Lucille DeVore Tucker

Lucille DeVore Tucker (left)
Women of Achievement
1999

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Lucille DeVore Tucker

Lucille DeVore Tucker discovered what was to become the passion of her life on a visit to friends in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1946.

The Girls Club of Bethlehem, a new affiliate of Girls Clubs of America, was the focus of her friends’ volunteer efforts. A visit there inspired her to return home to Memphis and begin a project that would eventually enrich the lives of more than 150,000 girls, and still counting.

She encouraged others to support this new project designed to change the lives of girls in Memphis. Girls Club of Memphis, which is now Girls Inc., was opened later that same year.

Throughout the club’s many changes, Lucille Tucker was always there, supporting the staff and girls with her time, talent and fundraising efforts. Even after she stepped down as president in 1964, she remained active and involved until her death in 1983.

She often mentioned the blessing that people missed by being concerned about color rather than hearts and minds, and she shared this philosophy with girls her entire life. She regularly shared her home with girls who needed a temporary place to stay and connected them to jobs and education.

She worked with New York Life Insurance Company for more than 50 years, and was so respected and loved that the top executives of the company flew to Memphis for her retirement party in 1971.

At the party, it was announced that the Girls’ Club center at Seventh and Keel was to be named the Lucille DeVore Tucker Center, in honor of a woman whose accomplishments have continued to enrich the lives of girls for more than 50 years.

Carlotta Stewart Watson

Women of Achievement
1999

STEADFASTNESS
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Carlotta Stewart Watson

Carlotta Stewart Watson devoted her life to making a positive impact on children, particularly those she called “the forgotten students.”

Her 98 years have been marked by significant accomplishments including becoming the first woman of color certified as a guidance counselor in the Memphis City Schools where she served for 54 years. With a bachelor’s degree in education from LeMoyne-Owen College, she earned a master’s degree in education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and traveled to South America, Africa and Europe “to increase my ability to serve more effectively.”

She escorted high school and college students to Atlantic City in the 1940s for employment opportunities so they could gain work experience and money needed to fund their education. In the 1950s she launched the first job clinic/job fair for students, which later became known as Career Day. In the 1960s she established the Carlotta Stewart Scholarship Fund to help deserving students.

Carlotta played a significant role in the fundraising to purchase the first site for a branch YWCA in 1942 as well as the second site in 1962. She has served the YWCA in a variety of leadership positions. She also founded the first Basileus of Alpha Eta Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority in 1939. She later helped open the organization’s Stork’s Nest Center, a project with the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation seeking to provide assistance to women and their babies. Her volunteerism also extends to working at WDIA, helping to link community members with agencies to meet their needs, and playing the role of “Aunt Carrie,” giving advice to young people. She is an active member of Mt. Pisgah CME Church where the fellowship hall is named for her. For the past 15 years, she has read newspapers and books on Memphis Public Library radio.

In February 1999, she received the first Comforter Award from the Tennessee Black Heritage Celebration for a person who embodies dedication to the uplifting of the minds and spirit of young people.

Carlotta’s steadfast goal has been “to remain on the ‘stage’ until ‘the last curtain call’ while striving to keep involved in activities … that will make me worthy of being loved, respected – and not alone.”

Carlotta is 104 this year and continues to attend community events.

Frances Grant Loring

Women of Achievement
1999

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Frances Grant Loring

Frances Grant Loring was born with deep roots in the Memphis community and a heart committed to making it better.

She has consistently chosen to do the unexpected when it will serve to further literacy, adult education, civil rights, racial and religious justice, and the empowerment of women and minorities.

She is a 12th-generation American and a 6th generation Memphian who lives on and manages Frayser property that has been in her family since 1823. She earned her law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1944 and came home to be a lawyer when that was still a rare move for a woman.

This was during the Crump era when women were not expected to become involved in civic matters. Frances practiced with the firm of Snowden, Davis, Brown, McCloy and Donelson through 1949.

She then ventured in a new direction. She joined a religious order and studied in Cenacle Houses in New York, Chicago and Rome. She took her final vows in Rome in 1957. From 1952 through 1966, Mother Frances worked in counseling and continuing education in various American and Canadian cities.

In 1967 to 1968, she was an assistant to the president of Saint Xavier College in Chicago where she earned an M.A. in theology in 1967.

Returning to Memphis, she was assistant professor and chairman of the theology department at Christian Brothers College from 1968 to 1972. She also has consulted various denominations on adult education and the humanities. She wrote several published studies and manuals on adult education and justice and taught at Memphis Theological Seminary. She is a founding member of the Association of Women Attorneys – who named their leadership award for her and pioneering attorney Marion Griffin – the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women, Network of Memphis and the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association.

Frances has served on dozens of local and national boards providing leadership to women and girls throughout her life, including the National Board of Managers of Church Women United and its task force on multinational corporations; the speakers bureau of Women for Memphis; Health and Welfare Planning Council (forerunner of United Way); Planning and Program Committee of Family Service of Memphis and the YWCA.

Frances Grant Loring brought her compassionate understanding of human nature and commitment to justice to decades of service for community change. Steadily since the 1970s, being a lawyer has been her work, but serving others has been her passion. She believes in the inherent dignity and worth of all persons, striving in every way to open doors and improve opportunity for all, particularly women and girls.

Sandra Harrison

Women of Achievement
1999

HEROISM
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:

Sandra Harrison

Sandra Harrison was illiterate.

She was 46, but she could not decipher a utility bill, or choose a greeting card for a friend, or read a simple paragraph in a newspaper story.

Typically, people who cannot read will make their way in society as best they can, hiding their secret. Some take classes at the many literacy councils in the area. Some go on to get their general equivalency diploma (GED) and enroll in adult basic education classes.

Sandra Harrison was different. She decided to go back to school.

In 1996, she entered second grade at Drummonds Elementary School and began her education with 7-year-old children. With loving support from a dear friend and a fine teacher, she set out determined to learn to read and write.

She swallowed her pride, not only to get the education she needed, but also to prevent others from being illiterate. She told the story of her struggle on the front page of The Commercial Appeal. To her classmates, she said, “I can’t read. I come up the hard way. I don’t want you to go through what I did, the way that I was brought up. I want to be able to read, and be with you, and do things like you do.’’

Sandra’s family were Tipton County sharecroppers. She, her brothers and sisters – 11 of them – got to go to school when it rained. Otherwise the family worked the cotton fields.

In the 1950s and 1960s in rural Tipton County, no one thought to test Sandra for a learning disability. No one noticed or helped as she fell behind in her schoolwork, so Sandra began a lifetime of pretending and getting by. At last, a teacher said, “You can’t learn.’’

Sandra married at 16 and nearly 30 years later, her caring husband, W.H. ‘Bug’ Harrison, encouraged her to accept friend Inez Miller’s offer of reading lessons. After a year of grammar, spelling and phonics, Inez paired Sandra with veteran second-grade teacher Mable Jefferson. She became “Miss Sandra,’’ drilling with flash cards and reading from piles of picture books alongside youngsters with missing teeth.

“I love them books,’’ she told The Commercial Appeal. “I get excited about them books.’’

Years after a school system failed her, Sandra Harrison bravely risked humiliation and disappointment in her drive to change her life by learning to read and write. She bravely shared her story, in her community, at church and in the newspaper, to offer an example of hope and strength to others.

Sandra Harrison studied for four years and then stopped to tend to an ill family member.

Susan Mackenzie

Women of Achievement
1999

COURAGE
for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Susan Mackenzie

An attorney in private practice for more than 13 years, Susan Mackenzie is an out lesbian who has worked both within the justice system and outside the system as a political activist to change legal and social structures that deny the rights of lesbian and gay citizens.

Susan has merged her legal skills with activism, working for equal rights for women, lesbians, gay men as well as others victimized, deprived and overlooked by society.

Susan is often called on as a spokesperson for a feminist perspective on numerous issues.

She has never shied away from disclosing personal aspects of her life in order to further the political rights of women. She has spoken out as a survivor of child sexual abuse and has never hidden the fact that she is a lesbian.

She is a survivor in all its senses.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while her dad was in graduate school, she grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. She graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1983 with a double major in psychology and criminal justice administration. She earned her law degree from Memphis State University Law School in 1986.

Susan has successfully represented lesbian and gay parents being denied their parental rights because of anti-gay stereotypes. In another focus of her practice, Susan assists gay and lesbian couples in protecting their relationships through wills, powers of attorney and co-parenting agreements – legal documents that are unnecessary for those allowed to marry.

She was a member of the team of attorneys that represented the plaintiffs in the successful challenges to the constitutionality of the Tennessee sodomy statue which criminalized private homosexual activity between consenting adults. This law was declared unconstitutional in 1996.

Susan brings her feminist philosophy to litigation as a Rule 31 certified mediator. She is a former national board member for both the National Organization for Women and the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association.

Susan’s courage is reflected in her daily struggles for equality whether in the courtroom or on the streets. In the face of opposing forces, even those whose anger is disruptive and violent, she is able to maintain her voice of reason.

Bert P. Wolff

Women of Achievement
1999

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Bert P. Wolff

Bert Prosterman Wolff has been a strong advocate of public education and quality education for all.

The first of her four children was born the year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was no longer acceptable. She remembers vividly the day, less than six years later, when a half dozen African-American children entered Avon School surrounded by patrolling police and some angry, vocal citizens.

“After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, I was even more determined to help Memphis City Schools become as good as they could become for all of our children,” Bert said.

As the NAACP and school officials negotiated desegregation, starting with “Plan A,” Bert and others created and staffed a Rumor Control Center, supported by and housed in the Chamber of Commerce, to initiate networking groups to calm and educate the community with facts, not rumors. She was a volunteer guidance counselor at Carver High, and a member of the Panel of American Women, Better Schools Committee and the integrated Frances Hooks book club for women.

In 1979, she ran for and won school board Position 2, at-large, a citywide race. From 1980 to 1984, the community was again polarized over desegregation, school prayer and family-life curriculum. As board president in 1983, she was a leader in negotiations of policy changes necessary to initiate the final steps of “Plan Z” so that neighborhood schools could begin to be reinstated after the city’s desegregation struggle. She found little support in the white power structure; her friends, Congressional delegation, and City Council and County Commission members urged her to oppose the last step to integrate Memphis City Schools. She would, they said, lose her re-election if she supported Plan Z.

Finally, after months of meetings and comments from parents, teachers, lawyers and staff, the board met at 5 p.m. and voted at 1:25 a.m. Four voted yes, four voted no. “As president, I cast the final and deciding vote – the tie breaker – to integrate. All hell broke lose … I had to be escorted home.”

For the next eight months, Bert received hate mail, bomb threats, obscene phone calls nightly from 2 to 5 a.m. And she lost her bid for a second term. “Was it worth it? Would I do it again? Absolutely.”

Bert was founding executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of West Tennessee from 1975 to 1983 and brought it to national recognition. From 1990 to 1993 she served Opera Memphis as executive director. In her seven years at the Memphis Botanic Garden, Bert held positions including foundation director and assistant director before her retirement in 2001.

She is a charter member of the Panel of American Women, founding member of Network of Memphis and has served on the boards of the Wolf River Conservancy, Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, Temple Israel, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the State Commission on Women.