Council Members

Hala Ayala
Hala Ayala, is a Cyber Security Specialist for the Department of Homeland Security with over 15 years of experience. Hala is the mother of two and an avid community advocate. Hala is the founder and President of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women (PWC NOW), serves at the state level as the Vice President of Virginia National Organization for Women (VANOW), and a Co-Panelist for Prince William County Smart Chicks on Politics & Entertainment (PWC SCOPE). Through her community service, Hala advocates for women through grassroots activism and community education; she hopes to raise awareness of the issues impacting women and their families. She has worked on several local and state campaigns and has served as an adviser to many community organizations. Hala also serves on several Prince William County community boards, one of which is the Literacy Foundation of America. Hala is a graduate of Emerge Virginia and the Virginia Progressive Leadership Project. Hala is honored to have been appointed by Governor McAuliffe to the Virginia Council on Women. Hala is very passionate and a devoted community servant that advocates for positive change within the Commonwealth.

Miriam Bender
Mimi is an attorney who primarily works with non-profit organizations on issues regarding development and public policy. She previously taught at the University of St. Louis School of Law and served as Associate General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in various positions at the Federal Trade Commission. She has served on the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of Virginia and of Charlottesville and Albemarle County and the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council. She currently resides in Charlottesville.

Meta Robinson Braymer
Meta Robinson Braymer, Vice President Emerita, University of Mary Washington, is retired from her position as Vice President for Economic Development and Regional Engagement at UMW.   During her 23 ½ years at the University of Mary Washington, she also served as Dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies, Special Assistant to the President for Governmental and External Relations, and Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships. She created and oversaw the Leadership Colloquium for Professional Women which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013. Activities outside UMW include serving as chair of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Virginia Foundation for Women, and founding member of Women Executives in Virginia Higher Education (WEVHE). Before joining the University of Mary Washington, Braymer served as Director of Evening, Summer and Off-Campus Credit Programs at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She received her B.A. from Maryville College in Tennessee, her M.A. from Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  She currently writes and consults from her home in Richmond.

Amy Eckert
Amy Eckert owns and operates Eckert & Associates, a small full service political fundraising firm. Established in 2009, Eckert & Associates has been active over the past three election cycles. During the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, Amy served as the National Finance Director and Deputy Finance Director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). During her time with the DCCC, Amy oversaw all programmatic development and communications for over one-thousand of the committee’s top supporters as well as developed and implemented fundraising strategies for regional and national events. Additionally, Amy served as liaison to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Members of the Democratic House Leadership on behalf of the DCCC. Amy currently serves on the Fundraising Committee for Women in Government Relations and as the Chair of NARAL Virginia. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Wake Forest University and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia.

Erin Evans-Bedois
Erin Evans-Bedois is a found member and partner at Shannon & Bedois, P.C. in Chesapeake, VA. Her practice focuses almost exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Erin earned her juris doctorate degree from George Mason School of Law and her bachelor's degree from Old Dominion University. She is actively involved with the Chesapeake Bar Association, is Vice Chairman of the Chesapeake Board of Zoning Appeals and is a certified personal trainer. She resides in Chesapeake with her husband and son.

Carol Rick Gibbons
Carol Rick Gibbons is a Vice President, Senior Associate General Counsel at Capital One Financial Corporation. She currently leads the Employment, IP Litigation and e-Discovery teams. Carol is active in several in-house bar organizations, including serving on the Virginia State Bar Corporate Counsel Board of Governors. Carol earned her juris doctorate degree from Duke University and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.  She lives in Richmond with her husband and her two children.

Meredith Harbach
Meredith teaches and writes in the areas of family law and civil procedure, bringing a keen interest in legal pedagogy and lawyering theory to her teaching and scholarship. Her scholarship has appeared in the Washington & Lee Law Review and Yale Journal of Law and Feminism among other venues. Before joining the Richmond Law faculty, Meredith served as Associate Director of the New York University School of Law’s Lawyering Program. She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Center for Family Law since 2009.

Ikeita Cantu Hinojosa
Ikeita Cantú Hinojosa serves as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (HBX), which operates DC Health Link – the online health insurance marketplace in the District of Columbia in accordance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. She previously served as HBX’s Privacy & Data Security Officer, Associate General Counsel & Policy Advisor, and Interim Call Center Operations Manager. In addition, she oversaw DC Health Link’s Assister, Navigator, and Certified Application Counselor Programs. Before HBX, Ikeita was the Director of the Partner Relations Group and handled Culturally & Linguistically Appropriate Services within the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Prior to HHS, Ikeita served as Assistant Director of Government Relations for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Her experience includes law firm contracting, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Women’s Law Center, Legal Momentum, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter in the District, as well as the City of Lubbock and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in her home state of Texas. Ikeita is a graduate of Texas Tech University and the University of Michigan. She is a licensed attorney in Maryland and DC. She is a licensed professional social worker and served as a Life Skills Instructor to inmates in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Alternative Incarceration Branch from 2011-2016. Ikeita and her spouse Carmen reside in McLean and she and their dog Cakes are a registered volunteer therapy animal team through the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program.

Suzanne Beauvoir Jackson
A native of Skokie, Illinois, Suzanne has been with HCA since 2002. Prior to her current role, Suzanne served as the Chief Executive Officer of Dominion Hospital, Chief Operating Officer at West Palm Hospital, and held other key roles as a healthcare administrator in Florida.  Suzanne began her career as a healthcare consultant in the Chicago office of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young after receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois - Champaign and master’s degree in Health Services Administration from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Suzanne joined John Randolph Medical Center in July 2013 as the Chief Executive Officer. Suzanne possesses a strong commitment to community service and professional development and has been recognized for her contributions. In 2014 she was recognized by the National Association of Health Services Executives – Washington Metropolitan Area chapter with the Distinguished Female Healthcare Leader Award,  in March of 2015 she was appointed as ACHE District 2’s Regent-At-Large and most recently she was recognized by as one of their 2015 Top Blacks in Healthcare Honorees.

Allison Lawrence Jones
Allison Lawrence Jones, a Richmond, Virginia native, is the Assistant Vice President at McGuireWoods Consulting in the firm's State Government Relations practice. Allison is a graduate of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. She is also active in a number of community, civic, and social organizations.

Lori Merricks
A native of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, Lori serves as the director of marketing and communications working to develop strategic marketing efforts for DRF and its regional partners. She has more than 16 years of experience spanning public relations; event/sponsorship management and marketing; strategic communications planning; and digital and social media project planning, development and implementation. Prior to joining DRF, she held various positions with Birmingham, Alabama-based Luckie & Company, a national full-service marketing and advertising agency. She is a Cum Laude graduate of Samford University with a major in Journalism/Mass Communications and a minor in Business. She is also certified by the Institute for Crisis Management. Lori graduated from the 2015 class of Lead Virginia and will be serving her first term on the Virginia Council on Women. Additionally, Lori serves on the board of directors of God’s Storehouse in Danville, Virginia.

Sally Mullikin
Sally is a retired business owner, nurse, and community leader. She has served on various boards including the Southside Community Development Corporation, The Thomas Berry Foundation and Franklin Grain Corp. Her passions are politics, eco-justice and art. She lives in Richmond with her husband, son and two dogs.

Devin Pugh-Thomas
Devin Pugh-Thomas is a scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Her research specializes in the development of laser materials for NASA science and exploration missions. She has 10 technical publications and conference proceedings.  Devin has 1 patent pending technology for her innovative material designs.  Devin holds a B.S. in Physics from Norfolk State University, an M.S. in Materials Science and the Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia.  She enjoys inspiring the next generation of STEM scholars. Devin serves as a mentor and motivational speaker in support of NASA Education Programs.  She currently resides in Norfolk.

Susan Johnston Rowland
Chief of Staff to Del. Lionell Spruill, Sr., Susan currently serves on the Chesapeake Board of Zoning Appeals, (former Chair & Vice Chair), the DPVA Steering Committee, and as the Chairperson of the 4th Congressional Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia.  Susan served in the 2008 Virginia Electoral College and became the first female president of the Virginia Electoral College in 2012. She is a life member of the Virginia PTA/PTSA and former board member of the Chesapeake Care Clinic & Hampton Roads Dental Clinic. Susan resides in Chesapeake where she enjoys time at the beach with her family.

Katy Sawyer
Katy Sawyer is the executive director of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, a statewide nonprofit organization founded in 1991 dedicated to the eradication of breast cancer through education and advocacy for Virginians. In this role, she has increased the organization’s financial stability; implemented a strategic planning process to operationalize priorities and report results; developed niche programming for the state and moved from reactive to proactive services; and increased public awareness and strengthened the reputation of VBCF. She has worked in health care non-profits throughout her career, including the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation, Virginia Community Healthcare Association, and the Virginia Health Care Foundation, statewide organizations focused on improved health care for Virginians. Ms. Sawyer holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Virginia and a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in non-profit management from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is in the 2016 class of Lead Virginia, which connects leaders to shape Virginia's future, and is a 2011 graduate of the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence’s Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program (ENLP). Ms. Sawyer was appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Virginia Council on Women in 2016, is on the ENLP alumni advisory board and the executive exchange planning committee, and is an active parent volunteer at St. Catherine’s School. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband, teenage daughter, dog, cat, and pet rabbit.

Lisa Speller-Davis
Lisa Speller-Davis is currently working as a leader in marketing and health education with the managed health care industry in Richmond Virginia. As a Registered Nurse, Lisa has a diverse background in community – based care and high acuity patient care services and operational management. Lisa has worked as a part of the operational leadership for several home care companies specializing in new business startup, marketing and business development. As a part of her passion for civic engagement, Lisa has started a not for profit organization, Community Empowerment Alliance, with a mission to help those most in need by providing access to community resources around the eradication of poverty and the importance of civic engagement through community education. Lisa attended both Virginia State University and J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College to complete her education as a Registered Nurse. Lisa is also a graduate of the 2016 Class of Emerge Virginia and serves on the boards of NARAL Virginia and Virginia Nurses’ Association.

Michelle Strucke
Michelle Strucke is an international human rights and humanitarian advocate, currently serving as a policy advisor at Oxfam America. Previously, she served as Public Affairs Manager and the Lead UN Representative for Islamic Relief USA, focusing on the rights of refugees and women, and relief and development policy in disaster-prone and conflict-affected regions in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Prior, she served as Director of Grants and Policy Advocacy for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). During her time with SAMS, she spearheaded their global advocacy campaign combating attacks against doctors in war-torn Syria, calling for the protection of civilians, including children, and managed emergency programs in Syria, Turkey and Jordan. From 2010-2011, she served as an Arabic media analyst at US Central Command. She received her B.A. from Ithaca College in New York and her M.A. in International Human Rights Law from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. She studied international and comparative law at Cornell Law School, and speaks Arabic and Spanish. She is also a passionate singer, and studied drama in the CAP21 program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She resides in Vienna with her husband.

Rita Surratt
Rita, a native of Dickenson County currently works as Director of Tourism, operating the Dickenson County Visitor Center/Dr. Phipps Family Museum in Clintwood. She is also President/CEO of the Dickenson County Chamber of Commerce. She currently owns and operates a lodging business in Clintwood and a past business owner of a home decorating/carpeting business in Dickenson County for twenty-two years. Rita has served on the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team for over ten years and also volunteers for several other organizations. Rita’s education includes Interior Design, Travel Marketing Professional and Media Relations. Rita serves on many boards and committees in Southwest Virginia, including the Virginia Gas and Oil Board, SWVA Workforce Investment Board and in her second three year term on the Virginia Council on Women. Two of her favorite passions include photography and travel.

Council Members