottish and Hungarian immigrants, Lawson grew up in Milford and graduated from Bryant University at age 19 with a bachelor's degree in marketing and sales. In the 1960s, she joined Arthur Lumsden at the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce where she worked for 18 years, moving her way up from assistant to vice president and corporate secretary.

In 1965, she won International Secretary of the Year, which resulted in her game show appearance.

At the time, the chamber was "the social hub of Greater Hartford," and people would do anything to get on Lawson's invitation list to events.

"The only way to do that was to contribute and join the chamber," Lawson recalled. "I said, for $1,000 you can get on the list."

"I felt I was doing a lot to help create programs and change the city and make it come alive and do good things. I've always had this feeling of giving back."

One moment she'll never forget is getting clearance from the U.S. State Department to travel to Germany and help Lumsden organize local business communities there. That's when the Munich mayor gave her the key to the city.

In 1973, she became one of the first two women to join The Hartford Club. Ten years later, she was the club's first female president, helping make the club profitable again.

She's still on the club's board and has raised over $1 million for the organization. Peter Kelly, founder of Hartford law firm Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, said Lawson "single-handedly" saved the club when it was going through financial struggles.

"She knows the business," Kelly said. "She's very good at what she does."

In 1981, Lawson became the vice president of marketing and the first female executive at specialty insurer Hartford Steam Boiler at a time when women weren't readily accepted in the corporate workplace. She stayed for 28 years. One of her first tasks was deciding what to do with the vacant 20th floor at their new building on One State Street.

She helped create On20, which has since been named one of the top scenic-view restaurants in the country.

Lawson was responsible for advertising and public relations with the goal of expanding Hartford Steam Boiler's brand recognition worldwide. She hung a model of the company's logo in New York City's prestigious 21 Club and put ads in Fortune magazine about Steam Boiler's involvement in the development of the channel tunnel between the south of England to northern France.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Lawson created a model on workplace fundraising campaigns, starting with Hartford Steam Boiler. In just a few years, she raised a couple million dollars from employees alone. "Other companies looked at this model and they adapted it to their companies and their employees. And pretty soon we recruited 60 companies in the Hartford area that had workplace campaigns," she explained.

A big supporter of Junior Achievement, Lawson was chairman for three years and in 1990 traveled with the national board to Moscow to introduce the program to the Soviet Union. She was on the stage with Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin when they signed the papers. Lawson also met Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter through her connections.

In 2005, she facilitated the grand opening of the Hartford Marriott Downtown while helping the Greater Hartford Arts Council make over $400,000 for its United Arts Campaign. In 2010, Lawson organized a gala to honor Kelly, the Hartford lawyer. The event mushroomed to more than 800 guests and raised over $400,000 for Connecticut Public Television, The International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Malta House of Care.

Lawson also organized CPTV's 50th anniversary celebration in 2013 and raised $1 million for the network to create a Learning Lab that helps veterans, high school kids and others learn technical and other skills.

"She has done some extraordinary events for us," said Jerry Franklin, CPTV's president and CEO, noting that Lawson raised over $2 million for the organization over the past decade. "People love her and admire her because of her tenacity … and people run from her because she is so tenacious and because her follow-up is relentless. And she just won't give up."

Lawson said she has no plans to retire. "I think life can be very interesting, but you have to make it interesting," she said. "I feel there's an opportunity that presents itself everyday." n

On the job

Guiding business principle: Strive for excellence in everything you do and try to learn something new every day.

Best way to keep your competitive edge: Stay up-to-date on new business trends. Take courses when available and attend educational conferences.

Proudest accomplishment: Helping to save The Hartford Club. Raising money for worthy causes.

Goal yet to be achieved: Write my book.

Favorite part of the job: The challenge of creating an unforgettable event while raising money for a worthy cause.

Least favorite part of the job: Cleaning up the details after an event.

Personal touch in your office: Photos of my two grandsons at their fencing tournaments or on vacation in Patagonia.

Judgment calls

Best business decision: Making a career change and going into Chamber of Commerce work.

Worst business decision: Investing in a new venture, which failed.

Biggest missed opportunity: I did not get a master's degree. I was always too busy to take the time to go back to school.

Best way to spot trends: Stay abreast of current events and advances in technology. Continually meet new people in different fields and listen to what they have to say.

Next big move: No plans to make a big move at the moment.

Your pet peeve: People who cannot make a decision.

Personal side

City of residence: Bloomfield

Favorite way to relax: On a cruise

Hobbies: Gardening, fishing, sailing and swimming

Last vacation: River Cruise, Duoro Valley, Portugal

Favorite movie: The Gladiator

Favorite cause: Junior Achievement and the arts

Second choice career: Architecture

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