After Gail Burrus Martin’s husband, Cornelius, died in a motorcycle accident in 2006, she recalled Saturday afternoon that she learned to move to the front in leading her family through life’s many challenges. 

Her husband had always been the one out front as they ran Martin Automotive Group and worked in the community.

Martin, 66, was named “2015 Woman of the Year” by the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission at the 23rd Annual Women of Achievement Awards at the Augenstein Alumni Center at Western Kentucky University.

“I think he would be surprised. I think he would be proud,” Martin said of Cornelius following the ceremony. Cornelius Martin was on the WKU Board of Regents for a dozen years and served two terms as regents chairman. The regents meeting room on the second floor of the Mass Media and Technology Hall was named for him prior to his death.

“This was his dream, and I’m just picking up the baton and going with it,” she said of the community recognition.

The Bowling Green Human Rights Commission gave out several honors Saturday in the fields of arts, education, business, entrepreneurship, science and health and lifetime achievement and other facets of the community. More than 30 women were nominated or won awards Saturday, two posthumously.

“Please continue to weave your stories into the lives of others,” said Alice Waddell, commission executive director.    

Martin said the Martin Automotive Group celebrated its 30th anniversary in the community. She said Saturday’s honor “is something that is just part of the journey.” Martin said it is important for people to give back to their community and to remind people of the civil rights marches on Selma, Ala. and Washington as the movement continues to be defined in America.

“I stand on other people’s shoulders. My personal drive is to carry on so that my children may continue the legacy,” Martin said. Her children Amber, 32, Chadwick, 29, and Coleman, 26, all work for the family business, she said.

Also honored Saturday by the commission were: Arts – Elise Iannuzzi; Business – Cyndi Crocker; Community Service – Kenetha Morrow Bryant; Elementary Education – Robin Cornelius; High School Education – Cheryl Hodges Bunton; College Education – Mary Ford; Entrepreneurship – Micki Holmes; Science and Health – Bonita Paul; Women of Distinction – Judy Freeman Schwank; Women Firsts – Michele Tolbert; Women Reaching Higher – Warren County Circuit Clerk Brandi Martin Duvall; and Youth Achievement – Andreana Bridges.

Named “Native Daughter” were Takeia Anthony, assistant professor of history at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., and Jacinda Townsend Gides, an author who was inducted into the Warren County Schools Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2014.

Receiving “Lifetime Achievement” honors were Julia Roberts, executive director of the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, and Debbie Jones Richey, a Warren County educator who oversaw the building of Briarwood Elementary School during a more than 38-year career in public education.

Honored posthumously were Anne Blane Grubbs, who established the WKU ALIVE Center and also was a recipient of the Jefferson and Athena awards. Grubbs’ husband, accepted the honor for his wife, who died of cancer in 2014. 

Flora Templeton Stuart, a 2015 nominee for arts, accepted the award for her mother, Elise Talmage Lieb, a pioneer civil rights advocate who died in 2013. Lieb was the first female real estate broker to establish her own business in Bowling Green, according to the awards program.

— Follow education reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter at bgdnschools or visit