As the chairman and chief executive of Citizens Financial Group, Ellen Alemany is used to receiving accolades for her work as a banker. But this week she was recognized for her accomplishments as a mother.

The Center for Discovery, which provides care for disabled and autistic children, honored Alemany at a gala in New York on Tuesday night. The honor was personal for Alemany, whose first daughter, also named Ellen, was born with cerebral palsy and has lived at the Center for several years.

The Center "has been for her, as well as for us, one of the most transformative experiences of our lives," Alemany said during a heartfelt speech at the dinner, which drew about 1,000 people to Manhattan's Chelsea Piers.

Alemany is also a board member at the Center, a school, clinic and residence in New York state's Catskill Mountains. Videos shown at the gala highlighted the Center's extensive grounds, including a farm where children help grow the food they eat, collect eggs from chickens and ride horses.

The gala was attended by Alemany's immediate family and several of her employees at RBS Citizens, as well as by other industry colleagues; she thanked both MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga and Visa's president of the Americas, Bill Sheedy, whose companies both helped sponsor the evening.

The gala even had a little Hollywood glamour from the actor Aidan Quinn, whose daughter, Ava, also lives at the Center.

Citizens posted strong earnings growth last year but has cut some expenses and sold some branches. Its parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, reported a $3.1 billion loss last year and is majority-owned by the British government.

Alemany, who as Citizens CEO also runs the American operations of British parent RBS, is one of the more prominent women in the banking industry. American Banker Magazine in 2011 named her the fifth-most powerful woman in U.S. banking, and she is known — in the edited words of Center for Discovery CEO Patrick Dollard — as a very "no-nonsense" person. (Dollard used a saltier term not quite fit for a family newspaper.)

"In her professional life, she's pretty famous worldwide," Dollard said as he introduced Alemany at the gala Tuesday. "In her personal life, well, she's pretty famous in this room."

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