Georgia Patton Washington

Women of Achievement

for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Dr. Georgia Patton Washington

Georgia Esther Lee Patton was born into slavery in 1864 in middle Tennessee. Her father died before she was born leaving her mother to care for her and her siblings. She worked as a laundress for 14 years until her death in 1880.

Somehow, despite limited opportunities, Georgia managed to complete high school, the only one of her family to do so. Then her siblings saved money to help her attend Central Tennessee College (now Fisk University) in Nashville where she graduated in 1890. Two and a half years later, she completed a medical degree at Meharry Medical College as one of two female graduates.

This daughter of slaves, a gifted student who had worked long hours to earn money to pay for her medical education, next scraped together funds to pay for a missionary trip to Africa! And who should be in the other berth on her trip across the Atlantic but Ida B. Wells-Barnett, heading to England to launch an anti-lynching campaign.

Georgia sailed on to Monrovia, Liberia. She began seeing patients. In a letter to her medical school dean, she wrote: “On examining my first case, remarks made by the natives were: ‘Patients in his condition never get well; we always expect them to die.’ After careful treatment and watching for two months he was able to leave his bed, and finally went to his work.” Her medical work was apparently exhausting and after two years, she returned to the United States, having herself contracted tuberculosis.

She opened a medical practice in Memphis. Her practice became “large and lucrative,” according to her medical school dean, G. W. Hubbard. She became the first black woman to receive both physician’s and surgeon’s licenses from the state of Tennessee.

She became well established among Memphis’s sizeable community of black middle class professionals. One of the most prominent was David W. Washington who had in 1874 become the first black letter carrier in the Memphis Post Office Department. He amassed a fortune in real estate. He was 12 years older than his bride. The two married in December 1897. In 1899 she gave birth to a son, Willie Patton Washington, who died soon after his birth.

Georgia was deeply involved as a volunteer in her church and community – and she also became known for her philanthropy, particularly with the Freedmen’s Aid Society. Her devotion to donating $10 in gold every month earned her the nickname “Gold Lady.”

She also was clearly a feminist. When the Freedmen’s letter of thanks was addressed “Dear Brother” she responded plainly: “I am not a brother… Say Sister next time.”

Five months later – after three years of marriage and only four months after giving birth to her second son – Dr. Georgia Patton Washington died, having never really regained her health due to the tuberculosis.

She was 36. Her baby son died soon after. Both are buried in Zion Cemetery, established by ex-slaves in 1867 on South Parkway East.

Dr. Georgia Patton Washington blazed the way for women of color in medicine, rising from slavery to care for patients as the first female African American physician and surgeon in Tennessee. We honor her tonight as a Woman of Achievement who still enriches our lives and whose story inspires us to push past any obstacle of birth, background or circumstance to become all we can become.

Yvonne B. Acey

Women of Achievement

for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Yvonne B. Acey

Yvonne Acey’s path to a career in education, community service and social justice began in the cotton fields of Mississippi with nine siblings. It was from those fields that her parents were determined to help their children rise.

Some of the children commuted from their Walls, Mississippi, home to Memphis schools. In third grade, Yvonne left home to live with an aunt and uncle here in the city in order to go to school at Florida Elementary and then Booker T. Washington. “You get homesick and lonesome,” Yvonne said, “but you learn to survive. We wanted opportunity.”

The schools were still segregated at that time, but still the opportunities were greater in Memphis than in Mississippi.

She had Girls Scouts, church choir and youth groups – and she took advantage of it all to grow and learn leadership locally and beyond. At Booker T. she served the student council, career club, senior yearbook staff and won an academic scholarship to LeMoyne Owen College.

Her community leadership continued at LeMoyne – clubs, NAACP, student council, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and camp counselor working at St. Jude. She majored in humanities and English. She started teaching and entered graduate school at Memphis State thanks to a stipend in special education and rehabilitation. She went on to earn more than 90 credits toward a PhD.

Limited finances inhibited her idea of going to law school and the stipends that came her way were for education. Many teachers had made a difference in her life – and she was honored to march with one she calls the greatest teacher – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

She marched during the Sanitation Strike and was part of Women on the Move. Yvonne said, “Instead of being just a participant of change, we became dreamers and actors of change. . . to make a difference in humanity.” She attended King’s funeral in Atlanta and continued to be involved with voter registration right on through Bill Clinton’s campaign and his inauguration.
She has taught for Memphis City Schools for more than 35 years, shifting last fall to special projects for MCS. She has long been a leader within the Memphis Education Association, serving in many positions including president from 1986 to 1988.

Back in the late 1980s, as the Memphis in May International Festival was beginning, Yvonne and her husband David saw a vacuum related to culture and history of African-Americans. They began to work with a committee to involve the African American community in celebrating the experience and culture, developing esteem and recognizing ethnicity and contributions to Memphis, America and the world. From there came African in April Cultural Awareness Festival which last April saluted Senegal during its 25th outing in Robert R. Church Park.

Next month, April 18-22, the 26th annual festival will salute Republic of Mali. Africa in April showcases African countries’ culture, cuisine, demographics, economics, arts, crafts, education, history, music, entrepreneurs and international relationships.

It grew from some African drumming in City Hall Plaza to a schedule of events, theme days, an international marketplace and entertainers with a $2.5 million impact on tourism. All events except the entrepreneurs’ luncheon are free and open to the public. Eighteen artists have been commissioned to create original posters saluting the honored countries.

The Aceys work year-round to attract corporate sponsors, assistance from state and local arts councils – it’s a constant problem and effort keeping the festival alive. Until the early 1990s, they relied on their own funds.

Recently AT&T, Arts Memphis, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Nike, FedEx and others have provided support. Africa in April has garnered recognition from both local mayors, the Tennessee General Assembly and even a call of support from President Obama. As associate director, Yvonne develops program ideas and manages press and schedules with a few part-time staff, volunteers and her husband as executive director.

Her steadfast attention to service is summed up in a quote she repeats by Jessie Jackson: “We realize we are all wrapped up in the garment of humanity and what happens to one happens to all.” For her steadfast commitment to education, community service and social justice, we honor Yvonne Acey as a 2012 Woman of Achievement for Steadfastness.

Beverly Greene Bond

Women of Achievement

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

Beverly Greene Bond

History is central to a society. History interprets how a society operates and defines the role of people within that society. By looking at how the past has led to the present, history is a means of assessing and even possibly shaping the future.

Dr. Beverly Bond has been a leader in advancing both of those roles for history and for women. Her research and writing exploring the ways 19th century African American women negotiated the boundaries of race, class and gender have led to a new appreciation of the contributions and challenges of women of color in Southern and national society. Her work contributes to the recognition of how women approached and affected social and public policy from their perspectives and on their own terms. Building on that understanding, her current work addresses how women can be leaders in creating positive change for social justice.

The second of five children, Beverly Bond grew up in the 1950s in a strong family with a strong sense of community. Sputnik circled the skies so math and science were encouraged as majors but when she started at Memphis State University in 1963, she remembered her Hamilton High School history teachers Rev. Suggs and Rev. Hawkins. She took a class from the inspirational Marcus Orr and, loving the stories, knew that history was the field for her.

Her family valued education. Her parents quit high school during World War II to marry and raise a family. Later, both parents obtained GEDs and her mother went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from LeMoyne-Owen. The day Beverly obtained her own Bachelor’s was the day her mother received a Master’s. With several teachers in the family, Beverly joined the family profession. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Memphis, she taught high school history for 14 years in New Jersey and 11 years in Germantown.

Beverly began her academic career in world civilization. She moved to American history, African-American history, and then focused on the history of African-American women. When she started doing research for her dissertation, she was told there was no information on the topics she wanted to explore. But she remembered growing up in a community supported by neighborhood civic clubs and church groups run by women. Time to go to the polls? The civic club would get out the vote. A death in the community? People would organize to go door to door collecting for flowers. There were social clubs, bridge clubs, and children’s clubs, all requiring various levels of organization. Beverly was sure there must be information somewhere. She started to search. The results can be found in her books, book chapters, journal articles and even encyclopedia articles.

Beverly’s impact goes beyond being a thinker and writer. Dr. Bond is a “doer” through her impact as an exceptional teacher affecting future generations. A recipient of 14 local, state and regional teaching awards, her book Memphis in Black and White, coauthored by Women of Achievement honoree Dr. Janann Sherman, was selected as Best Book on Memphis History in 2004 by the Memphis Historical Society. In 2009, she co-edited Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times, with Sarah Wilkerson Freeman. She is now working on volume two. After that, she plans to complete Claiming My Self: African American Women in Memphis, Tennessee, 1820s-early 1900s, in which she will examine what it meant for women to go from slavery to freedom while exploring the meaning of “self.”

Reciting a list of her books and awards, though, does not fully express Dr. Bond’s accomplishments. In the best sense of effective history, Dr. Bond’s recognition and documentation of the role of women as political actors and movers in the advance of civil rights in the United States have contributed to the template for advocacy for women’s rights today. Moreover, she lives what she teaches, contributing to the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and serving as an advisor to the Center for Research on Women and the Benjamin Hooks Institute for Social Change.

Beverly Greene Bond’s vision has contributed to our knowledge of women in our community and expanded our vision of what our shared futures might be.

Summer Owens

Women of Achievement

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

Summer Owens

Summer Owens’ childhood ended when she got pregnant on her 15th birthday.

Rather than become a silent statistic of poverty and ignorance, though, she has become a voice of warning and encouragement to young people everywhere. She tells her story in public speeches, on television and in the book she wrote and published titled Life after Birth: A Memoir of Survival and Success as a Teenage Mother.

The story begins with an encounter with an older guy in her hometown of Bolivar. They were fooling around. She was a virgin, a sophomore in high school. No adult in her world had ever talked to her about sex or the consequences of sexual activity. She let him touch her. He went further. What happened didn’t even feel to her like completed sex.

Four weeks later she went to a health clinic to get checked for STDs and tests showed she was pregnant. “Nobody ever talked to me which is why I talk now to girls – and boys – because it seems it is difficult for parents to talk,” Summer says.

With younger siblings at home and a stepfather with whom she had conflict, Summer moved in with her grandmother in Jackson. After her baby boy Jaylan was born, Summer was out of school for six weeks. When she went back to class at Jackson Central-Merry High School she had to catch up in chemistry, French and geometry while studying the current six weeks’ material.

Her grandmother, then 75 years old, helped with the baby. Her typical routine: Up at 5 to prepare Jaylan’s bottles. Off to school and then to after-school student government, Beta Club and yearbook meetings. Home to tend the baby and do some homework. Off to Arby’s to work as a cashier. Return home to tend the baby. Drop into bed around midnight. Repeat. She soon added a weekend job as hostess at Waffle House because, as she learned, babies cost a lot.

Her hard work and intelligence paid off! She graduated eighth in her class of about 300 and was elected Most Likely to Succeed! When she won an Emerging Leaders Scholarship to the University of Memphis, she left Jaylan with her grandmother and moved on campus for her freshman year, going home every weekend. Jaylan sometimes visited in the dorm and went to class with Summer. He learned his numbers and letters sitting in class.

In her sophomore year, Summer rented an apartment and found daycare for Jaylan. Roommate, faculty secretaries, even program directors helped with Jaylan when she wasn’t there. In 2001, Summer was named Miss University of Memphis – based on campus and community involvement and academic achievement. She graduated with a marketing major, magna cum laude.

That’s when Summer went to work in ticket sales for the Memphis Grizzlies. She pursued a master’s in business administration from Bellhaven University while rising to the position of marketing manager for the Grizzlies. She worked 70 to 80 hours a week, saved money and bought her first house in Bartlett.
In 2006, she joined ServiceMaster as a marketing manager and in 2007 joined the marketing staff at FedEx Corp where she today holds the position of senior marketing specialist.

Over the years, Summer’s friends wanted to know how she managed to accomplish so much when so many teen moms don’t. The questions led to her self-published memoir, which she began promoting on Facebook. Requests for speaking engagements soon rolled in from youth groups, school groups, even college. Now she has a website, publishes an online newsletter and volunteers as a mentor through Memphis City Schools.

Summer is the mother of a 17-year-old, now, and offers clear guidance to adults and teens: “It is our responsibility to love, nurture and educate our youth so that they can make responsible choices with regard to their sexual behavior,” she says. “We do live in a world where girls and boys are having sex, and they need to know (that) if this is the choice you make, these are the consequences.”

In her website and her presentations – from Frayser to Texas to Kentucky, from Channel 3 Live at Nine to CNN – Summer Owens urges parents to talk to children about pre-marital sex, teach them about making good choices. And she urges teens who have become parents to make their lives the best they can be, heroically using her own story of pregnancy and hard work to warn, guide and motivate today’s teens.

We thank her with the 2012 Women of Achievement award for Heroism.

Vanessa Luellen

Women of Achievement

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

Vanessa Luellen

Vanessa Luellen’s neighborhood was being taken over by drug dealers, vandals and prostitutes. Vanessa experienced that and knew someone had to do something about it.

Vanessa knows the troubles on the streets well – she has had two sons in prison, one for murder. She was raised right, but she says, “I was a hard-headed child. I had the best parents. My parents prayed for me and told me right from wrong. But when I got grown, I chose the path I went down. I lived the street life.” In 1992, she herself briefly served time on drug-related charges. The day before her arrest, she prayed to God for help. Of her time in jail she says, “It gave me time to get my life together. That’s where God spoke to me and let me know it was time to get it right.” She has stayed clean ever since.

In 1999, she bought her current home on Pope Street in the Mitchell Heights neighborhood. Originally valued at $55,000, the home’s value dropped to considerably. As property values were declining, so was the neighborhood. Property owners lost their homes and those homes became the property of absentee landlords and the county and city. Grass grew up and trash marred the neighborhood.

As unemployment rose, there were an increasing number of young men out of work and out on the streets with nothing productive to do. There was more drinking, more drugs, more fights. And you couldn’t sleep for the gunfire. In December 2004, her cousin was staying with her, trying to get his life back together. He was shot near her home because of an argument that took place months earlier and he died before she could get there. It was this violent death that lead her to start walking the streets of Mitchell Heights, meeting neighbors and talking about their mutual concerns. Vanessa Luellen made sense and the neighbors listened.

She revived the old Mitchell Heights Neighborhood Association. She has spoken to mayors and City Council meetings and code enforcement and police officials. She photographs vacant buildings and pushes for repairs by absent owners. She recalls a meeting with Mayor Wharton, who walked through the neighborhood with her despite the rain. She’s very persuasive and that very day, crews were there to cut the grass and bushes on the vacant lots. In 2009, she organized a Christmas parade, a first in the area’s history.

And most telling of all perhaps — the Perfect Grocery, where alcohol and cigarettes were sold to minors and drugs were available to anyone with the money, was closed down by law officials. It reopened as All Good Grocery with new owners who marched in the parade and joined the association. Those owners are still trying to do the right thing.

There are still young men out there looking for work and with little to do, but now they know her. She says 75% of them want to work but can’t find jobs because of their records, which Vanessa says is a problem. She treats them with respect and when she sees them engaging in inappropriate behavior, she’ll tell them “you gotta move that on down.” She provides encouragement and hope for the future.

The challenges and the work continue. Now Mitchell Heights is joining with Brinkley Heights, Highland Heights, Grahamwood Heights and several other groups. The new Corner of the Heights hopes that together they can move all of their neighborhoods forward. It may take a long time and a whole lot of work, but Vanessa Luellen believes that effort and consistency will make it happen. She says, “It’s a struggle, but Glory Be to God.”

Vanessa Luellen’s courage has allowed her to confront the negative forces at work in her neighborhood, forces that have the potential to be vicious when their terrain is policed. Her willingness to offer leadership, to work vigorously with law enforcement and political leaders, shows a strong spirit, true grit, an ability to use her own bad choices to rebuild her community. Vanessa’s work earns recognition by Women of Achievement.


In 2018, Governor Bill Haslam granted Luellen a pardon for her 1984 conviction of fraudulent breach of trust and her 1992 conviction of facilitating the sale of a controlled substance for her exceptional positive contributions to her community.

Carolyn Chism Hardy

Women of Achievement

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

Carolyn Chism Hardy

Even before she decided to rescue one of Memphis’s iconic employers, Carolyn Hardy had accomplished a stellar corporate career. She’s been called “a hero to Memphians of both genders.”

The seventh of 16 children, she learned to be smart with money as a little girl, 5 years old, going shopping for her mom in Orange Mound. She made a game out of getting the most, the bets deals for her money.

A confessed introvert and bookworm, Carolyn rarely spoke in class at Melrose High and concentrated on her studies. She read her way through a neighbor’s home library, especially loving the books about places she wanted to see. She graduated a year early and applied to Memphis State. Her family pulled money together to help pay tuition, Carolyn lived at home and served food to patients at Baptist Hospital from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week.

She was briefly attracted to the study of law – but review of pay scales showed that didn’t make sense. She majored in accounting and graduated at age 20!

Her family has a heritage of entrepreneurship from beauty shops to plumbing companies to grocery stores – 25 major businesses locally and across the country over several generations. Among the best known is Chism Trail supermarkets.

Carolyn started in jams and jellies. She graduated and immediately went to work at the J. M. Smucker Co., managing finance, quality and human resources. She quickly proved to be a natural efficiency expert – quiet, observant and ready to look again and again and to calculate the numbers.

During this time she earned her MBA from Memphis State. Starting in 1994, for five years she led the facility as the first African American female plant manager – a first for any major jam and jelly company. At Smucker’s, her facility boasted the lowest cost, highest quality and great employee satisfaction. In 1999, she became vice president of services, responsible for national software implementations, for Honeywell-POMS Corporation.
In 2001, she made brewing industry history when she joined Coors Brewing Company as its first female general manager/vice president.

When Molson-Coors decided to close the Memphis plant in Hickory Hill in 2005, Carolyn Hardy and a silent partner bought it for $9 million – preserving more than 200 jobs. It was far from easy – the big banks weren’t used to women and minorities borrowing that kind of money, even with her considerable assets. She was directed to contact “hard money lenders” who charge a high interest rate for providing investment funds.

“It was the hardest time in my life,” Carolyn has said. “I was trying to keep jobs in Memphis. The stress of starting a business is tremendous, more than even I expected. . . There were many people who were convinced that I could not pull this off.”

But she was determined. She had watched manufacturing in Memphis go away, leaving warehouse jobs with less pay, no benefits, no health care and no 401k plans. “Somebody’s got to do something,” she said. “I wanted to keep the facility here and use my skills to grow a business that women and minorities could be proud of.”

Carolyn became the first African American female in the nation to own a major brewery. Hardy Bottling Company had the capacity to manufacture more than 100 million cases of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages annually. The company began bottling for a couple of clients and worked their way to “a profitable position.”

Then came the tornado.

That evening in February 2008 she was in a meeting at the plant. As darkness descended around 5 p.m. she moved people into her hallway where she could hear her team pounding on a door urging her to get downstairs. As they got to their storm shelter, the funnel hit – taking off the roof and hitting grain silos, but no one was killed.

Faced with $50 million in damages – far higher than insurance limits – Carolyn was advised to cut her losses and relocate.

But she was determined to fight for the jobs of her employees. She rebuilt, persevering past a shifty contractor who liked to call her “little lady” to one who was able to get the facility up and running within 90 days. She kept it going for 115 employees, doing contract packaging for non-alcoholic drinks. She looked for ways to restart it as a brewery – and Carolyn doesn’t even drink beer!

For months she talked with a major beer company – who also called her “little lady” and yelled at her to sign. She refused.

In late January 2011, she visited Wisconsin to talk with City Brewing. She told them how she had been disrespected and that she could not sell her company to anyone who did not respect women and minorities. She negotiated with City Brewing and in May, Carolyn Hardy sold her property, plant and equipment to City Brewing of Memphis for $30 million.

The deal at the plant, now called Blues City Brewing, will create more than 500 jobs by 2016. Carolyn stayed on board as a consultant for a year – until next month. She pitched into press state senators to rewrite an anti-liquor bill to protect the 500 jobs. And she strategized with our mayors, senators and Southwest Community College for a new training program to prepare local workers for manufacturing jobs.

Carolyn continues to run Chism Hardy Enterprises focusing on commercial real estate development and leasing for intermodal business, following the expansion of railroads.

With eight other executive women, Carolyn is a founding member of Philanthropic Black Women whose mission is to support women and girls’ programs targeted at self-sufficiency.

But her proudest work, she says, is the impact her Chism Hardy Company has had on many lives – her three children, her employees. Carolyn Hardy was determination to preserve manufacturing jobs in her native city. Women of Achievement salutes her for the strength, resolve and plain hard work that she has given to our community.


The Boy Scouts of America, Chickasaw Council, honored Carolyn Hardy with the 2019 Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award. She became the first African American and woman to receive that coveted award.

Lisa K. Jennings

Women of Achievement

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

Dr. Lisa Jennings

Lisa Jennings is that rare individual who is both an internationally known researcher and teacher and also a highly successful entrepreneur and founder of two businesses: Ariste Medical and CirQuest Labs.

She started on this path as a child, reading articles in the World Book Encyclopedia and finding herself drawn to the ones on science. In the sixth grade, she traveled with her family in Kingsport to take her older sister to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee. In the college bookstore, Lisa found herself in the biology section reading a purple book about cells. Her parents actually bought it for her. Lisa’s interest in science continued through high school, where her science projects won prizes and funded a large part of her undergraduate schooling at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she majored in botany and developed an interest in cell plant cell biology. She and her husband then moved to Memphis so that he could attend medical school. They’ve been here ever since.

After getting a Masters in Cell Biology at the University of Memphis, Lisa did research for her doctoral degree at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s Biochemistry Department and at the University of California’s Gladstone Foundation Laboratories in San Francisco. She received her PhD in Biochemistry from UTHSC in Memphis.

In 1985, she joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee Memphis and established a competitive research laboratory. In 1999, Lisa initiated the Vascular Biology Program at UTHSC and became its first director. In 2001 the center was awarded the highly competitive Center of Excellence status, granted to programs designed to spearhead new research efforts, pull faculty together across disciplines and establish collaborative working relationships. The success of the program resulted in increased funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and others.

Collaboration may be one of Lisa Jennings’ favorite words.

In 1999-2000, she founded and became director of TAM, the Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi Cardiovascular Research Consortium for cardiologists . The purpose of the group is to be an avenue to allow area cardiologists working in collaboration with the UT Vascular Biology Center to provide the most current therapies for their patients, through access to clinical trials.

In 2007 Lisa formed Ariste Medical, a biotech company whose mission is to develop drug delivery medical implant systems that will reduce infections and scar tissue formation resulting in better outcomes for patients. Patents are pending and operations should start this year.

In 2008 Lisa founded CirQuest Lab. The doors opened in 2009. A life science service company, CirQuest guides researchers and pharmaceutical and device companies through the rigorous preclinical and clinical phases of clinical trials on the road to successful commercialization. Highly collaborative, the group does such things as locate sites, put together screening questionnaires, conducts site visits and assist or oversee trials. Though located in Memphis, CirQuest Lab has clients throughout the United States and overseas.

Lisa was the first PhD to receive a tenured faculty appointment in UTHSC’s Department of Medicine and the first woman designated director of a multidisciplinary research program. She now holds joint appointments in the departments of Molecular Science, Biomedical Engineering and Surgery. Known internationally for her role in vascular biology research, she serves as a mentor to both medical students and graduate students.

When asked about how she evolved from researcher to entrepreneur, Lisa says that she’s always been interested in translating research results into application. There are people who research well and people who run trials well – but these are not necessarily the same people. She wanted to help bridge those gaps and has found ways to do so. She’d spent 25 years working with industry, sitting on advisory boards, and when she decided to go into business, she found a mentor to serve as her business coach. She jumped right in and learned to think like a CEO. She now has friends whose parents have benefited from her work and says that it is rewarding, when something you were involved in a saved life.

Lisa Jennings took the initiative to translate her love of science into businesses that save lives and for that we honor her.