Andrew Jackson Foundation Board
Andrew Jackson Foundation Board of Trustees
2023 – 2024
John L. Nau, III, Regent
Irwin E. Fisher, Vice Regent
Pam Koban, Secretary
Marees Choppin, Treasurer
Carol Yochem, Past Regent
Board of Trustees
Tre Hargett, Ex officio
Bo Watson, Ex officio
President & CEO
Howard J. Kittell
Janet Ayers is a recognized business leader and philanthropist throughout Tennessee with more than 20 years of service in health care administration. She has served as president of The Ayers Foundation since 2007.
Ayers has spent the last several years investigating how to improve the connectedness between parents, teachers and students. This study has been a natural outgrowth of her leadership at The Ayers Foundation, which has focused on improving the quality of life for people in Tennessee, with a special emphasis on four counties – Decatur, Henderson, Perry and Unicoi. The Foundation believes this is best accomplished by providing grants for scholarships, counselors, programs and related projects for educational enhancement.
Her experiences have led her to a high level of engagement with education professionals across Tennessee and the region. For example, in 2014, the Foundation partnered with Lipscomb University to create the Ayers Leadership Fellows program, which provides opportunities for aspiring school leaders to earn an educational leadership master’s or educational specialist degree with administrative licensure from Lipscomb’s College of Education.
She has also been deeply involved with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy and research institution founded by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist.
To date, The Ayers Foundation has awarded more than 4,200 scholarships to graduating high school seniors. Since its inception, graduation rates in Decatur, Henderson and Perry counties have exceeded the state average. The Foundation is now finding nearly $4 of outside scholarship money for every $1 the Foundation grants. Ayers credits much of that success to the fact that the program funds counselors for each school who work with students and parents to identify post-secondary educational opportunities.
Ayers is also an active board member of Centerstone of Tennessee, Centerstone Research Institute, East Tennessee State University Board of Trustees, Belmont University Board of Trustees, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, United Way of Unicoi County, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities, Tennessee College Access and Success Network, as well as various education-related task forces.
Susan Basham is a native Nashvillian and grew up within a few miles of The Hermitage. She is the co-owner of The Belle Meade Shoppes, which specializes in antiques and interior furnishings. She was an interior designer with Bonner/Avant Interiors. Susan has an interest in historic interiors, is a collector of contemporary art and an avid gardener. She has been a member of the Lebanon Road Garden Club since 1980 and is the current president, having served multiple terms. She is a past president and current vice president of the Middle Tennessee Daffodil Society and a member of the American Daffodil Societies, where she co-chaired the 2018 National Convention held in Nashville. She grows approximately 150 varieties of daffodils for enjoyment and competition. Susan served on the board of Watkins College of Art and was appointed a Commissioner of Watkins College by Governor Phil Bredesen, where she served from 2008 to 2020.
Basham graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Physical Geography. Later, she received an Associate of Arts degree in Interior Design from Watkins College of Art.
She resides in Nashville with her husband Ray.
Mitchel Bone is the dealer principal of Wilson County Chevrolet Buick GMC and executive manager of Wilson County Hyundai. Born in Lebanon, Tennessee, Mitchel attended Castle Heights Military Academy until its closing in 1986 and subsequently graduated from Lebanon High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Master of Business Administration degree from Cumberland University. He is a United States Navy veteran and served with honor in Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory; Adak, Alaska; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and other duty stations. Before joining Wilson County Motors full-time, Mitchel served as the Chief Information Officer of Cumberland University for nine years. He is a proud member of the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary Club, having served as its president from 2008 to 2009, and is a Paul Harris Fellow. Additionally, he has served on the boards of numerous charitable organizations, such as the Middle Tennessee Council of the Middle Tennessee Better Business Bureau, Boy Scouts of America, Community Foundation of Wilson County, Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Wilson and Wilson County CASA. Mitchel has received numerous honors, including the Cumberland University Distinguished Alumni and Algernon Sydney Sullivan awards. He lives in Lebanon with his wife, Melinda, and pet boxer, Laci.
Marees Choppin graduated from Vanderbilt with a BA degree in Spanish and an MLAS degree. Following graduation, she worked for the International Department of Commerce Union Bank (now Bank of America), for 15 years, where she ultimately specialized in Latin American finance. Using Spanish and a math background allowed her to travel extensively in South America, including Brazil.
In 1992, Choppin transitioned to the Harpeth Hall School to start a Spanish language program in the middle school, where she later became Co-Department Chair of World Languages. Leading winterim trips and middle school immersion trips led to continued travel and study. While at Harpeth Hall, Choppin was a recipient of the Lulu Hampton Owen Chair for Excellence in Teaching. Serving on the Harpeth Hall Board of Trust, she was actively affiliated with corresponding professional organizations, and she coached the middle school golf team.
Currently a Board member of Family and Children’s Services, Travellers Rest and STEM Prep, she is Regent of The General James Robertson Chapter DAR. She is a past Treasurer of the Centennial Club, and she serves on the Joy in Learning Committee at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
She is married to Walker, a retired financial executive, and they have a married son, Will, 36, and who is General Counsel for MDHA, and she has a stepdaughter Laura, who has a son, Gray, and a stepson, Brian, who has a daughter, Pressley. Choppin enjoys playing golf, reading and vacationing in Sarasota.
Jeff Dahlgren was born in Akron, Ohio but grew up in Southern California and graduated from the University of Southern California.
He began his work career in the family business, Airtech Advanced Materials Group, in 1981 and is now President/CEO. Dahlgren is married with two children and resides in the Nashville area. Airtech has a total of six worldwide manufacturing facilities in the USA (California and Tennessee), Luxembourg, England and China. It is a manufacturer of composite materials for the aircraft/ aerospace, wind energy, marine, automotive and racing industries. It also is a leader in very large 3D printing for the composites industry.
He has served two complete terms on the board of the American Battlefields Trust.
Karl Dean served as Mayor of Nashville and Davidson County from 2007 to 2015. Prior to his time as Mayor, Dean served as Nashville’s Director of Law and Public Defender. He has taught at Vanderbilt, Belmont and Boston universities.
A.J. Donelson is an attorney, business leader, public affairs professional and entrepreneur. His career spans 40 years in Washington, D.C., advising businesses—from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Former head of the Washington office for a Fortune 500 company, he later helped build and sell two independent consulting firms to publicly traded global marketing communications companies. He founded and still leads an advocacy and communications consulting firm advising private sector clients on opportunities and challenges which lie at the intersection of government and business.
In 2011, Donelson founded and still manages Advocom Group, a boutique advocacy and strategic communications consulting firm helping companies, trade associations and nonprofits tell their stories and achieve their government, public relations and business development goals. Successful Advocom Group client projects include: federal government relations on trade issues for a global consumer product manufacturer; state and federal public affairs consulting for a trade association focused on state workers’ compensation; state and federal legislative advice for a national association focused on occupational licensing; assisting with the development of public-private partnerships for a world leader in analytical and separations technology; rebranding a trade association of claims professionals; and leading a multi-disciplinary team providing branding communications support for a developer and manufacturer of advanced propulsion systems.
He is a long time Mentor-in-Residence for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. In this role, Donelson mentors Johns Hopkins University faculty on strategies to commercialize innovative university research. He applies a customer discovery approach along with tailored strategies to develop awareness and support for research from a broad range of stakeholders, including government, nonprofit organizations and private sector companies.
Earlier in his career, he headed the Washington office for Fortune 500 company 3M. He advised 3M’s European and Asia/Pacific Public Affairs Committees on strategies to build and enhance 3M public affairs capabilities globally.
Donelson is an attorney and member of the District of Columbia Bar. He received his law degree from the University of Florida and his undergraduate degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University.
Dwight “D.J.” Farris is a native Tennessean, born and raised in Lebanon just east of Nashville. He became a licensed Realtor at the age of 20 while attending Lipscomb University. He received a B.A. in business from Lipscomb and an MBA from Middle Tennessee State University. In 2020, he was Chair of the Tennessee Prayer Breakfast, which normally draws 800 participants and features speakers including the governor, dignitaries and celebrities. Currently Farris is a Broker with Pilkerton Realtors in Nashville. Governor Bill Lee appointed him to the Tennessee Real Estate Commission in 2020. An avid hunter and lover of Tennessee history, He lives with his wife, Kella, and their two children in the Oak Hill neighborhood in Nashville.
Irwin E. Fisher
Irwin Fisher spent her 40-year hospitality industry career in hotel sales and marketing for Holiday Inns, Hyatt and Loews Hotels. In 2012, she retired from Loews Hotels Corporation as Vice President Sales Administration and Training. In addition, she continues to serve on the Executive Committee of the Music City Center Authority. She also serves on the Metro Nashville Event Marketing and Business Development Fund committee of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation.
She has served with a variety of community organizations, which currently include board positions for Family & Children’s Service Executive Committee, Lipscomb University Advisory Board for Hospitality Degree, Les Dames d’Escoffier International and 1st Vice Regent for the General James Robertson chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Prior to these service organizations, she served on the boards of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, The Women’s Fund, West End Home Foundation, Leadership Nashville Alumni and Ensworth School.
James (Jim) C. Free is currently the Chairman of The Smith-Free Group, a Washington, D.C.-based government relations firm he co-founded in 1995.
Free is a native of Columbia, Tennessee and an alumnus of Middle Tennessee State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science (1969) and master’s degree in public administration (1972) and is currently a visiting professor.
Free served under then-speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Ned McWherter and eventually rose to chief clerk of the House. In 1977, Free was appointed Special Assistant for Congressional Affairs to President Jimmy Carter, advocating Carter’s positions on transportation, trade and environmental issues.
Following his service at the Carter Administration, Free spent the next four decades representing major global companies in such areas as energy, entertainment, communications, healthcare, financial services and transportation.
Free and his wife, Ann, are active community members and generous supporters of the arts and humanities and other charitable organizations, including Nashville Public Library Foundation, Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, The Kennedy Center and The Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center among others.
Harrison Frist is the Senior Vice President & President of naviHealth’s Provider Solutions group, where he is responsible for the operations and strategic direction of the health system, post-acute and software business. Prior to joining naviHealth in 2012, Frist worked in Qingdao, China for Chinaco Healthcare Corporation (CHC), an international hospital operator. Previously, he worked as an investment professional for The Carlyle Group’s Global Financial Services Fund and Goldman, Sachs & Co in Washington, D.C. and New York, respectively. Frist received an AB degree in history from Princeton University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Ashley, and three children. He enjoys the outdoors, history, aviation and serves on the board of the Martha O’Bryan Center, which empowers children, youth and adults in poverty to transform their lives through work, education, employment and fellowship.
W.L. Gray, Jr.
W.L. Gray founded Goodpasture Gray, an S.E.C. Registered Investment Advisory Firm, in 1997 to service a discerning clientele that requires generational investment advice for portfolios using asset allocation. He is Principal of Goodpasture Gray with offices in Nashville and Houston.
He has nearly 45 years of Wall Street experience, serving as a Senior Vice President of major Wall Street firms, most notably Drexel Burnham Lambert and Kidder Peabody, in both New York and Texas. His institutional clientele consisted of both foreign and domestic accounts which gave him an excellent understanding of the effects of the global economy on many different market structures worldwide.
Gray became a member of Texas Zeta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Texas Christian University. Through the years, he has devoted much of his time to the advancement of the Fraternity. He was appointed a Trustee of the Phi Delta Theta Foundation in 2003. He became Chairman of the Board in January of 2007 and served in that position through 2013. Currently he is a trustee emeritus of the Foundation.
Gray currently serves as chairman of the LiveLikeLou Foundation, an organization focused on pre-clinical research for the ALS disease as well as education and camp experiences for children. Over the last three years, he has been working with Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to establish a LiveLikeLou ALS Research Center. In February 2021, LiveLikeLou and VUMC entered into a joint agreement to raise $3.75 million. To date, over half of that amount has been raised.
Gray’s past service has been on the Board of Trustees of St. Paul’s United Methodist church of Houston’s Foundation and as a member of the Board of Visitors for the McDonald Observatory. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Chapter of the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association and the Board of Advisors of the University of Texas College of Natural Science.
He has been an instrument rated private pilot since 1970 and enjoys using his airplane to meet with valued friends and clients. He is a member of Angel Flight and HSEAT (Homeland Security Transport). Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he took a very active role flying his plane throughout Texas reuniting families whose members had been separated from one another and flying medical supplies back to the affected Gulf Coast region. On March 26, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration honored Gray with The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in recognition of his 50 years of exemplary flying.
Gray and his wife, Lynn, reside in Nashville. They have two daughters, Katie and Shannon, and three sons, Sean, Will and Kyle.
James A. Haltom
James Haltom is originally from North Carolina and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While at UNC, he joined the Army National Guard following the tragic events of 9/11. After graduation, he was a public-school teacher with the Teach for America program in rural Mississippi. From 2004 to 2006, Haltom was called to active-duty military service for Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he served as a decorated combat leader. Haltom has continued his reserve military service as a senior officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard.
Following his return from the Middle East, he graduated with honors from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served as President of the Law School Student Body. Thereafter, he commenced his legal practice in Nashville and was a partner at the firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough. In August 2019, Governor Bill Lee appointed James as a state court trial judge as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Claims Commission, Middle Division. The Claims Commission is the court that hears lawsuits against the State of Tennessee involving contract disputes, workers’ compensation actions, negligence by state officials, dangerous conditions on state property and criminal injury compensation act claims.
Haltom is active in the business community and has served as a board member of various civic and professional organizations. He is married to Claire Cowart Haltom, a partner at the law firm of Baker Donelson, and they have one son, James “Houston” Haltom.
Tre Hargett, Ex officio
Tre Hargett was elected by the Tennessee General Assembly to serve as Tennessee’s 37th secretary of state in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 and 2017. Secretary Hargett is the chief executive officer of the Department of State with oversight of more than 300 employees. He also serves on 15 boards and commissions, on two of which he is the presiding member.
Hargett earned a BBA degree in accounting with honors from Memphis State University, as well as an MBA from the University of Memphis. A native of Ripley, Secretary Hargett now lives in Hendersonville with his wife, Dawn, and their two sons. He is a Southern Baptist and attends Indian Lake Peninsula Church.
Shane Hooper was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents to represent the fourth congressional district. Hooper is President/CEO of the Shelbyville-Bedford Partnership, a local economic development organization focusing on industrial recruitment and retention, workforce development and community development. He graduated from Itawamba Agricultural High School and Lipscomb University. After graduation, he served his country as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He earned a master’s degree in economic development from the University of Southern Mississippi.
In 2012, the Governor of Mississippi appointed Hooper to serve on the MS Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board, representing the Third (Northern) Supreme Court District for nine years. The MS IHL sets policy for all eight public universities; three R1 research universities, three Historically Black Universities, two regional universities and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s only level-one trauma center. While on the board, he served on numerous committees and was president of the board from 2018 to 2019.
Active in the community, Hooper is a member of the Lipscomb University Board of Directors and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Association. He is the past president of the Tupelo Rotary Club, past president of the Gardner-Simmons Home for Girls and past president of United Way of Northeast Mississippi. He has also served as the Planning and Property division chair for the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and the Economic Development division chair for CDF. Past board member seats include North Mississippi Medical Center, Good Samaritan Free Clinic, Sanctuary Hospice House and North Mississippi Health Care Foundation.
Hooper and his wife, Sarah, have two sons, Christopher and Channing, and one daughter, Ellabess.
Brian Kilmeade was born in Massapequa, New York, where he still resides today with his wife, Dawn, and three kids, Bryan, Kirstyn and Kaitlyn. Kilmeade joined Fox News in 1996 and spent the last 20-plus years as co-host of Fox and Friends and the last 10 years hosting the “Brian Kilmeade Show,” a syndicated national radio program. He has written five books, four of which are New York Times Best Sellers – two in sports and three in history. The latest book, Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, helped him meet the people behind the Andrew Jackson Foundation.
A Colorado native, Pam Koban grew up in Memphis and attended Colorado Women’s College before graduating from the University of Tennessee with a BA in psychology. She then earned her master’s degree in management and labor relations from the University of Memphis Fogelman School of Business and Economics.
She began her career on the business school faculty at MTSU, before becoming the University of Tennessee Nashville Director of Human Resources in 1977, Human Resource Officer for the University of Tennessee System-wide Administration in 1979 and then the system-wide Chief Human Resource Officer for the Tennessee Board of Regents in 1980.
Koban has taught Sunday school at Westminster Presbyterian Church for more than 30 years, is an elder and chairs the Personnel Committee. She is a member of the Board of Trustees at Montgomery Bell Academy and past board chair of the Martha O’Bryan Community Center. Koban was named to Governor Lee’s Task Force on the Future of Work and has served as a member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission since 2013. She has been an active member of the Nashville Rotary Club and is member of the 2020 Class of Leadership Nashville.
She enjoys golf, exercise, cooking, gardening and reading and is an avid fan of college football. She and her husband, Mike, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.
Mara Liasson is the national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR’s award-winning newsmagazines “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, D.C. — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Each election year, Liasson provides key coverage of the candidates and issues in both presidential and congressional races. During her tenure, she has covered seven presidential elections — in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. Prior to her current assignment, Liasson was NPR’s White House correspondent for all eight years of the Clinton administration. She has won the White House Correspondents Association’s Merriman Smith Award for daily news coverage in 1994, 1995 and again in 1997. From 1989 to 1992, Liasson was NPR’s congressional correspondent.
Liasson joined NPR in 1985 as a general assignment reporter and newscaster. From September 1988 to June 1989, she took a leave of absence from NPR to attend Columbia University in New York as a recipient of a Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism.
Prior to joining NPR, Liasson was a freelance radio and television reporter in San Francisco. She was also managing editor and anchor of “California Edition,” a California Public Radio nightly news program, and a print journalist for The Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Liasson is a graduate of Brown University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American history.
Liasson also appears regularly on FOX News, as a panelist on Special Report with Brett Baier and Fox News Sunday.
John L. Nau, III
John L. Nau, III is Chairman and CEO of Silver Eagle Beverages, one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the nation. Silver Eagle Beverages employs more than 500 employees who service a territory that includes the greater San Antonio area in Bexar County and extends more than 12 additional counties in southwest Texas. In addition, Silver Eagle Beverages distributes Grupo Modelo beers, a broad selection of national and local craft beers and several non-alcohol beverages and waters.
Nau’s commitment to service is apparent through a broad spectrum of participation in civic, community and philanthropic organizations in Texas and throughout the country. His current involvement includes Chairman of the Texas Historical Commission, National Park Foundation Board of Directors, American Battlefield Trust Board of Directors, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation Board of Directors, Baylor College of Medicine Board of Trustees, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Board of Trustees, University of Houston Board of Visitors, Honorary Trustee of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Honorary Trustee of Texas Heart Institute, Honorary State Trustee for the San Antonio Parks Foundation and Advisory Council member to the Center for Big Bend Studies. He also serves as a Board Member for Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park, Houston Police Foundation, San Antonio Zoo and The Admiral Nimitz Foundation.
He is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in History, and from 2011 through 2015, he served on the Board of Visitors, a position appointed by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He is founder and President of The Nau Foundation.
Michael Shane Neal
Since beginning a full-time career as an artist at the age of 21, Michael Shane Neal has completed more than 500 commissioned portraits on display around the world. His portraits include Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, former President George H.W. Bush, 9th Baronet and Laird of Luss, Scotland Sir Malcolm Colquhoun, former U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin, U.S. Senators Arlen Specter, Robert C. Byrd, and Bill Frist, Federal Chief Judge Anthony Scirica and actor Morgan Freeman.
Receiving his bachelor of arts degree from Lipscomb University, Neal also studied at the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts, The Scottsdale Artist School, Lyme Academy of Art and is a protégé of America’s most celebrated ﬁgurative and portrait painter, Everett Raymond Kinstler. Neal’s work has been featured in publications such as American Artist, International Artist, The Artist’s Magazine, Art News, Fine Art Connoisseur and Nashville Arts Magazine. He has received numerous awards for landscape and ﬁgurative paintings as well as the Grand Prize Award from the Portrait Society of America in 2001.
Neal has served on the board of directors of the Portrait Society of America, the Norman Rockwell Museum’s National Council, the American Patrons for the National Library and Galleries of Scotland (APNLGS) and the Executive Board of Trustees for Cheekwood Museum of Art. He is a member of the Allied Artists of New York, the Artist Fellowship of New York, the Salmagundi Club, the Lotos Club, the Century Association, the Cumberland Society of Painters and an Exhibiting Artist member of the National Arts Club in New York, among others.
Neal also enjoys church and community outreach, golf, plein-air painting, travel and reading with a particular interest in history.
Laura Smith joined Nashville Electric Service (NES) in July 1993. She has held several positions in the Legal and Corporate Affairs departments and today oversees all internal and external legal matters, government relations, community involvement, claims, regulatory compliance, economic development and business continuity and strategic planning.
Smith received her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Florida and her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Florida College of Law. She currently serves on the boards of the Nashville Bar Foundation and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville, where she serves as Chair-Elect. In 2019, she served as president of the Nashville Bar Association, the largest metropolitan bar in the state. Active in community endeavors, Smith previously served as chair/president of The Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, FiftyForward, CABLE, Big Brothers of Nashville, WIN and the Nashville Women’s Political Caucus. She was recognized as a Tennessee Bar Foundation Fellow (2016) and a Nashville Bar Foundation Fellow (2010). She is a graduate of Leadership Tennessee (2022), Leadership Nashville (2008) and Leadership Donelson-Hermitage (2003).
DeeDee Wade is a Nashville native and history enthusiast, growing up with a great aunt and mother who both served as Regents of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association. She learned from them along the way, whether that be stories from when the tornado came though the property or when Tulip Grove was a working farm. She also worked with The Hermitage to establish The Young Jacksonian Society, that for many years, worked to involve community members in their twenties and thirties.
Wade is an affiliate Broker with Fridrich and Clark Realty, where she enjoys assisting buyers and sellers in the Middle Tennessee area. Before joining Fridrich and Clark, she was a Senior Vice President in sales at Wade & Egbert Insurance Partners until its sale in 2014.
Wade is a 1999 graduate of Sewanee, The University of the South, where she majored in American history, and she currently serves on their Alumni Executive Board. Her other current community engagements include Saddle Up! Therapeutic Riding, The Harpeth Conservancy, The Iroquois Steeplechase benefiting Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Crossroads Campus.
Bo Watson, Ex officio
Bo Watson is a member of the Tennessee State Senate, representing part of Hamilton County. He was elected to the Senate in 2006, after serving one term in the House of Representatives.
Senator Watson is the current chairman of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. He has also served as speaker pro tempore of the Tennessee Senate (2011-2017) and chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee (2009-2010).
Senator Watson is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. He is a licensed physical therapist and the market director for therapy services at the HCA Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga.
Susan H. Whitaker
Susan Whitaker started in the travel industry in 1993 with Herschend Family Entertainment, first as Marketing Director for Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, and later as the Vice President of Marketing for Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park, Tennessee’s most visited attraction.
She was appointed in 2003 by Governor Phil Bredesen and in 2011 by Governor Bill Haslam, to their cabinets as the Tennessee Commissioner of Tourist Development. During her 12-year tenure, Tennessee saw an unprecedented growth in tourism dollars, from $10.3 billion to $19 billion, and exceeded more than 100 million visitors a year for the first time. Whitaker developed the first statewide Sustainable Tourism Initiative and Summit, addressing the industry’s need to employ sustainable practices in hospitality and tourism. In 2013, she was named State Tourism Director of the Year by the National Council of State Tourism Directors.
While in her cabinet post, Whitaker developed collaborative funding partnerships with other Tennessee state departments, federal agencies and private sector entities. These included: The Appalachian Regional Commission; the Departments of Economic and Community Development, Environment and Conservation, Agriculture, Transportation, Finance and Administration; Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation; the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area; and the Tennessee Civil War Commission.
In 2015, Whitaker left Tennessee state government, forming Whitaker Travel & Tourism Strategies, where she collaborates with public and private sector clients in developing strategic plans for destinations and the companies that serve them.
Although not a Tennessee native, having been born and raised in Chicago and graduating from Northwestern University, Susan is a direct descendant of Governor John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee.
Kurt Winstead retired as a Brigadier General from the Tennessee National Guard in 2021 after 30 years of service, including Director of the Joint Staff, State’s Senior Staff Judge Advocate and Brigade Command Judge Advocate during Operation Iraqi Freedom III. He has practiced law since 1988 and is a founding partner at Rudy Winstead Turner PLLC. Among his many awards and citations are the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Tennessee National Guard Distinguished Service Medal. He is the current Board Chair of Leadership Middle Tennessee and former Board Chair at Battle Ground Academy. He is a graduate of Leadership Tennessee, Leadership Middle Tennessee and Leadership Franklin and serves on the Boards for Franklin Tomorrow and Columbia State C.C. Foundation. He is a member of the Noon Rotary Club of Franklin and the Heritage Foundation and former member of the Tennessee Arts Commission. Winstead received his undergraduate degree at Centre College, Juris Doctor degree from the University of Richmond Law School and Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College in 2010.
As President of First Tennessee Bank’s Middle Tennessee region, Yochem currently leads a 10-county market with more than 600 employees and combined deposits and loans of approximately $8.5 billion. Her career experience includes leadership roles in commercial and corporate banking, private client and individual and institutional investment management. She has a B.S. degree from the University of Illinois.