The Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia (WBA), in conjunction with the Women’s Bar Association Foundation (WBAF), recognized The Honorable Sheila Bair, former Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, with the Janet Reno Torchbearer Award at the organizations’ Annual Dinner on May 22, 2012, in Washington, DC. The Janet Reno Torchbearer Award recognizes exceptional women lawyers, their achievements, and the trails they have blazed for those women who have followed, and is reserved for those rare occasions when the accomplishments of an individual are so extraordinary that they should be recognized.

The theme for the 2012 Annual Dinner was “Re-envisioning the Path: Being a Woman Lawyer in the 21st Century.” This theme was in concert with Phase IV of the WBA’s Initiative on Advancement and Retention of Women, and recognizes that women take or navigate different pathways to success, and that the pathway navigated along the road to success isn’t always a “straight line.”

Chairman Bair exemplifies the “Re-envisioning the Path” theme. Her extensive background in banking and finance has taken her career path from Capitol Hill, to academia, to the highest levels of government. Of particular note, from June 2006 to July 2011, Ms. Bair served a five-year term as the 19th Chairman of the FDIC.

While at FDIC, Chairman Bair presided over a tumultuous period in the nation’s financial sector, and worked to bolster both public confidence and system stability. Determined not to turn to taxpayer borrowing during the crisis, the FDIC managed its losses and liquidity needs entirely through its traditional industry-funded resources. In response to the financial crisis, Ms. Bair developed innovative and stabilizing programs that provided temporary liquidity guarantees to unfreeze credit markets and increased deposit insurance limits. In 2007, she was a singular –and prescient – advocate for systematic loan modifications to stem the coming tidal wave of foreclosures. Chairman Bair also led FDIC resolution strategies to sell failing banks to healthier institutions, while providing credit support of future losses from failed banks’ troubled loans. That strategy saved the Deposit Insurance Fund $40 billion over losses it would have incurred if the FDIC had liquidated those banks. Under Chairman Bair’s leadership, the FDIC’s powers and authority were significantly expanded by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which extends the FDIC’s resolution process to large, systemically-important financial institutions, effectively attacking the “too-big-to-fail” doctrine.

Chairman Bair’s work at the FDIC also focused on consumer protection and economic inclusion. Under her leadership, the FDIC issued early calls for interagency guidance addressing high-risk mortgages, and was among the first to see the dangers of these unaffordable mortgages to the broader banking sector and to the economy as a whole. She championed the creation of an Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion, seminal research on small-dollar loan programs, and the formation of broad-based alliances in nine regional markets to bring underserved populations into the financial mainstream.

Before joining the FDIC, Ms. Bair was the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She also served as Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury (2001 to 2002), Senior Vice President for Government Relations of the New York Stock Exchange (1995 to 2000), a Commissioner and Acting Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (1991 to 1995), and Research Director, Deputy Counsel and Counsel to Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (1981 to 1988). In September 2011, following her tenure at the FDIC, Chairman Bair joined the Pew Charitable Trusts as a Senior Advisor, providing counsel to the nonpartisan group on matters of fiscal and economic stability.

Kansan by birth, Chairman Bair received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and a J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law. She has been inducted into the University of Kansas Women’s Hall of Fame, and received the Distinguished Kansan Award from the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas in 2011. Chairman Bair received a number of prestigious honors during her tenure as FDIC Chairman. In 2008 and 2009, Forbes Magazine named her as the second most powerful woman in the world, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In 2008, Chairman Bair topped The Wall Street Journal’s annual 50 “Women to Watch List.” In 2009, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s “Time 100” most influential people; awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award; and received the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award. In 2010, Chairman Bair was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine with Mary Schapiro and Elizabeth Warren as “The New Sheriffs of Wall Street,” and received the Better Business Bureau’s Presidents’ Award for sustained superior performance that fundamentally changed the marketplace and shaped the definition and expectation of trust for all marketplace participants.