DI has a lady Prez

The first lady president in 150 years smashes the glass ceiling at DI with a smile

By Saionee Chakraborty
  • Published 2.09.15
DI’s new president Denise Smith at King’s Pub. Picture: Rashbehari Das

Denise Smith was “tense” about a speech she had to deliver at Dalhousie Institute (DI) on Sunday morning. The 55-year-old resident of Brindavan Gardens (Christopher Road) had been hard at work the past few days, trying to “modify and perfect” the speech. Till she arrived at the Jhowtolla Road address.

One look at all the friendly faces around and the mother of two breathed easy. The first lady president of the 150-year-old club was ready to speak from the heart. “I was like, ‘Hey man… I know everyone.’ It’s a big family…. It was so nice to see so many of our senior members come out. That really touched me,” smiled Denise when t2 met her on Monday evening.

The news still hadn’t sunk in. “I am feeling very proud. Honour of a lifetime,” she grinned.

Denise is quite a veteran, having served on the club’s council on and off from 2004-05, the time around which the lady members of the club first got voting rights and were subsequently inducted into the council. “The idea of giving the lady members voting rights was floated at the turn of the millennium. More than 80 per cent of the members had agreed. During Derek’s (O’Brien, quizmaster-turned-Trinamul MP) tenure as the president from 2003-06, he implemented this change and gave ladies voting rights,” said Denise, who was the “first lady to get into the council in 2004-05”. She took charge of entertainment, her “forte”, dabbled in sports and served as the “first lady honorary secretary” of the club. 

Derek was the one who came up with the idea of Denise giving presidentship a shot. “He had mentioned it last year. I didn’t really think it would be that serious, but then as the days and months were approaching, I knew it was becoming a little more serious,” she recollected.

She discussed the idea with her husband of 28 years, DJ Austin (yes, of Someplace Else fame). Her daughters — Nikita (26) and Lianne (22) — were “super excited”. Though there were a lot of “apprehensions and mixed feelings”, Denise, who has been a member of DI since end-1990, decided to go for it.

“Apprehensions are there because you have seen the past presidents and their various councils. They have put DI on this platform. Then I thought I have been doing all this for years. I have seen how everyone else has been handling things from close quarters. A lot of my friends, when they heard, were like, ‘Wow Denise! We are sure you would do well!’ That felt good. That’s when I actually said, ‘Ok fine, let’s say yes’,” she smiled. 

Though she can be “firm to a certain extent”, Denise is not taking up the whip as club boss. “I have my own way of getting things done… I’d rather not use the harsh way, unless push comes to shove,” said the consular officer at the Swedish consulate in Calcutta.

Yes, multitasking is a “plus point” that women have, stressed Denise. Prioritise. Lists. Timelines. Deadlines. These are important words in Denise’s dictionary. At DI, to start with, “service” is uppermost on her mind as is improvising on food ideas. “We want more members coming in with their guests… more footfall. I want to see a new building with more facilities like a banquet hall, squash court, coffee shop. The Neil O’ Brien Sports Complex, the multi-sports playing arena, is being refurbished. I want to encourage more kids to take up sports. We also hope to have a women’s cell. And, of course, encourage more families to come to DI,” Denise shared her wish list.

Her message for the members? “Come with your family and enjoy the facilities of this family club, who many of us call our second home,” she smiled. 

As we head towards the multi-sports playing arena, Denise wondered: “Do women make good bosses? I am sure they do!” The t2 girl gang gives that a two thumbs up.