Ruby Bright

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

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

Ruby Bright

Ruby learned early in life that if she could imagine something, she could make it happen.

As a teenager growing up in Byhalia, Mississippi, Ruby took a walk with her father one Saturday afternoon and was saddened to see poor chidden in her community whose toys were sticks, tin cans and old car tires. She told her father: “I wish we could build a park for them.”

His response: “Why don’t you? You can do anything you want to do.” He offered her a small piece of land he owned for a park.

Many children hear “you can do anything you want to do” from parents and teachers. Some act on it. Many would look at an overgrown lot and think “that’s too big for me.” Not Ruby. She acted on her father’s encouragement with the energy and optimism that she has brought to projects through her career.

Ruby went to church the next morning and found others who would join her. Within a few months, the community had a new park built on the donated land with $5,000 in contributions.

Ruby was sensitive to the children in her community and envisioned a park. She made it a reality. Now she knew that she could truly change the world — or at least her part of it. She combines her vision with passion and practicality. And she excels.

When she got a job at a printing company, she learned everything about it and became its executive director. When she volunteered for Junior Achievement, the organization recognized her value, and hired her.

When she applied to become executive director of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, the board chose her from among 90 candidates across the country. The organization was just five years old then, and searching for its fourth top executive. Each of the first three directors led the organization to another level of accomplishment. Now it was time to find the woman who would lead for the long-term.

“We wanted a visionary director and also somebody who could churn it out day-to-day because an organization can’t run on vision alone,” board member Debbie Binswanger told a reporter after Ruby completed her first year.

The board members found what they wanted. Ruby marks her fifth year with the Women’s Foundation this summer, and the organization marks its 10th anniversary of making Memphis a better place for women and their children.

Most recently Ruby has put her vision for women into action by co-founding the Memphis Area Women’s Council, a new non-profit dedicated to changing policy to open opportunities for women.

We asked her what factor contributed to her success in so many areas — from teenage community volunteer, to printing company executive, to president of Junior Achievement of Middle America. “I’ve always been the one who says, “Why do we have to do it that way?” “ What if we could do this?” she said. “At Junior Achievement, they called me ‘the Why Lady’. ”

As Ruby and the Women’s Foundation look to the future, count on her to keep asking ‘why’ and to accomplish even more for women and their children.

Since 1996, WFGM has awarded $6.6 million to 395 programs, supporting more than 30 local non-profits each year with grant awards of over $600,000. Stated in 2009, the Women’s Foundation Legends Award was created to pay tribute to innovative women whose work embodies the mission of the women’s foundation.

Mildred Schwartz

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

STEADFASTNESS
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Mildred Schwartz

Mildred Salomon Schwartz has led her life intentionally and actively involved in the community, business, religion, golf and most of all, her friends and family.

Her life began in tiny Newellton, Louisiana, where her family was one of six Jewish families in the town. When her father died, her mother brought her children to Memphis, opened a dry goods store and lived upstairs.

When her mother died in 1934, 14-year-old Mildred and her brother were sent to live with aunts and uncles here. She married Max Schwartz, her brother’s best friend, in 1939. When he was drafted in World War II, she took over his traveling sales business, hawking women’s dresses for Forrest City Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis. She was the only woman “salesman’’ among a staff of 30 and had the advantage of being able to wear and model the line! She drove the region, hauling bags of dresses, for three years, until Max returned.

Her list of “firsts” is significant. Mildred was elected president of Temple Israel’s board, the first woman to take that seat in 135 years. She is the role model for subsequent women presidents.

Mildred was president of the Volunteer Center, the Memphis Volunteer Placement Program, the Memphis Area Women’s Golf Association, the Plough Towers board of directors and the Memphis Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. Her skills as a trainer sent her throughout the country conducting leadership training for the National Council of Jewish Women. She chaired the Communitywide Board Training Institute and taught management and leadership at Memphis State University and Shelby State Community College.

She also became adept in fundraising and chaired the women’s division of the United Jewish Appeal three times!

One of her most important and least known accomplishments came about as she served on the Tennessee Day Care Standards Committee. As an outgrowth of research done by the National Council of Jewish Women into day care conditions, she knew that conditions in many child care centers were abysmal, including many operated by churches. Mildred pressed for and won on the issue of state licensing of church-based day care centers. This regulation caused many to raise their standards of health and safety for young children.

When a car accident in 2000 resulted in five surgeries on her leg, she persisted in her president’s duties for Plough Towers, dragging her cast along with determined good spirits.

Today she continues to serve the boards of Temple Israel and Plough Towers.

A special role she takes on, with her trademark calm and light-handed teaching style, is assisting 13 year old boys and girls, as a mentor for Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations, a Jewish rite of passage.

Mildred has suffered many losses in recent years, but she has never lost her faith or her active concern for her community. Even at age 86, she left the Women of Achievement awards event, award in hand, to get back to the 25th anniversary dinner at Plough Towers which she co-chaired.

With our thanks for her steadfast love and service to family and
community, Mildred Schwartz is honored for a lifetime of achievement.

Elizabeth Avery Meriwether and Lide Smith Meriwether

Elizabeth Avery Meriwether
Lide Smith Meriwether
WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Elizabeth Avery Meriwether and Lide Smith Meriwether

Elizabeth Avery Meriwether and her sister-in-law Lide Meriwether were pioneering champions for voting privileges for women in Memphis, in Tennessee, and nationally. Fortunately, they both had supportive husbands—Minor L. Meriwether, an attorney and brother Niles, the Memphis city engineer. The two Meriwether families lived in a single home on Peabody Avenue while Elizabeth and Lide went forth to work for temperance and women’s rights.

Elizabeth Avery Meriwether started advocating full equality for women long before such an idea was acceptable. Before their wedding on January 1, 1850, she and Minor signed a marriage contract agreeing to share and invest equally. In 1872, when Elizabeth read that Susan B. Anthony had been arrested, tried and fined for attempting to vote in Rochester, New York, she announced that she intended to vote in Memphis at the next election. “If I am arrested for that crime, she said, “I shall be glad to share Miss Anthony’s cell.” But when Elizabeth walked into the Fifth Ward polling place, she was handed a ballot, filled it out, and dropped it in the ballot box.

Afterward, she was never certain why she was not opposed but concluded that the poll workers probably did not count her vote anyway.

That same year, she founded her own newspaper, The Tablet. Every issue promoted votes for women. She used her own money to rent The Memphis Theatre, largest in town, and on May 5, 1876, flouting all rules of “ladylike” decorum, delivered a public address on women’s rights. More than 500 women attended. Next day, the Memphis Appeal reported that “Mrs. Meriwether has proven a worthy advocate of her sex. She was interrupted frequently with bursts of applause.” Not long after that she led a delegation of women appearing before the Memphis School Board to demand that in the name of justice, women and men teachers be paid the same salaries. They were unsuccessful, but the seeds of the idea that women should have equal economic opportunities had been planted.

During the 1880s, Elizabeth Avery Meriwether’s scope became national. She traveled with Susan B. Anthony, advocating votes for women in speeches from Connecticut to Texas. After she and her family moved to St. Louis in 1883, she continued her campaigning and pleading the cause before three national presidential nominating conventions.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, her sister-in-law had assumed the leadership role in the suffrage crusade.

Originally the editor of a literary journal for genteel females, Lide Smith Meriwether had championed the “rescue of fallen women” by taking prostitutes into her home and training them for other occupations.

A vigorous advocate for the temperance cause, her efforts as a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to organize Southern black women resulted in the formation of black WCTU groups in several Tennessee communities.

In 1886, the National Woman Suffrage Association employed Lide to lecture and organize groups in the state of Tennessee. She mounted an intensive campaign and in two weeks visited most sizable towns and helped organize fledgling Equal Rights clubs in Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, Greenville, and Murfreesboro. Lide organized a Woman Suffrage League in Memphis and was elected president. Later, in the 1890s, she was elected to several terms as president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association and became their “Honorary President for Life” in 1900. Lide Meriwether, representing Tennessee, joined women from 27 other states in Washington in 1892 to testify before a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing on woman suffrage.

Though they never stopped working all of their days for women’s enfranchisement, neither Lide Smith Meriwether, who died in 1913 at the age of 84, nor Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, who was 92 when she died in 1917, lived to see their dreams fulfilled. But the great victory won by a later generation of suffragists in Nashville in 1920 was built in no small part on a strong foundation created by the ground-breaking efforts of Tennessee’s crusading Meriwether sisters-in-law.

Pat Morgan

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

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

Pat Morgan

In the Memphis area, 6,000 homeless men, women and children are fed and sheltered from local service agencies. We see them on the streets and at intersections wearing ragged dirty clothes that look as if they’ve been slept in. We fear contact with them, thinking they’ll ask us for a handout or worse yet, try to rob us. We don’t want shelters or services in our neighborhoods and organize against them to keep the homeless off “our” streets. We fail to make eye-contact, much less stop to listen to their stories. Pat Morgan, Executive Director of Partners for the Homeless, is a woman with the courage to both listen and act on their behalf.

Pat’s story starts the typical way; a Donna Reed Mom whose marriage falters transforms into the single mother of three, struggling to keep things afloat. Pat was working as a real estate broker when she volunteered to help two hours per week at the Downtown Church Association’s Food Pantry. From there she moved to the Street Ministry and the work became her passion. She listened to stories of untreated addiction, abuse and mental illness and realized that what is needed is a “continuum of care.”  She attended more meetings and became more active. When a friend told her that for someone so smart she was ignorant, she went back to school. She graduated from Rhodes College in 1991, at age 51.

Long active in the Democratic party, she believed that the solutions to homelessness are political. After graduation she interned in Al Gore’s office then survived on a variety of temp jobs. When Clinton announced for president, she quit her job to join the campaign. “Pat’s Excellent Adventure” included time on the bus in New Hampshire and tromping through snow with much younger campaign workers. She became co-director of the Washington Operations Office.

After the election she was appointed Program Analyst at the U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless. Working closely with Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Special Needs Programs, Pat brought her experiences in front-line service delivery to the table. She spent 6 ½ years working with the White House Domestic Policy Council.

In 1999, Pat returned to Memphis to be closer to her family. She became Executive Director for Partners for the Homeless, a public-private partnership begun in 1995. The group’s mission is to coordinate, develop and implement solutions for homelessness in Memphis and Shelby County. She is now working with representatives from 55 organizations to create a holistic intervention program targeting 20,000 at-risk households. She has secured $5 million from HUD for local Continuum of Care applications. She serves on the state council for creating a plan to end homelessness in Tennessee.

Though she now works primarily in program development, policy and service delivery, Pat has not forgotten the people she met through Calvary’s Street Ministry. She still goes out at 12:30 am looking for people sleeping on the street. She knows their names and histories. She asks questions and really listens to their stories. “I’ve only been mugged twice,” she says, “and not by the homeless.”

It takes courage to walk into the broken lives of these men, women and children and work for holistic solution. Pat Morgan has the passion and the courage to do just that.

Pat Morgan retired in 2011 and published a memoir in 2014 titled The Concrete Killing Fields: One Woman’s Battle to Break the Cycle of Homelessness.

Rosalyn Nichols

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

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

Rev. Rosalyn Nichols

In March 1998, Rev. Rosalyn Nichols attended the third funeral of a
childhood friend, killed by what she calls “relational violence.” She delivered the eulogy, and then asked herself “What can I do to prevent this from happening again?”

Her answer was action — first through Sisters4Life, a small group of women who united after loss of their friend Rosmari Pleasure, shot to death by an ex-boyfriend.

In the years since organizing the first Rosmari Pleasure Memorial 5K Walk/Run, Rosalyn has made domestic violence her singular cause within her service as a pastor.

She organized and leads A More Excellent Way, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on ending domestic violence. Local crime statistics confirm the need – more than 11 percent of homicide cases last year were domestically related. Domestic violence counselors estimate only 1 in 10 cases of assault is ever reported.

“At the heart of it, we have to change the way some people think about how to live in love,” Rosalyn, 41, says. “This ‘break up to make up, that’s all we do’ mentality has to go. We have to change attitudes before we can change behavior.”

Rosalyn attended Booker T. Washington High School and LeMoyne-Owen College where she graduated cum laude with a major in biology. She earned her Master of Divinity summa cum laude in 1996 from Memphis Theological Seminary. After a turn as visiting professor at a seminary in Zimbabwe, Rosalyn joined Metropolitan Baptist Church as associate pastor.

She served there for five years before turning her attention full time to A More Excellent Way. Her mission is to promote and encourage loving, healthy relationships in the home, school, workplace, neighborhood and places of worship toward the elimination of violence.

She says, “We want to teach men and women what healthy relationships look like, to make good, stable marriages a functional, acceptable cultural norm.”

The original 5K race has grown into a full weekend called Love4Life dedicated to domestic violence awareness. On the second weekend in November, it includes the 5K run, a conference, a memorial service for families of slain victims and a Sunday “prayer and praise’’ service. Another program of AWay Inc. is called the Circle of Courage which provides training and resources on domestic violence for churches and other faith-based communities. And Love Talks is a study program being developed for high school and college students with a pilot program in place at Booker T. Washington High School.

In 2001, Rosalyn founded at her dining room table with eight other people a ministry that became Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church. In May 2004, she earned her Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond and moved her church into its first worship center. Freedom’s Chapel has grown to about 50 members and has celebrated 15 baptisms of adults and children. “The church and AWay Inc. share the space,” Rosalyn says. “Both are very interested in relationship building and both are faithful to a vision.”

Rosalyn Nichols turned her grief and dismay into action and is determined each day to teach Memphis to love without hitting, without hurting, without violence.

For that work, despite inertia, apathy and ignorance around her, Rosalyn Nichols is the 2005 Woman of Achievement for Determination.

Kathy Kastan

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

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

Kathy Kastan

At 40, Kathy Kastan was happy, healthy and fit, as far as anyone could tell.

The physician’s wife and mother of three sons in Cordova was avid about exercise — running, biking, swimming and weight lifting. She had no family history or health factors that connected to heart disease.

But something was wrong. Shortness of breath and shoulder pain she attributed to the stress of the move to Memphis and her mother’s death. But then on a bike trip with friends, she became nauseous and pain flowed down her shoulder and arm. The first cardiologist diagnosed mitral valve prolapse and prescribed antibiotics, but exercise continued to cause shoulder pain and going up and down steps was difficult.

On a hiking vacation in Colorado she collapsed with classic chest pain that radiated from her jaw to her back. A second cardiologist ran tests but could not find the problem . “Go exercise,’’ he said. Four days later she collapsed again. Treatments either failed or caused other complications so that eight months later, at age 42, Kathy had double bypass surgery. Her third cardiologist provided proper medication.

“I had gone from a woman with symptoms after exercise to popping nitroglycerin like candy,’’ Kathy said. “Now I have a normal, busy life. I exercise four to five days a week.’’

Her search for good care for herself led her to WomenHeart, the
15,000-member national coalition for women with heart disease, and to
leadership in the cause of women and heart health. Based in Washington, DC, WomenHeart is the only advocacy group for women with heart disease. “WomenHeart got me someplace. They virtually got my life back,” she says. She now serves as president.

In February 2005, Kathy stepped into an international spotlight in a full-color advertising campaign that shows her, in an open white blouse, revealing the sternum-length scar she calls her badge of courage.’’

Kathy has become an indefatigable advocate for women’s health. She has met with President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, speaks at community and political forums and encourages medical students and doctors to care for women differently.

Kathy grew up, daughter of a physician, in the San Francisco Bay area. She earned her bachelor’s and two graduate degrees at Washington University in St. Louis and was a practicing psychotherapist for 14 years.

Six years ago, she and her husband Michael moved from Baltimore to Memphis where Michael is director of the St. Jude Cancer Center at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Now her photograph and her story are in The Wall Street Journal, Smart Money and women’s magazines across the nation. “This shouldn’t have happened to her,’’ the ad says.” Ignorance almost killed her.’’

She is excited about calls she’s had from local women who saw a news story about the scar photograph. She hopes they can be organized into a local support group for women with heart disease.

“It’s the number one killer,’’ Kathy says. “And it can happen to you.”

Kathy’s heroic efforts will go far towards saving women’s lives by building awareness of this unseen killer.

Mahaffey White

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

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

Mahaffey White

Throughout her 90 plus years, Mahaffey White has used her initiative to move through a variety of artistic careers. Dress designer, art teacher, jewelry maker, photographer – who knows what’s next? Her journey has taken her from Memphis to Chicago to New York City and back again.

Born in 1911 in Corinth, Mississippi, Mahaffey soon moved to Memphis with her family. She always knew that she wanted to be involved in art. Her mother made the family’s clothes. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Mahaffey was designing and making her own clothes before she was out of elementary school. “I intended to become a dress designer,” she says. Later she did just that.

After high school graduation, she was accepted by the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago and spent 1929 taking classes. The Great Depression ended her studies and she returned to Memphis where she remained four years.

But Mahaffey never intended to stay. On her 24th birthday, with $100 from her mother, she arrived in New York City to pursue her dreams. Living at the YWCA, she held a variety of temporary jobs. She finally ended up at Henri Bendel’s where she worked sewing clothes for Paris models. After several seasons she moved to Butterwick Patterns, where she became an assistant designer. After learning all she could, she went out on her own. Working from home she created one-of-a-kind garments for women. Her dream of being a dress designer had come true.

Meanwhile on the home front, Mahaffey meet another Memphis transplant, Richard White. They married in 1938 and went on to have two sons.

After 16 years in New York, Richard was offered a job in Memphis and the family returned home.

In her 50s, Mahaffey re-entered school. She completed her degree from Memphis College of Art in 1968, with a major in jewelry making and sculpture.

Mahaffey wanted to teach but needed a master’s degree. At the time, there was no local advanced art degree so she obtained a Master’s in Continuing Education from Memphis State. She was hired by Shelby State where she helped develop an arts curriculum. She retired in 1981 at the mandatory age of 70.

From the time she received her first degree from Memphis College of Art, through the first decade of “retirement,” Mahaffey made jewelry and sculptures. She had several shows, including one at the Memphis Craft Artist Association and at the Brooks Museum of Art.

In 1991, at the age of 80, she took a photography course. Taught by her friend Patricia Leachman, the class inspired Mahaffey to focus her artistic efforts on learning photography.

“Don’t ask me to take your picture,” she says. “I’m not a real photographer.” Be that as it may, her prints have been exhibited at Christian Brothers University, the Cooper-Young gallery, and the Abington Square show in New York. She is represented by the Durden gallery in Memphis and the Southside Gallery in Oxford, Mississippi.

Future plans include more work in color photography and perhaps a return to jewelry making.

 

Mahaffey died at age 104 in May 2012.