Women of Achievement
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:
Donna Sue Shannon
Donna Sue Shannon grew up in a neighborhood off Third Street and began a lifelong association with the YWCA as a Y Teen at Lauderdale School. Always a strong speaker, one year she outsold all but one child in the national Y Teens’ annual potato chip fundraiser. Excellent grades and leadership won her a scholarship to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where she became president of the college YWCA chapter.
A year short of graduation, she married, became a “Marine wife” with two children and began work as a realtor in Cherry Point, N.C.
Back in Memphis, as a single mother fully responsible for her family, she earned two degrees from the communications department of Memphis State University. Donna Sue began a teaching affiliation with the university that continued for a quarter of a century.
Donna Sue learned of the Rearing Children of Goodwill program organized by the National Council of Christians and Jews. It was 1968. Church women, black and white, read and studied and talked together. In the midst of the program, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis. “I was in the place God wanted me to be,” Donna Sue says, “in a learning, studying environment with black and white women. It was my life and it was my world.”
She joined the Panel of American Women to work for improved race relations by fostering personal relationships and social interactions between black and white women. She spoke for the panel throughout the city. Donna Sue and her children endured harassment and intimidation from their neighbors, but her commitment to inclusivity and diversity blossomed and grew.
Donna Sue was able to put that commitment most concretely to work as the first director of training and development for Memphis Light Gas & Water in 1979. Hired when the utility was under a court order to change personnel practices, Donna Sue was directed to “centralize, standardize and formalize all training for all employees.” Translation: She had to change everything.
In a little more than five years, she built a training department and created workshops and intensive programs that would identify and nurture potential supervisors and managers among women and minority employees. Translation: She caught a lot of heat.
But the MLGW work continues to be her proudest career achievement. “I believe what was needed was someone who had the vision and the impetus to remedy some past problems … I believed that we needed civil rights and affirmative action.”
Her vision led her into active work with Church Women United, Network and the board of the Transition House for Women. As YWCA president in 1991, she instituted a strategic planning process that focused the agency on the mission – and vision – that Donna Sue believes and lives: to empower women and their families.
Donna Sue Shannon passed away on July 8, 2022.