Black background, gold glitter. Text: Celebrating 20 years of women of distinction

30 Years of Women of Distinction Awards: Jill Summerhayes (1994)

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the YWCA Cambridge Women of Distinction awards, we’re highlighting recipients from over three decades of celebrating ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

Newspaper clipping of Jill Summerhayes

Jill Summerhayes

Woman of Distinction award recipient in the category of women in business, 1994.

In the face of adversity, some individuals shine brighter than ever, their resolve unyielding and their impact profound. Jill Summerhayes received her Woman of Distinction award in the awards’ inaugural year of 1994 in the category of women in business. What was true in 1994 remains true today: Jill is a beacon of inspiration whose journey embodies resilience, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of change.

Just before her 40th birthday, Jill – at the time working as the Classifieds Advertising Manager at the Cambridge Reporter – was diagnosed with chronic arthritis. Advised to walk with a cane and abandon her career, she refused to succumb to despair. Instead, she embarked on a mission to redefine the perception of the cane.

Driven by a desire to shatter stereotypes, Jill delved into research, uncovering the rich history of canes as fashion statements and works of art. Thus, Cane & Able was born—a business dedicated to offering customized canes that were just as much artwork as they were mobility aids. Jill’s venture gained widespread recognition through media coverage, even drawing well-stablished celebrities seeking Jill’s work.

Reflecting on the impact of receiving the Woman of Distinction award, Jill humbly acknowledges its significance. “Success is not judged solely on how much money you make,” she shared. The recognition highlighted the importance of innovation separate from any amount of wealth it can generate – wealth, Jill said, never materialized from this venture, which isn’t any failing at all, because for her, this was a mission to help others, and that’s what Jill has done through Cane & Able. 

Quote pulled from Jill's remarks: "Women are so hard on themselves.."

True to the mission of Women of Distinction, Jill remains committed to uplifting and celebrating women in her community. Over the years, she has nominated dozens of individuals for the award, enabling them to receive the recognition they deserve.

Offering words of wisdom to young women, Jill encourages seizing opportunities and embracing entrepreneurship. “If you’re offered an opportunity, always take it,” she advises. “The worst thing that can happen is you fail, and you learn from it.”

Jill’s story is one of triumph over adversity, of turning obstacles into opportunities, and of empowering others to do the same. As she continues to advocate for the arts, share her stories, and engage in community projects, her legacy of resilience and empowerment shines brightly.

This year, let’s commemorate Jill and all 300+ Women of Distinction celebrated since 1994. We celebrate them for their remarkable achievements and the enduring spirit of women who dare to challenge conventions. We invite you to join us in celebrating the 30th Anniversary Women of Distinction awards gala. The 2024 Women of Distinction Awards will take place June 12, 2024, at Whistle Bear Golf Club. Tickets will go on sale this Spring.

Nominations for the 2024 Women of Distinction Awards close at 11:59 p.m., April 5, 2024. Nominate a Woman of Distinction here. 

Are you a former Woman of Distinction recipient who wishes to be featured on our blog? Reach out to Roz Gunn at!

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