Veronica Coleman-Davis

Women of Achievement
1994

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Veronica Coleman-Davis

Veronica Coleman is a woman of “firsts” who has carved a wide path through Shelby County’s legal community and right into America’s history books. Along the way, she has worked to identify crime’s root and to foster programs to slow its growth.

Born in Washington, D.C. Ronnie’s family moved to Brooklyn when she was still a baby. In 1956 her father opened an insurance company in Ghana. Ronnie lived in Africa during her junior high years, but in 1959 she was sent back to a Pennsylvania boarding school and spent summers with her parents in Africa.

She graduated from Howard University, moved to Memphis with her husband and graduated from Memphis State University Law School in 1975 — while raising three sons. She first practiced law as an assistant public defender for the city and then for the county. Then, inspired to practice as a private defense attorney, she and two friends formed Memphis’ first all-female law firm — Coleman, Sorak and Williams. Next, she was appointed to serve as an assistant in the District Attorney General’s office where she remained for three years. Then this varied legal career took another turn, this time into the academic arena as assistant to the president and legal counsel for Dr. Thomas Carpenter at Memphis State.

After a year and a half, Ronnie returned to litigation as senior attorney for Federal Express Corp. But soon came another twist in the path — and in 1989 she was appointed referee of Juvenile Court, the first woman on that bench in 25 years. When she ran for district attorney in 1990, she said, “Most people did not feel that a woman should lead a law enforcement agency. In 1990 I thought I was born too soon. But obviously my perspective has changed. Clearly, I was born at just the right time.”

Ronnie’s path through the law reached its highest point so far last year when she was appointed by President Clinton as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee — the first woman and the first black person to hold that post in the United States. U.S. District Judge Odell Horton extended the oath of office in October. “We are witnessing,” Horton said, “a unique and important event in our lies, in the life of the court, life of the judiciary, city, county and nation.”

Ronnie is past president of the local Chapter of the National Bar Association, founding president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, Memphis chapter, and active in Leadership Memphis, Goals for Memphis, and more. During her tenure as president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, she initiated in 1984 the first volunteer mentoring program for teenage mothers.

Ronnie has said, “People call women a minority and women are not a minority. Once the public realizes that women are capable of being leaders, there are no limits to what women can do in government or in the private sector.”

Thom Thi Bach

Women of Achievement
1988

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Thom Thi Bach

In 1977 Thom Thi Bach left Vietnam in a boat. She fled her country with 10 children, one of whom was only 12 months old. After four days and nights in a boat, the family landed in Malaysia where they spent seven long months in a refugee camp. At the camp, U.S. Catholic Charities found her and helped her come to the United States in 1978. Her husband could not get out of Vietnam; he died there several years later.

In Saigon she had been a professional egg roll maker, a skill she was taught by her mother. As she searched for a way to support her family in Memphis, she seized upon those homemade Vietnamese egg rolls and proceeded to turn them out in her kitchen.

The Health Department twice declared the egg rolls illegal, however, on technical grounds. Thom Bach, still struggling to comprehend English, sat through hearings on her right to make egg rolls and said to a reporter at one point: “I ask you where you get license for Vietnamese egg rolls, but nobody can tell me.” Finally, Health officials ruled that she could make her egg rolls in any commercial kitchen, but not at home, and she began to make them in local restaurants.

In 1982 she opened the Indochina Care at 2146 Young Street, specializing in Vietnamese food, including the egg rolls. She operates the restaurant with the help of her children — the older ones waiting tables and doing homework between orders, and younger ones playing on the floor behind the counter.

Necessity — to flee Communism and to seek a better future — made her family into “boat people. Initiative — the determination to make a good life — made her a Memphis businesswoman, restaurant owner and, above all else, an independent woman.

Following a fire in 1990, Thom relocated and opened Minh Chau Asian Foods at 1324 Madison. She continues to work to help friends and relatives leave refugee camps to start new lives

Dorothy Gunther Pugh

Women of Achievement
1987

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Dorothy Gunther Pugh

In 1977 young dancers in Shelby County had almost no opportunities to perform. Luckily for them, a broadly trained dancer and highly talented instructor named Dorothy Gunther Pugh noticed.

She envisioned a professional ballet group created principally for young dancers whom she would instruct. She founded Memphis Youth Concert Ballet and gave the company’s first performance before a small audience at Hutchison School. From that first budget of about $4,700, Youth Concert Ballet has grown to an operation of $85,000 a year that performs original choreography regularly at The Orpheum. The company has performed at the Memphis in May International Sunset Symphony and on national television. Thousands of public and private school children are enriched by the young dancers’ performances.

To reach beyond ballet’s elitist image, Dorothy created a scholarship fund for minority dancers. Last year the company was judged to be an “intern company” by the prestigious Southeast Regional Ballet Association.

As she celebrates its 10th anniversary, Dorothy’s is the largest ballet company in town. The company’s new name — Memphis Concert Ballet — relinquishes the word “youth” and reflects her readiness to extend her work beyond the high school years.

Dorothy Pugh epitomizes the woman of initiative who seized the opportunity to use her talents and create her own future, and in so doing has provided creative stimulus, artistic quality and enrichment, not only for her dancers but also for the arts community of Memphis.

Eunice Carruthers

Women of Achievement
1986

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Eunice Carruthers

As one of the 12 children in her family in Arlington, Tennessee, Eunice Carruthers made hats for dolls and decorated her own head with bows, flowers and ribbons. She carried that childhood interest into her adult life and began her career as hat maker when she made her own first hat to wear to church. Friends were so impressed that soon she was receiving calls for the handmade hats, and Unis Originals came into begin.

From working nights and weekends at home, she went on to enter a partnership — Carsala’s Boutique — and then went into business on her own with Unis of Memphis in 1965. Business was so good that Unis expanded to a new location in 1970.

But hats were not the only business of Eunice Carruthers. In 1955 she graduated from LeMoyne College and began a demanding, distinguished career in the education of handicapped children — including teaching, instructor evaluation and vocational placement.

Eunice retired from her teaching career, but still continues with her first love, the making of hats. Her life exemplifies her belief that “no black woman who has ever dared to dream great dreams, and who was willing to pay the price, will fail to realize that dream.”

Eunice is chairperson of the National Organ Transplant Fund and still sells designer hats but no longer creates them.

Judy Peiser

Women of Achievement
1985

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Judy Peiser

Judy Peiser is co-founder and executive director of the Center for Southern Folklore, a nonprofit multimedia corporation that produces films, records and books documenting the rapidly disappearing folk traditions in the Southern United States. The Center has produced 15 films, two slide shows, two record albums, four travelling exhibits and two books (to date).

Judy has secure grants from approximately 50 local, regional and national organizations, has presented the Center’s work to more than 100 interested groups across the country and has been the recipient of more than 50 national and international film awards. Her most recent project has been the development of a cultural plan for the renaissance of Memphis’ historic Beale Street.

In addition, she and the Center have opened the restored Old Daisy Theater on Beale “as a beginning of a folk life museum that will include everything from cooking demonstrations to multimedia exhibits.”

In its 1984 Register, Esquire magazine named Judy as one of the young people who is “changing America.”

 

The Center moved in August, 1993 to the former Lansky’s Clothing Store building at Beale and Second, where visitation tripled. An expanding catalog and gift shop are major revenue sources. Judy hosts both television and radio shows on Southern heritage and produces the annual Memphis Music and Heritage Festival downtown.