Florence McIntyre

Women of Achievement

for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Florence McIntyre

The beloved Memphis College of Art Professor Emeritus, Burton Callicott wrote, “A pure truth throughout my years has never ceased to strike me with enormous force is that but for McIntyre’s zeal and initiative, there would be no Memphis College of Art in the city today. The seed which sprouted and grew into Memphis College of Art was planted by Florence McIntyre in 1914.”

Born in 1878 into a prominent Memphis family, Florence McIntyre dedicated her whole life to the making and teaching of art to mid-southerners no matter what the circumstances.

After her education in Memphis, Miss McIntyre studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, attended classes of William Merritt Chase in Philadelphia and spent several summers at the artist’s colony at Woodstock, NY. Her extensive travels brought her into contact with many artists and exhibitions.

In July 1914, she invited prominent women to organize the Memphis Art Association. The first exhibition was held at the Nineteenth Century Club in November of that year. Memphians got to see works of Ralph Blakelock, Winslow Homer, George Inness and other famous artists of the time. Memphians’ interest in art began to grow.

Mrs. Bessie Vance Brooks, Woman of Achievement for Heritage in 2014, donated money in memory of her husband Samuel Hamilton Brooks to build an art museum in Memphis. With no other funds available, the Memphis Art Association became the first support group for the Brooks Museum. Florence McIntyre with her broad experience and education was hired to be the first director and the first exhibition opened there July 10, 1916.

Life in the art world is often complicated and political. There developed a disagreement between one art patron who wanted a $50,000 memorial to her husband to be placed on the Parkway, while another patron objected to having it located opposite his home. Florence McIntyre was caught in the middle of the dispute, which resulted in Abe Goodman, the chairman of the Brooks Art Gallery, being replaced and Miss McIntyre resigning in 1922 after six years as the first Director of the museum.

McIntyre’s unemployment didn’t last long. Her childhood friend and neighbor, Rosa Lee, asked her to become the director of the Free Art School then meeting at the Nineteenth Century Club. The enrollment grew so fast Miss Lee deeded her house at 690 Adams to the city in 1929 and later purchased the Woodruff-Fontaine house and repeated her generosity. Later the stables of the two houses were joined together in 1931 to make room for more classes. The school came to be known as the James Lee Memorial Academy of Arts and the enrollment grew to 700 students.

Through McIntyre’s leadership the program of art offerings grew from drawing, painting and sculpture to include crafts: batiks, pottery, metal and jewelry work. Departments of design and interior decoration were added. The stable became home to the performing arts named The Stable Playhouse. The school became an important civic enterprise and many graduates went on to become well known artists around the nation.

In 1935 controversy returned. Miss McIntyre hired George and H. Amiard Oberteuffer, a husband-and-wife team from Philadelphia to teach. With them came a spirit of modernism that she could not control, and dissention arose. During this time Miss Rosa Lee died and the split grew. Burton Callicott who taught at the school said, “In the spring of 1936 a schism occurred. The split was totally vertical: the Oberteuffers and other teachers, some Board members and some of the students left and founded a new school, The Memphis Academy of Arts (now Memphis College of Art).”

In spite of this Miss McIntyre continued her school at the Lee House until 1942 when Robert Lee died and the support of the Lee family stopped. But that didn’t stop her dedication; she then moved her classes across the street to her own home and kept the school going for 20 more years until her death May 15, 1963 at age 84. She taught art for 40 years to more than 10,000 Mid–Southerners.

Callicott, who was part of those who left with the modernists, says Miss McIntyre never spoke to him again but he is emphatic that Florence McIntyre should be honored. Mr. Callicott said, “There should be a memorial to Florence McIntyre. For many years, Florence McIntyre was art in Memphis.”

Carolyn Gates

Women of Achievement

for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Carolyn Gates

Carolyn Gates grew up sewing for 4-H contests and pampering her pet cow in Geiger, Ala., population 72.

When she was 59 and the comfortable wife of a successful businessman, she ran for mayor of Shelby County, population 830,000.

She was the first woman to run for county mayor.

Why would she do such a thing?

She says, “I always tried to show that if you care enough, if you work hard enough, you can do almost anything. My mission became to encourage women to think in terms of what is possible for them. If I can do it, other women can too.”

The journey from 4-H sewing contestant to mayoral candidate curved first through the University of Alabama business school where she met her husband-to-be Jim Gates. She planned to return to college after they married but that got put off until the three children were all in school. The family had located to Memphis so Carolyn earned a psychology degree, one course at a time, at Memphis State, graduating with honors in 1975.

By then she had been a staunch Republican volunteer for 15 years. She served as precinct captain, area chairman, women’s chairman of the Republican Party of Shelby County and later president of the Republican Career Women. She was co-chair of Richard Nixon’s campaign in Shelby County both times he was elected, in 1968 and 1972. She was Shelby County campaign manager for Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.

She was her own contractor when she and Jim built their house in Germantown in the 1970s. “I was the quintessential volunteer – president of the PTA, president of the women of the church, a room mother. We were the family of the 50s, Ozzie and Harriet.”

But her eyes were opening.

“I saw so many areas where women should be serving and there were none, only men,” Carolyn says. “I found an amazing amount of skepticism about a woman, a wife and mother, running for public office.”

In 1977, when she first ran for Shelby County Commission, she recalls a “fairly typical” conversation with “one of our civic leaders.” After hearing Carolyn’s plan to run for office, he reared back in his chair, propped his feet on his desk, looked her in the eye with a benevolent smile and said, “Little lady, you are a nice, pretty little housewife. You’ve been happily married for 20 years. Now go back home where you belong.”

She was amazed that she was only the second woman to serve on the County Commission. Her husband got phone calls asking him to tell his “little woman” to do this or that. He firmly explained he didn’t vote on the county commission and his wife didn’t make real estate decisions.

After 17½ years on the county commission, including being the first woman to chair the budget committee and then the first woman to chair the commission, Carolyn ran for mayor in the primaries against fellow commissioner Jim Rout in 1994. Carolyn did well in early polling but suddenly plummeted into a two to one victory margin for Rout.

Carolyn was a founding member of the Salvation Army Auxiliary and of Youth Villages. She was chair of the Salvation Army Advisory board and the Memphis State National Alumni Association. She was appointed to the Defense Advisory Committee on the Status of Women and to the state Commission on the Status of Women. She is a life member of the Shelby County PTA who has hosted benefits and fundraisers for more than 50,000 people in her home in the past 25 years.

After nearly 18 years in the county commission, Carolyn worked in financial services and real estate and continued to contribute articles to local newspapers. She has often spoken in defense of women who focus on home and community instead of career but urges all women to participate fully in life.

For her lifetime of standing up, speaking up and participating fully in Shelby County life, Women of Achievement salutes Carolyn Gates. Carolyn remembers a visit to a family cemetery long, long ago.

Graves of the men were marked with reverent epitaphs of their success as teachers, preachers, leaders and heroes.
Graves of the women said “Dear Mother of George and two Daughters” or “Loving Wife of Henry.”

“I suppose it didn’t need to be spelled out for us that these, too, were heroic acts,’ Carolyn says. ‘These women gave birth to the babies, nurtured the living and buried the dead (but today’s women) must carry on the responsibilities of the past (and) also exploit the talents and special qualities that women carry within them…

“Will the epitaphs of these women who change the course of history read ‘Dear mother of George and two Daughters’ or “Loving Wife of Henry?” Maybe, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s noble. But there is much more. So very much more. I’m reminded of the proverb that says, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me’ I believe it!”

Phyllis Betts

Women of Achievement

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

Dr. Phyllis Betts

No matter which of her community hats Dr. Phyllis Betts may be wearing, she is forever and always vigilant to the rights and needs of women.

A sociologist by training, Phyllis has advocated for women consistently as associate director of the Center for Research on Women and as director of the Center for Community Building and Neighborhood Action at the University of Memphis.

Phyllis was a founder of the Memphis Area Women’s Council where she co-organized the initial action team to address domestic violence with a volunteer court watch. She is the Women’s Council’s leader on its Workforce Action Collaborative which is seeking to identify primary barriers keeping unemployed and underemployed women from good-paying jobs.

Thanks in large measure to Phyllis, the Operation: Safe Community initiative included domestic violence as one of its 15 key issues and action steps to address crime in our community. She says, “Many things that aren’t defined as women’s issues really are and if you strengthen and prepare women to deal with life issues, you’ve gone a long way to prepare our whole community.”

Her multi-layered connections in local grassroots community activism, politics and academia give her constant opportunities to speak up for women’s needs — and she always does. Her commitment is to always “drill down” into the data to find out what it really means to women and to find ways to address the root causes of circumstances that limit women’s equity.

Phyllis grew up in Springfield in central Illinois where state government is the main industry. She attended Southern Illinois University where she found her way into sociology because “it’s about everything and I can’t imagine not being able to think the way I think. Lots of perspectives are important in problem solving.”

With a bachelors’ degree in sociology from Southern Illinois, she completed a Master’s in sociology and then in 1978 earned her PhD from the University of Chicago where she concentrated on social inequality, social policy and urban sociology.

She taught sociology at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. She also founded and directed the UNC Asheville University Honors Program from 1985 to 1990 while also working as associate director of the undergraduate research program.

In 1990, she moved to the University of Memphis where she founded an undergraduate research program and directed the university honors program until 1995. Today, in addition to her research activities, she is associate professor in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy. She is a research fellow with the Urban Child Institute and chairs the Shelby County Infant Mortality Initiative Data Committee.

Her work with CROW focuses on poverty, welfare policy and workforce development for women. Unlike many traditional academics, she uses research to drive action – and it is that link that came to life with creation of the Memphis Area Women’s Council. Phyllis and others from CROW, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, the University of Tennessee and other activists created the not-for-profit Women’s Council with a mission to change local policy and practices by taking action based on data and research that explain the root causes of problems. The Women’s Council has organized a court watch of domestic violence cases, initiated a girls’ activism project called Girls for Change to address sexual harassment in schools, targeted barriers to good jobs for women through a Workforce Action Collaborative and fought to ban corporal punishment in city schools.

“It’s the rubber meeting the road issues that have always engaged me,” Phyllis says. “Women’s issues can be defined pretty narrowly at times – yet when you look at social and economic issues women are disproportionately affected. So much of what happens in society works its way through women’s lives.”

As long as Phyllis Betts is on watch, women’s rights and women’s needs will be at the table whether the immediate issue is violence, bankruptcy, neighborhood rebirth, poverty or jobs. Her vision of positive social change and problem solving – linking research with action – makes our community better for all.

Ashley Michele Sanders

Women of Achievement

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

Ashley Michele Sanders

Truly selfless, compassionate acts are rare indeed, but in an incident that occurred one afternoon in March 2007, so much human compassion was on display that one life was saved and at least two lives were changed forever.

The heroic story has been told and retold across the nation. On her way to Bible study at her Midtown church, Heather Mae Fox stopped at a drug store. As she approached the door she couldn’t help notice the upset young woman holding a baby. When she came back out minutes later, the woman still seemed in need and so Heather Fox offered to help. The offer later was to brand her a “Good Samaritan” by the news media and no one would argue with that.

Desperately clutching the child, the woman said she needed a ride to the library. Fox didn’t hesitate to unlock her car and let the woman get in her back seat with the baby and a carrier.

Soon, though, the ride turned into a carjacking. Pulling out a 40-caliber gun and still cradling the child in her arm, the woman barked at Fox to go to the nearest ATM. As she was directed into an unfamiliar neighborhood and away from traffic, Fox tried to figure out what to do. She didn’t want to wreck her car because of the baby. She also didn’t want to be a victim without trying to escape. She made a quick decision, braked and started to jump from the car to run away, but the young woman fired the gun. The bullet entered from behind the collarbone and exited Fox’s chest.

As she stumbled away, crying for help, she looked down to see that her blouse was drenched in blood. The carjacker meanwhile sped away, only to crash the car later and be captured.

As Heather Fox quickly lost blood, several bystanders hesitated to help her, apparently unwilling to come in contact with her blood. She felt herself in danger of dying. That’s when another Good Samaritan — and an honest-to-goodness hero — came to her aid.

Providentially, Ashley Sanders, a tall, no-nonsense inner-city teenager who loves sports and practices the art of peacemaking among her friends and acquaintances was nearby.

Armed only with the knowledge acquired by watching TV shows, she rolled up her hooded sweatshirt for a pillow to make Fox more comfortable, and immediately began applying pressure on the exit wound. She spoke reassuringly to Fox as she lost consciousness and kept pressure applied until emergency help arrived.

Later in the hospital, Heather Fox learned she had lost half of her blood and likely would have died but for Ashley’s quick actions.

As many of you know, this isn’t the end of the story. Heather Fox started a trust fund for Ashley, got more news coverage around the country and that led to a full scholarship to pharmacy school for Ashley. The two have become fast friends and both women say their lives have changed for the better. Heather Fox now views every day as a new gift from God. Ashley has had many first-time experiences, including her first rides in a taxi and on an airplane, but mainly she has learned that she is a capable young woman with a promising future.

“The media began calling me the Good Samaritan,” Fox says. “However, the Good Samaritan was an 18-year-old girl, Ashley Sanders, who heard the gunshot and came to my rescue.”

Two women of immense compassion, and one a model of true heroism — Ashley Michele Sanders.

Corinne Derenburger

Women of Achievement

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

Corinne Derenburger

In 1994, Corinne and Todd Derenburger’s third child, Ryan, was born. His birth was difficult. His umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. From the first, his mother knew something was wrong. It took a year of doctor’s visits for a diagnosis. His birth injuries had caused severe physical and mental disabilities including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and autism. A year after Ryan’s birth, a fifth child was born, and the entire family struggled to cope with Ryan’s conditions while maintaining as a normal family life as possible.

In February, 2003, Ryan received a terminal diagnosis. He was expected to live only until the end of the year.

Struggling with the news, Corrine wanted to do something to honor Ryan’s life and perpetuate his memory. After many tears and prayers, she knew she must do two things – first, keep a journal of this difficult time – and second, remembering her family’s nine years of coping on their own, start a support group for parents of children with non-specific severe disabilities.

The journal turned into the book, RAISING RYAN, which was published by Thanksgiving 2003.

The first support group meeting was held in September of that year at Christ the Rock Church. Word spread through email and word of mouth. Fifteen families came that first night, as well as teachers and friends. Because of their great need, people came to Collierville from as far away as West Memphis and Millington and Ryan’s Hope was born. The group incorporated and within 3 months had their 501(c)(3) status. Thankfully in 2007, against all odds, Ryan was still alive and Ryan’s Hope was going strong and Ryan’s Playground was underway.

What next? Respite and recreation.

Families with children with special needs live under tremendous stress. Ninety-five percent of these families are torn apart by divorce.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a place with universal accessibility where families could have fun together? Corrine and her family had looked everywhere, including Disneyland, and such a place didn’t exist.

Corrine and the board of Ryan’s Hope got busy and came up with an idea: Turn 132 acres of public land into a semi-private recreational complex. In May 2007, they presented a well-developed plan that included goals, facility descriptions, timelines, a communications plan, and a list of project team members. Best of all, the plan would use public land but privately raised funds. The Collierville Board of Aldermen was impressed. But on June 15th, angry neighbors swarmed a meeting to protest the project and it was put on hold.

But Corrine didn’t give up. Soon other communities were clamoring to become home for the Ranch.

Corrine’s dream has always been for Ryan’s Hope, Ryan’s Playground and Ryan’s Ranch to be models for other facilities and the dream is becoming a reality. There are already two programs in Tennessee, one in Oklahoma, and two that are underway in Mississippi. And Ryan’s Hope is partnering with six other groups to have one here.

Corrine is now working with Mayor Wharton’s Sustainable Shelby Committee, introducing the idea that truly integrated communities are universally accessible communities. She talks about the need for adult changing tables and other things most of us have never even considered. And she’s also getting ready to run for public office.

On December 22, 2008, Ryan’s Hope has its fifth birthday. And thanks to the courage of Corrine Derenburger, we’re on our way to becoming an accessible community.

Corinne Derenburger and her family relocated to New Orleans but continue to support development of recreational facilities for handicapped children and their families.


Corinne Derenburger continues to work for the Ryan’s Hope.

Rebecca Jane Edwards

Women of Achievement

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

Rebecca Jane Edwards

After a decade of being told “black audiences won’t support the arts” and “Memphis arts supporters aren’t interested in attending diverse performances,” Rebecca Edwards got tired of hearing these things and established the Cultural Development Foundation of Memphis. For more than seven years, the CDFM has been bringing a culturally diverse range of performances to culturally diverse audiences that mirror the rainbow that is Memphis.

Rebecca Edwards was born loving music. In the mid-seventies, she joined the band at Sherwood and began playing the clarinet. Now — usually clarinets play harmony but Rebecca has always been determined to go her own way and consistently, over the objections of her band director, she played the melody. Finally the poor man gave up and added the phrase, “Ms. Edwards, your solo, please,” to his standard conductor’s spiel.

Rebecca continued on her own path in the Wooddale High School band. It being the late 70s with integration still fairly new, the band director decided that rather than rank the four African-American clarinetists, he’d name them all to fourth chair. Still dissatisfied with playing harmony, Rebecca insisted upon being given the opportunity to move to a higher chair — second, home of the clarinet melody!

It was in high school that Rebecca was introduced to theatre. Wooddale’s truant officer came to Greek Club looking not for truants but for volunteers to usher at the Orpheum. Rebecca went and for the first time experienced professional theatre. She was so caught up in the music of My Fair Lady that she missed the plot. She volunteered for the next few shows so that she could absorb everything about the play! During her junior year at Christian Brothers College, her English lit professor required the class to see The Emperor Jones at Circuit Playhouse. For the first time, Rebecca saw a theatre production with a black protagonist. She was amazed. In the late 80s, after entering the corporate world, her regional manager insisted that she see the first Memphis production of Cats. She loved it.

Having spent lots of money for an up-close seat and parking, not having a date, and remembering that ushers see the show for free, she embarked on her life as a volunteer usher.

She’d see shows over and over, always thrilled. But she grew increasingly aware of the lack of diversity in audience and productions. She mentioned this regularly to many theatre types and was consistently told that African-Americans wouldn’t pay to see the arts and that typical Memphis audiences (European-American sorts) weren’t interested in seeing diversity on stage. After years of unsuccessfully trying to convince local companies to do something, she took on the mission herself and formed the Cultural Development Foundation of Memphis.

The first show was Sing, Sister, Sing. It was a big hit. But immediately she started receiving calls from educators saying, “What about the kids? They need art, too.” And so, knowing from personal experience that this is true and that art is a cultural bridge, she decided to make sure that every Cultural Development production would include student performances.

Since 2000, CDFM has presented over 65 performances seen by over 67,000 people. Half have been young people under the age of 18. Rebecca’s dream is for CDFM to have 1,000 subscribers and to get a big NEA grant. CDFM is currently planning “Breaking Bread; Breaking Barriers,” which seeks to pair families of different cultural heritage to share a meal together and then attend a performance. With Rebecca’s determination, we’re sure that this next arts bridge will be built.


Rebecca Edwards is now the Executive Director of Cultural Arts For Everyone (CAFE), a presenting arts organization with a reputation of presenting high-quality, diverse programming that educate, entertain, and engage students, new audiences, and underserved communities.

Ruth Lomo

Women of Achievement

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

Ruth Lomo

From her birthplace in Sudan, to her adopted home in Memphis, Ruth Lomo has taken the initiative to use her gifts and skills to improve the lives of the women and children around her.

Ruth was born in Sudan in 1970. Coming from a family that understood the value of education, she attended high school and then had the unusual opportunity to participate in vocational training. She considered the three options, looked around, recognized a need and enrolled in the carpentry program, where she was the only woman.

In 1993, during Ruth’s 23rd year, violence erupted between the Sudanese government and rebel forces. Fearing for their lives, Ruth took her own five children, her sister’s six children and one other child and walked for five days to the border with Zaire. From there they crossed into Uganda where they reached the relative safety of a refugee camp. In 1995, her homeland still unsafe, Ruth searched for other options for herself and the children. Discovering better opportunities and services, they journeyed to another camp in Kenya.

The intent of refugee camps is to provide housing on a short-term basis, but due to the on-going violence in Sudan, Ruth’s family stayed six years, until 2001 when their situation was evaluated by the United Nations. Clearly it was not safe to return to their home, so Ruth and the children came to the United States under the auspices of the Associated Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program.

Arriving in Memphis, she and the children were provided with a social worker and a place to live. She found work as a carpenter and quickly learned to use the power tools now available to her.

Shorty after getting settled, she managed to enroll all the children in her care into parochial schools. Having had little opportunity for education in the camps and speaking little English, they were nonetheless placed in grades more equivalent with their age than their level of learning. Recognizing this, Ruth found them tutors through a program at Second Presbyterian Church. Seeing the difference this made in the lives of her own children, she started arranging tutoring for other refugee children.

Fluent in several languages, Ruth also helped other women from Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia learn the skills they needed in their new home – how to drive, enroll in English language classes, navigate a new culture, help their children succeed in school.

Ruth’s experiences had given her a clear vision of what women needed – an organization to support and teach refugees how to advocate for themselves and their children. She created the International Community of Refugee Women and Children out of her own dogged determination that it needed to exist, and with support from organizations such as Catholic Charities, the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers and her own church community.

Eventually Ruth left the carpentry business to create her own home-cleaning business. She still devotes much of her time to the ICRWC, continuing to oversee the organization’s after-school tutoring program for children.

Each morning Ruth takes her children to school, does home cleaning in the day and industrial cleaning at night. Four afternoons a week, she goes to the tutoring center to babysit so that mothers can attend English classes. She gets home at midnight or later and then gets up the next day and does it all again.

She continues to network with other refugee coalitions in other areas, learning and sharing with other women what she has learned. The refugee women in Ruth’s program wanted to tell us about Ruth. Using their growing English skills, they spoke with shining eyes and they had a lot to say. They described her as a mother, a sister.

“You meet her and you feel like you’ve always known her. She talks with us about everything and she takes care of us. We can always find her and she can always find us.”

“She’s lovely. I’m standing with her forever.”

Ruth Lomo is building new lives for her family and for many others. She is in every way a Woman of Achievement for Initiative.