AJC Atlanta honored The Home Depot’s Carol Tomé with the 2019 National Human Relations Award Oct. 29 at the St. Regis Atlanta. Filling the sparkling ballroom were 500 of Atlanta’s civic and business leaders, who came to hear about the meaningful work of the AJC.
Tomé is The Home Depot’s recently retired chief financial officer and executive vice president of corporate services. Over the past 24 years, 18 as CFO, Tomé has been a key business partner to every CEO in The Home Depot’s history.
In her free time, she wore an orange apron, giving gardening advice at the Buckhead store.
“We are delighted to honor Carol Tomé as the 2019 recipient of the National Human Relations Award,” said Dov Wilker, AJC Atlanta’s regional director. “Her corporate leadership, as well as her service to the Atlanta community, exemplify what this award represents.”
To start the program, AJC president Ilene Engel announced that $605,000 had been raised based on the night’s efforts. “When the civic and business communities come together, it provides a message of hope.” She introduced local dignitaries, including former mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young.
Next, Wilker shared a study showing that 31 percent of Americans avoid wearing anything of Jewish symbolism, which is even higher among 18- to 29-year-olds.
Wilker had just come off recent powerful AJC programs, bringing 15 people to Washington, D.C., for the kick-off of the Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus, and last Saturday’s #ShowUpForShabbat initiative at local synagogues.
At the awards dinner, Wilker moderated a panel of community partners involved in AJC programs: Sofia Bork, a Catholic Latina involved with AJC ACCESS; Munir Meghjani, a Muslim who has traveled to Israel with AJC; and Sarah Schapiro, a Jewish high school student. All agreed that AJC provided them with tools to have hard dialogues about Israel advocacy and anti-Semitism through authentic friendships.
Meghjani got a huge response, saying, “I have cultural concierges where I can ask ‘Is it pronounced Sukkot or Suckat?’ Above all, AJC gives us a holistic view of both sides. In Israel, we had VIP treatment and even met with Palestinian leaders. … We now understand the emotional attachment to Israel.”
Dinner chairs Frank Blake and Craig Menear, as well as Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank honored Tomé.
Blake, former CEO of Home Depot, got a big laugh by taking credit for Tomé’s fashion sense and her Manolo Blahnik shoes. He further elaborated on her leadership skills in staying the course “when it was raining frogs,” having insight in keeping him focused on core business profits, and her care for others.
Menear, current Home Depot CEO, touted her longevity in serving five CEOs and being selected by Fortune magazine in 2012 among “50 Most Powerful Women in Business.” He further credited her for advancing over 300 Home Depot female careers with her Velvet Hammer campaign.
Blank, after suffering a devastating loss with his team, the Atlanta Falcons, began in self-deprecation. “I’m here for two reasons: To show that I am still alive and suffering from ‘bipolar team syndrome.’” He related Tomé to the Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam in her commitment to heal the world. He wished her namaste in seeing her light and spirit.
David Abney, the 2018 award recipient, shared his experiences with Tomé, saying, “Never follow her in a fundraising effort, cause the law of probability is you will lose; and when she begins, ‘This won’t take much of your time’, it may not work out that way.”
Tomé was called to the podium to the song “The Way You Look Tonight.” She thanked Ron Brill, who hired her, and she mentioned how Blank sold her on coming to Home Depot by promising the opportunity to reach her highest potential. Growing up in Wyoming, she never dreamed her life would follow this path.
She praised the AJC for standing up to hate and evil. She ended by quoting Maya Angelou, “Develop enough courage to stand up for yourself, then stand up for someone else.”
The mission of AJC is building bridges of understanding among all people, safeguarding democracy and pluralism, and combating all forms of bigotry.