Also taking home honorary Oscars at the fifth annual Governors Awards were Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin (who choked up during his acceptance speech), and Italian costume designer Piero Tosi, who was unable to attend.
"My family, my love, your love and support make everything possible," said a clearly emotional Jolie, 38, who attended the event with fiancé Brad Pitt and eldest son Maddox. "Mad, and your brothers and sisters, there is no greater honor than being your mom."
Marcheline Bertrand, who died of ovarian cancer in 2007, was never far from Jolie's mind on a night that honored the actress's humanitarian efforts with the UN Refugee Agency, Doctors Without Borders and Global Action for Children.
"My mom loved art," said the actress, who flew in from directing Unbroken in Australia. "She wanted for [brother James Haven] and I to have the life of an artist."
Jolie added, "She believed nothing would mean anything if you didn't lead a life that was of use to others."
Fred Prouser / Reuters / Landov
"Where does she find the time?" joked Rowlands when presenting to Jolie. "She has a family of about 20 and she keeps that smile on Brad Pitt's face."
Also attending the star-studded affair were Harrison Ford, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Stiller, Matthew McConaughey, and Emma Thompson, who had nothing but praise for Jolie.
"It comes from a very genuine place with Angie," Thompson told PEOPLE. "That is the important thing. She has been very good at keeping things in the headlines that would all to easily slip away."