Sterling Awards 2016 honor outstanding women


Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” So I’m writing the truth: Women make West Tennessee a great place to live, work and visit.

The Sterling Awards 2016 winners: Most Influential Women in West Tennessee take the stage for a final photo at the awards ceremony held April 2 at the J. Walter Barnes Conference Center at Jackson General Hospital. Also onstage at far left is Elizabeth Tanner Atkins, who received the Outstanding Woman Military Veteran Award on behalf of her great-aunt, Mrs. Doris Tanner, of Union City, who was a WASP in WWII and a pilot. At far left at the podium is Frank Hay, general manager of The Jackson Sun. 

The City of Jackson website clearly says: “Live, Work, Visit,” so I think Mayor Jerry Gist already knows what keeps his city running. And so do mayors across West Tennessee, and many other folks who nominated the women who are Sterling Award 2016 winners: 20 Most Influential Women in West Tennessee, and a special lady indeed, Doris Tanner, Outstanding Woman Military Veteran. 

Seven years ago, Jackson Sun publisher Roy Heatherly and members of the Jackson Area Business and Professional Women met to discuss what we could do to honor women in West Tennessee who are outstanding in their fields. Now Frank Hay, the general manager of The Jackson Sun, is also working to make these awards a great success.

The consensus was to create the Sterling Awards: 20 Most Influential Women in West Tennessee. Since then, 20 women have been honored each year, chosen by a Board of Selectors from around 80 nominations annually. In March 2016, the judges voted for three days. It was not easy.

This year, we have created the first Outstanding Woman Military Veteran Award to honor women who have served their country. Our first winner, Doris Tanner, 97, was flying planes in World War II when some of us hadn’t been born yet. A University of Tennessee Knoxville graduate, Mrs. Tanner has taught children in Haywood County, then educated college students at University of Tennessee Martin. She’s an award-winning author, mother and grandmother, who would probably love to fly a plane today!

We are also establishing the first Sue Shelton White Award, honoring her posthumously this year. Sue White was president of Jackson Business and Professional Women from 1929-1931. She helped Tennessee become the Perfect 36 on Aug. 24, 1920 – the 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, thus giving women the right to vote in America. In 1926, she was the city of Jackson’s first female attorney. Later, she was general counsel helping implement the Social Security Act. “Miss Sue,” as she was called, is a woman who changed America. The Sue Shelton White Award will be presented in 2017 to an outstanding female attorney in West Tennessee who is a community activist and has worked to create or change legislation to improve the lives of women and children in the state of Tennessee.

Soon the Sue Shelton White statue will stand on the City Hall Plaza surrounded by yellow roses, and West Tennessee women of honor, intelligence and determination to succeed will be immortalized on bronze plaques around it.

This year, our winners include a gospel singer who has toured Europe, an architect who chaired the Blue Suede Dinner, a general contractor who works to revitalize Jackson’s city scape, a news editor whose writing saved a woman’s life, educators who changed our children’s lives, someone who works to defeat criminals, the only woman serving on the Tennessee Court of Appeals, an equine therapy director, heroines who aid the elderly, a café director who feeds the homeless, a CEO leading the only woman-owned pewter company in the country. And that’s just a start. It takes pages to tell you about these Sterling women. You’ll be able to find their bios soon on our new website:

The winners were outstanding in these categories: government and public service; small business/entrepreneur; business and technology; service (community/non-profit); education; labor/manufacturing; healthcare, legal and other fields.

Throughout West Tennessee, women strive to help their communities become better places to live and to work without expectation that their names will be remembered or their abilities and skills valued and celebrated.

At the first Sterling Award meeting, we agreed it is important that this award be tied to Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes how far into 2016 women must work to earn what men earned in 2015. Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. So the Sterling Awards reception is held on Equal Pay Day.

We have awarded women who are not financially wealthy and those who are. Wealth of action is what defines Sterling Award winners. They may have a 20-page resume or 10 heart-felt letters of support. But these are women who have always gone above and beyond to help others.

They serve on boards across their cities that set policies for everything from centers to aid the homeless, to the arts, to education policies in schools, to decisions that affect healthcare and to legislation statewide.

These women also create companies, hire other women – and men – and have led our state to be ranked 17th in the nation in women business owners and 4th in the Southeast states, according to research by the Tennessee Economic Council on Women.

I could close by quoting a famous woman on inspirational women, but I think I’ll share this quote from my mother, Sallie Spangler Armstrong, a librarian and pianist, who graduated from Lambuth and was from Humboldt, Tenn. She was a gracious woman, who taught me how to live as a child.

She said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just get up and do it.”

These Sterling Award winners must have known my mother.

Jacque Hillman is a past president of Jackson Area Business and Professional Women and past president of Business and Professional Women of Tennessee. She serves as director of the Sterling Awards. She’s a senior partner of The HillHelen Group publishing company and the owner/designer of Reconfigured Art Jewelry.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s