Esteemed Community Leaders Reflect on their Careers
“Hard work.” “Service.” “Integrity.” “Honesty.” “Passion. “Risk-taking.”
These are the words that pop up when you talk to five retiring leaders in Chattanooga about what’s truly important in life. And they are also the values that inspire hundreds of civil servants to work tirelessly—often without recognition—to make our city a better place for future generations to live and work.
Leaving a Legacy
The following five leaders may be saying “goodbye” to their current titles, but they’re certainly not saying goodbye to their convictions, hard-earned values, or commitment to our city. Their wisdom is priceless, and their stories serve as models of what it means to spend a lifetime faithfully serving others. Looking at their well-spent lives, we’re left with a question of our own: what do we want our own legacies to be?
It’s never too late to make a difference.
By Frances Haman-Prewitt & Marcia Swearingen
Gary Davis | 40 Years, Chattanooga Division Vice President, Coca-Cola Bottling Company United
It’s the classic tale of “climbing the ladder.” Gary Davis started at the bottom, and somewhat to his own surprise, worked his way up to division vice president in the Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
A Chattanooga native and an alumnus of the McCallie School, Davis began his career at Coca-Cola in-between studying at Furman University—he worked summers as a general laborer at the plant. Nearing graduation, he sent a letter to the manager of the plant asking for a job, and was “stunned” and pleased to receive a positive answer.
That is, until he realized he didn’t know what he would be doing or how much he would be paid.
Davis sent another “awkward” letter and learned that he would be entering a management training program and making $800 per month. “I just sat down and could not believe that I would ever need any more money than that my entire life,” Davis recalls.
Davis describes himself as conscientious. “I didn’t make great grades in school, but I learned to work hard,” he says. “I lacked self-confidence, but I made up for it by coming in early, staying late and working as hard as I could.”
As he rose in the ranks, he developed a very strong interest in the people who worked for his company, making sure he knew what each person did and what might be going on in their personal lives, and was often concerned with questions like “Are we treating them well?” “Are we paying them enough?”
Davis has been married to his wife, Anne, for almost 40 years and has three grown sons. While he’s liked being the face of Coca-Cola in Chattanooga – a “rock star in the business world” – he’s enjoyed digging into some major projects at home since his May retirement, including gardening, organizing things (including an extensive baseball card collection) and writing. He’s giving himself the summer to get used to retirement and decide what his next steps will be.
His advice to others? “Connect with whatever you’re doing in a way that makes you believe in it, enjoy it, and want to keep doing it,” he says. “Take advantage of opportunities, take risks, step outside of your comfort zone, and be truthful and honest with others and yourself.”
Robert Main | 26 Years, President and CEO, Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation
“It’s a mission.”
That’s the theme of a conversation with Robert “Bob” Main, the retiring President and CEO of Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation. Main was Siskin Hospital’s very first staff member, and he built it from the ground up into a nationally-renowned center for rehabilitation services. His favorite part of the job? “Seeing patients leave the hospital and get back to life in the community.”
Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Main grew up in a close-knit family and suffered the loss of his mother at the age of 14. Before embarking on his path as a hospital administrator—a career that took him to various administration jobs in Iowa, Oklahoma and Chicago—he recieved degrees in education and health care administration. In 1987, he was recruited to come to Chattanooga to build Siskin Hospital.
Describing himself as a “people person” with a “type A” personality, Main is modest and constantly credits his team, not himself, for Siskin Hospital’s success. Words like “integrity,” “commitment,” “quality,” and “confidentiality” pepper his conversation, and one of his personal tenets is “Aim high—there is plenty of room.”
Main has two adult children—a daughter who lives near Chicago and a son in Cincinnati—and six grandchildren between the ages of 11 and 21. He likes to relax by “attempting” to play golf, woodworking, and gardening. His retirement won’t be effective until January of 2014, but he’s already looking forward to having more time to enjoy his family and “smell the roses.”
His advice to aspiring leaders? “Work hard,” “learn from your mistakes,” and “be committed to your mission.” Above all, though, Main says that “the overriding factor is integrity” – an approach that has left a tremendous legacy of achievement, witnessed in the lives of patients compassionately served by Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation.
Corinne Allen | 13 Years, Executive Director, Chattanooga’s Benwood Foundation
“My family couldn’t decide whether I was crazy or courageous.”
Corinne Allen, recently retired executive director of Chattanooga’s Benwood Foundation, laughs as she describes her transplant to Chattanooga at the age of 52. The year was 1999, and with the exception of time spent earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Allen had lived all of her life in Charlotte.
This is, until she got a call from a search firm looking for a new Benwood leader.
“They were baffled that I would leave my hometown and come to a community where I knew no one,” Allen reflects. “In reality, it was neither crazy nor courageous, but a remarkable opportunity for service in an outstanding community for which I shall always be thankful.”
Prior to Allen’s leadership, the Benwood Foundation met its charitable mission by responding to requests for support. But with Allen at the helm, the Foundation shifted its approach to focus on proactive change in Chattanooga and developed its first strategic plan. Today, it continues to be a catalyst for change in the areas of education, arts and culture, the environment, and community development.
A graduate of public schools, Allen started her career as a social worker investigating child abuse and neglect. She then moved to overseeing adoptions before she was hired as the executive director of a United Way counseling organization. She became the founding executive of a local education foundation in Charlotte, and spent seven years focused on education finance and governance. Then came Benwood.
When she moved to Chattanooga in 1999, Allen says her main challenges were getting to know the community and respecting and understanding its history. A quiet, private person by nature, Allen likes to read and take long walks. However, she’s also challenged by new ideas and drawn to new experiences. “I am a forced extravert,” she explains.
This quality, coupled with her strong conviction and commitment to community service, led Allen to seek a path of servant leadership in Chattanooga. She “made friends with change,” and as part of her role with Benwood, sought to meet as many people as possible.
Since her retirement in January, Allen has enjoyed planning and planting a new garden, tackling a shelf of books she’s been meaning to read, and sharing time with family and friends. She qualifies that this is just a “re-set and refresh” time, though, as she weighs numerous invitations and evaluates just how she’s going to continue her life of civic involvement—working, in her dedicated way, “for good, not for glory.”
Randy Tucker | 26 Years, Headmaster, Girls Preparatory School
For 26 years, Randy Tucker has gotten up and driven to a job he loves. On June 30, he will retire as headmaster of Girls Preparatory School, but his legacy will live on in the lives of all the young women who’ve benefited from his infectious love of learning and his paternal-like passion to equip them for the world of tomorrow.
Growing up as a latchkey kid of a single parent in Jacksonville, Fla., Tucker seemed an unlikely candidate for such a prestigious path. Yet his early years would later prove the perfect “prep school” for the career of his dreams. “I probably stayed in more trouble than I should have, but that made a survivor out of me,” Tucker says.
Ever the scrapper, Tucker says he “wasn’t a great student” in college, but he did learn one skill that would prove invaluable: how to play bridge. While serving in the infantry in Vietnam, he was “saved from the rice paddies” because a colonel needed a bodyguard—and a fourth at bridge. Tucker says that “year of playing Rambo for the top brass” taught him a lot about bridge, but even more about leadership, personnel management, and decisiveness.
Yet that invaluable experience would also come at a price: 15 years into his post-military career as an educator and administrator, he experienced his first episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “That door that had been nailed shut for so many years suddenly burst open,” Tucker recalls. “But that’s also when I realized that growing up the way I did would save my life as a PTSD victim, because it gave me a really good understanding of myself. I have learned who I am, who I am not, and what to expect of myself.”
And that’s what he’s strived to teach the girls at GPS. He says his greatest challenge as an educator has been to “figure out what’s next, and how to prepare them best for it.”
Tucker will serve as interim headmaster at Battleground Academy in Franklin next year while the search committee at GPS completes their selection process. He says he will commute as he and his wife, Terri, want to remain in the Chattanooga area.
His final words of advice for aspiring leaders? With a twinkle in his eye, the headmaster summarizes his final lesson: “Keep your integrity. Be honest and do what’s right—even if it isn’t popular. And love what you do!”
Suzanne Bailey | 30+ Years, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge
Raised in Columbia, Tenn., in a “loving, wonderful family,” Suzanne Bailey was instilled with strong, small-town values from an early age. Little did she know then that those values would lead her to a 30-year career serving the children, families, and citizens of Hamilton County as its longest presiding juvenile court judge.
Bailey says her parents were the greatest influence in her life. Although her father never graduated from high school, he heavily stressed education for both of his children. The result was that Bailey attended Vanderbilt and then UT law school, while her brother became a pharmacist and currently serves as County Mayor of Maury County.
When Bailey came to practice law in Chattanooga straight from law school, one of her first cases involved juveniles. Immediately feeling a pull toward that kind of work, she asked to be put on the list of court-appointed attorneys for Juvenile Court Judge Dixie Smith. “I felt like I could make a difference,” Bailey recalls.
In 1982, Smith appointed Bailey as a referee judge, and after Smith retired in 1989, she was elected to his seat in 1990—the first women ever to be elected judge in any court in Hamilton County. Over the next three decades, a period that saw great changes in family structure and the culture at large, she worked faithfully to serve juveniles, both on the bench and through additional work with volunteers, churches, and social service groups.
Health issues led Bailey to retire on April 30. She plans to move to be near her son and his wife, and will be looking for volunteer work after she gets settled. Concerned as always about those without a family to support them, she’s considering work as a hospice volunteer.
Looking back, Bailey is encouraged by the number of children and families she and her court staff helped over the years. “I feel proud to have worked with court staff and community members who cared so much for the children of our community,” she says.