Traveling on behalf of Kappa Alpha Theta, I have the unique privilege of meeting some especially extraordinary Thetas. Regardless of what state I’m in, I am always astounded by the candor and open arms of the women I meet with. Prior to our lunch dates, we are most often Theta sisters from other sides of the country, hardly more than strangers, but by the time I leave we feel more like old friends. None of this could be truer than with Brooke Johnson.
After a year of corresponding via email, Brooke and I finally set a date and time for lunch together in NYC. I arrived early and sat in a big, cozy booth at Trattoria Dell ‘Arte in Midtown Manhattan, a spot Brooke recommended. By this point, I had read up on Brooke’s extraordinary career, listened to some of her speeches and interviews online (this one’s my favorite
), and of course, watched a little extra Food Network to get a better “taste” of what she does. But when she walked in the door, embraced me for a moment, and immediately sat down to chat after suggesting we both order lattes, I was nonetheless blown away. It is difficult to recount my favorite memories or my most engaging conversations with Theta members—that is, until I met Brooke. To sit down with a Theta sister, who has an already incredible professional career and to talk with her only to learn that her outstanding career pales in comparison to the outstanding person she is–now that is a leading woman.
Named president of the Food Network in April 2004, Brooke directed the network’s programming and managed the network’s relationships with other Scripps Networks brands. During a tenure of more than 12 years, Brooke supervised the creation of programs including “Chopped,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Food Network Star,” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” expanding the Food Network menu to include reality programming as well as celebrity chefs. But if you ask Brooke, she will tell you she is not an expert when it comes to food, but she knows television–although she admits she has become much more of a “foodie” since finding herself surrounded by the likes of Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray.
Having recently concluded her role as Food Network president, Brooke is capping off a storied career that put her in the planning room for such durable TV concepts as the History Channel and “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.” She joined Food Network in 2003 after working at A+E Networks where she launched the Biography Channel and proposed the original concept for History Channel. Prior to joining A&E, Brooke was program director for WABC-TV in New York, where she launched “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee,” first at the local level and then in national syndication. Under her guidance, Food Network expanded into branded products, such as launching a magazine based on the network in conjunction with Hearst Corp., and expanded the network’s digital footprint through a series of apps and web offerings. See, I wasn’t kidding about the outstanding career!
But among her professional accolades, one of Brooke’s proudest affiliations is the one we all share: membership in Kappa Alpha Theta. Brooke's mother, Jeanne Foote Bailey, was also a Theta, initiated at Alpha Psi/Lawrence in 1940. Brooke still remembers, years later, when she pledged Theta at Tau/Northwestern and received a telegram from her mother welcoming her into the sisterhood of Kappa Alpha Theta. The two treasured the special bonds of Theta sisterhood they shared until Brooke’s mother passed away in 1999. Today, Brooke still fondly recalls a few pivotal moments in her career made possible by Kappa Alpha Theta and deeply believes in the friendships this organization provides ambitious women with daring aspirations.
At Grand Convention 2016, Brooke will serve as the Leading Women speaker
, addressing participants on Friday, June 24. Regardless of her raving introduction, I assure you that you will still be struck by her humble demeanor, fantastic stories of creativity and persistence, poignant advice, and most of all, her genuinely good heart. In preparation for Grand Convention, I asked Brooke to describe what it meant to her to be a leading woman. In her response, I believe she unintentionally described herself, so I conclude my thoughts with Brooke’s own words:
“To me,” she says, “a leading woman is someone who is totally herself and acts with courage, integrity, and kindness. This makes her a leader, whether it is in business, arts, philanthropy, or just life itself.”