Article taken from Providence Journal.
Famed Hollywood actress Mary McDonnell and her sister, a professor at Bryant, say strong women in their life, including each other, have been a source of strength.
SMITHFIELD — One is a two-time Oscar-nominated actress and the other is an award-winning sociology professor, but these sisters know that they would not be where they are today without each other.
“My sister’s life as a feminist and as a sociologist and as a teacher and as an educator has really influenced the way I interpret the roles that I read,” said Mary McDonnell, a television, film and stage actress, as she sat next to her sister, Judith McDonnell, who is a professor at Bryant University. “Part of the reason I think I have been in the position I’m in is because I was fortunate enough to be raised around women such as Judy.”
Mary McDonnell, who starred as Commander Sharon Raydor in the TNT series “Major Crimes” and also played President Laura Roslin in “Battlestar Galactica” and Stands With A Fist in the film “Dances with Wolves,” gave a keynote speech Friday at Bryant’s annual women’s summit.
In her speech, as well as during an interview beforehand with her sister, she focused on the power and importance of strong female bonds.
“My journey to this moment has emerged out of a series of fortunate and critical life experiences, all influenced and assisted by tribes of women,” she said during her speech.
The McDonnells were raised in a family of five sisters and one brother — the youngest of the group.
“The fact that he survived the five us right there is a miracle,” Mary McDonnell said during the interview. “He’s really something.”
But both said that growing up surrounded by so many strong female role models, including their mother, Eileen McDonnell, greatly influenced their lives.
“Sometimes, arguments over clothes and hair brushes could get a little cuckoo,” said Mary McDonnell, laughing with her sister, who is four years younger. “But other than that, my memory … is that it gave us a foundation that you just can’t dream up.”
Judith McDonnell said she admires her sister’s work as an actor, as do many people, particularly young women, around the world.
“The thing that she is noted for is not that she just got roles of powerful women, but that she made those women powerful in the role,” she said. “And to see on television and on film Mary acting in these really interesting, different characters and bringing power to her roles reaches a lot of people.”
For women who attended the conference, Mary McDonnell’s keynote speech, which touched on topics ranging from her experiences as a young water ballerina and later a budding actress to sexual harassment and violence in Hollywood, McDonnell’s strong relationships with other women showed through.
“It was the value of having the connection with another woman or a group of women,” said Kathryn Kanterman, of Barrington, who is the director of purchasing at Roger Williams University. “I found that in my career, when I did have those opportunities very early on to connect with someone who was doing something that I wanted to do in the future, that it was really empowering.”
Angela Ankoma, of Providence, who is the executive vice president of community investment at United Way, said she enjoyed hearing about how McDonnell used her life experiences to keep advancing herself toward her goals.
“I liked how she used particular moments in her life to kind of grow to her next stage in her life,” she said.
Both McDonnell sisters, who over the course of their interview laughed, hugged each other and joked about their texting habits, agreed that supporting one another is one of the most important things women can do for each other.
“Find your people and be a support person to them, and they will be a support person to you,” said Judith McDonnell. “That will take you very far.”