Jerry Williams

NASHVILLE, TN — Jerry Williams, one of Nashville’s most admired nonprofit executives, has announced her intention to retire as Executive Director of Leadership Nashville. Williams will retire effective June 30, 2019 after completing her 25th year as the organization’s top executive. 

It is a privilege to lead this organization and a joy to work with each new class and the alumni who plan the program each year,” Williams says. “I would love to continue forever.  However, 25 years is a significant milestone and it is time to pass the baton to someone else to bring Leadership Nashville great energy and commitment for its next 25 years.”   

Leadership Nashville was founded in 1976 and has grown during Williams’s tenure to become one of the oldest and most respected leadership programs in the country. The upcoming search for a new executive director will be only the second in the 42-year history of the organization. Williams succeeded founding director Corinne Franklin in 1994.  In her tenure as Executive Director, Williams has led more than 1.000 community, nonprofit and business leaders through the Leadership Nashville program.  

“Jerry’s impact on Leadership Nashville – and our city – is immense; her legacy, immeasurable,” noted Leadership Nashville Board of Trustees President Ralph Davis.  “We are grateful for her 25 years of outstanding leadership, appreciate her continuing guidance through this important transition, and look forward to her future contributions as an enthusiastic alumna.”

Leadership Nashville offers a nine-month program annually for civic, charitable, business and public service leaders.  Rather than focusing on training or developing solutions, it offers insights into issues, believing that for leaders to know what needs to be done, they must first understand the issues and various points of view.

A trademark of a Leadership Nashville class each year is its diversity of professions, races, religions, ages and political perspectives, native Nashvillians and people who have moved here in leadership positions.  

Williams remarked about the impact of Leadership Nashville that, “Our graduates feel a greater responsibility for this community. Some alumni have taken this challenge to run for public office at local, state and national levels. For others this takes the form of more enlightened philanthropy.  I’ve seen alumni become more involved in a broader range of local issues while others narrow their focus on one pressing need.”

Williams was recently listed on the Nashville Business Journal Power 100 for the second year, she is the past chairman of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, past president of the Junior League of Nashville, Friends of Children’s Hospital and Travellers Rest Historic House Museum.  She is a board member of the Nashville Public Library Foundation as well as the Nashville Public Education Foundation and Nashville’s Agenda Steering Committee. 

In 2017 Williams received the Kraft Humanitarian Award. She was awarded the YWCA’s Women of Achievement in 2003, TSU’s 2009 Women of Legend & Achievement, the Junior League’s 2013 Paragon Award and FiftyForward’s 2014 Crowning Achievement Award. 

History of Leadership Nashville

When it was founded in 1976 there were very few similar programs in the country. After researching the 13 or so other cities that had leadership programs, founder Nelson Andrews, who was president of McClure’s Store at the time and later chairman of Brookside Properties, recommended that Nashville develop its own independent foundation format.  

In the intervening years Leadership Nashville has helped other cities develop programs on the Nashville model.  Birmingham, Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Norfolk and closer to home, Franklin, Clarksville, Knoxville and Leadership Music have followed suit.

Leadership Nashville receives inquiries regularly on how to start a program or how to improve existing ones.  Some calls are from as far away as Pretoria, South Africa, Toronto, Canada, Belfast, Ireland and most recently Tamworth, Australia.

In addition to Andrews, other members of the founding Board of Trustees included a number of civic leaders such as David K. “Pat” Wilson, chairman of Cherokee Equity Corporation; William C. Weaver. Jr., president of National Life & Accident Insurance; Jack C. Massey, president of HCA; Martha Ingram, chair emerita of Ingram Industries; Dr. Lloyd Elam, president of Meharry Medical College; Bernard Werthan, chairman of Werthan Industries; Reverend Kelly Miller Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church Downtown; Matt Lynch, president of the Tennessee State Labor Council; Alexander Heard, chancellor of Vanderbilt University; and Frances Preston, president of BMI.  Allen Steele, president of Life & Casualty Insurance, was president of the founding board. 

Leadership Nashville currently has more than 1,500 alumni, 80 percent of whom live and work in Middle Tennessee.