The 2022 Deborah Morton Society awardees pose in Innovation Hall

UNE recognizes achievements of three Maine women with 2023 Deborah Morton Awards

Kathie M. Leonard, Melissa Smith, and Cynthia J. Milliken Taylor are the recipients of the 61st Annual Deborah Morton Society Award

The University of New England proudly continues the tradition of recognizing and honoring the accomplishments of exceptional Maine women with the 61st Annual Deborah Morton Society Convocation and Awards Ceremony, to be held on Friday, June 9, in celebration of the three newest awardees and members of the Deborah Morton Society.

The event is free and open to the public. It will take place in the Arthur P. Girard Innovation Hall on UNE’s Portland Campus starting at 11 a.m.

The Deborah Morton Award recognizes distinguished Maine women who have made an exceptional impact through their careers and public service or leadership in civic, cultural, or social causes. The award celebrates the memory of UNE’s own distinguished Deborah Morton of Round Pond, Maine. She was valedictorian of the Class of 1879 of Westbrook Seminary, the forerunner of Westbrook College, which merged with the University of New England in 1996. After graduating, Morton served as a longtime faculty member at the seminary and was an advocate for equal rights on social, political, and economic levels.

To celebrate her memory, the Deborah Morton Society continues to promote education and leadership for future generations of Maine women. Alongside the annual award, the society provides scholarships for women studying in the Westbrook College of Health Professions who manifest outstanding qualities of character, leadership, and academic ability like Deborah Morton.

Over the past 60 years, the Deborah Morton Society has continued to foster the importance of women in society and serves as encouragement to young women across the state to reflect Morton’s values and service-focused attitude.

This year’s award recipients are as follows:

Kathie M. Leonard

Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Auburn Manufacturing

Kathie M. Leonard moved to Maine in 1974 after completing her Associate of Arts at St. Petersburg College and has lived in the Auburn, Maine, area ever since. She is married to Stephen Lunt, and together they have three children and five grandchildren who live in Maine, New York, and Atlanta.

Leonard learned about manufacturing technical fibers and textiles while working in a textile mill in Lewiston.

Portrait of Kathie M. Leonard

She studied business administration studies at the University of Maine from 1983 to 1986 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science in Business Administration from Thomas College in 2016.

Over the years, Leonard has held numerous board and committee memberships and chair positions. She more recently has held leadership positions for EXIM bank, Maine Technology Institute, and Industry Trade Advisory. However, she currently is a member of the National Council of Textile Organizations, a member of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, and a member of the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees. These are all in addition to being the owner and chief executive officer of Auburn Manufacturing.

Melissa Smith

Portrait of Melissa Smith

Chair, Chief Executive Officer, and President of WEX

Melissa Smith joined WEX in 1997 and has since then filled a variety of leadership roles, including Global President and President of the Americas. Melissa served as chief financial officer during the company’s initial public offering in 2005 and has continually driven WEX’s dramatic growth, both organically and through acquisitions.

She has been CEO of WEX since 2014 and chair since 2019.

Under her leadership, revenue more than doubled, reaching $1.7 billion in 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith brought WEX to expected revenue of more than $1.8 billion for 2021. She also substantially diversified the company, moving from a primarily U.S.-based, fleet-centric business to a global enterprise with offices in 14 countries and more than 5,500 employees worldwide. 

The leadership and cultural values that inform Smith’s professional life were forged from growing up on a farm in the rural town of Winn, Maine. She was also named to’s Most Innovative Women in Payments in 2014 and one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments in 2014, 2019, and 2021.

Smith is an active participant in her community and with nonprofit work and currently sits on the board of MaineHealth. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors for Equifax. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from the University of Maine in 1991 and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from UMaine in 2021.

Cynthia J. Milliken Taylor

President of the Housing Initiatives of New England Corporation

Cynthia J. Milliken Taylor grew up in rural Maine and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. She spent a semester as an exchange student at the University of California at Berkeley and went back to Providence to complete her thesis with honors.

Milliken Taylor returned to Maine after graduating to work at Maine Housing Authority as their architectural representative.

Portrait of Cynthia J. Milliken Taylor

There, she worked with many teams of contractors, developers, architects, and engineers in the state and also had the opportunity to learn finance. Milliken Taylor chose to go into development to continue helping people who need housing and because it was a great mentoring opportunity. She was the vice president of Wishcamper Properties, where she worked to develop housing in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

In 1990, Milliken Taylor developed the Housing Initiatives of New England Corporation as a nonprofit housing and development corporation. Under her 33 years of leadership, the organization has created over 30 developments serving a countless number of seniors across Maine and New Hampshire. They have partnered with MaineGeneral Medical Center to provide a licensed assisted living facility in Augusta and have the most energy-efficient buildings with solar systems and sophisticated building systems that can be built with today’s technology. The organization’s goal is to provide the highest quality affordable living experience for retirees to enjoy. She continues to find creative ways to bring new resources to help this community.

Learn more about the Deborah Morton Society.

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