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Golfer Wilma to the fore with Women in Business special recognition award

Women in Business chief executive Roseann Kelly with Business Woman of the Year 2019 winner Edel Doherty from Beyond Business Travel, third from left, with sponsor representatives Gary McDonald of The Irish News and Virgin Media Business people director Alison Bawn

THE woman widely credited with helping bring The Open back to Northern Ireland for the first time in nearly 70 years has been honoured with a special lifetime achievement award by Women in Business.

Wilma Erskine was secretary-manager of Royal Portrush for 35 years until her retirement from the role after this summer’s golfing extravaganza, which attracted 251,000 spectators and generated an estimated £80 million for the local economy.

When she took up her role in 1984, female secretary-managers of golf clubs were scarce (indeed almost non-existent), with gender discrimination rife, and it is only within the last 20 years that female participation in one of the world’s most recognised sports has been widely considered.

Women in Business chief executive Roseann Kelly said Erskine’s role in championing the return of The Open to the north for the first time since 1951 was inspirational, and tributes were paid to her drive and


Meanwhile, the highly acclaimed overall Business Woman of the Year award went to entrepreneur Edel Doherty, who has spent more than 30 years in the travel industry and has an impressive career portfolio.

In 2010 she established bespoke travel management company Beyond Business Travel, which has gone from strength to strength, growing its staff to 25 and increasing sales to £16m, opening a Dublin office and having plans to grow to a £50m business in four years.

Fifteen other awards were handed out on the night, and the main individual winner was Jackie Reid of Warrenpoint-based food-to-go firm Deli Lites, who won two categories (best customer service and best exporter), while as a company Allstate NI also clinched a notable double, winning excellence in IT (Linda O’Reilly) and outstanding innovation (Dr Liz O’Sullivan).

More than 500 guests – a record for the event in its nine years – packed into the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the awards, sponsored by Virgin Media Business and hosted by Pamela Ballantine and at which the guest speaker was Invest NI’s newly-appointed chair Rose Mary Stalker.

Alison Bawn, people director at Virgin Media Business said: “We believe in providing job opportunities for everyone, regardless of what we look like, where we come from, or how we were raised.

“The success of any business depends on its ability to create a diverse and inclusive workforce, which is why we’re proud sponsors of these awards. All tonight’s winners should be incredibly proud of their achievements which will inspire other businesswomen and accelerate the journey to workplace gender parity.”

WIB chief executive Roseann Kelly added: “We’re honoured to bring together so many successful and inspiring women from across Northern Ireland.

“Awards such as these, which this year received a record 185 submissions, are crucial to promote positive recognition and encourage others to strive to achieve their goals and challenge outdated stereotypes.”

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