The Memphis Thirty Five
Movers & Shakers of the Past Three Decades: A Special Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Photo Essay
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The biopic starts something like this: “Pssst! You see that guy over there with the broom? They say he used to be a champion tap dancer and that he raised $12.5 million to build a new theater in the middle of a massive economic collapse.” That’s the real-life story of Jackie Nichols, Playhouse on the Square’s founder and executive producer, who does whatever it takes to revitalize Overton Square and expand his improbably successful theatrical empire. When he’s not advocating smart growth in Midtown or working to secure the 41-year-old theater company’s endowment, he’s perfectly happy to putter around his sprawling, beautifully imagined facility — sweeping up messes, painting things, and taking out the trash.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 2010 BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
A native of Missouri who started out with little interest in either rock-and-roll or Elvis Presley, that genre’s avatar, this deceptively mild-mannered investment counselor was curious enough to accept an interview request in late 1981 from the late icon’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, and shrewd enough to come aboard as the director of what became Elvis Presley Enterprises. An early act was to open the King’s mansion to the public as a tourist attraction. Granted, the legions of Elvis faithful were a ready-made audience, but new fans kept coming throughout the next few decades as Soden made Graceland the second-most-visited residence in the world and developed new commercial possibilities, both locally and elsewhere. Though entrepreneur Robert F.X. Sillerman has snapped up 85 percent of the empire, Soden still manages the remainder for Priscilla and Lisa Marie.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 2011 BY ROBERT DYE ©Elvis Presley Enterprises
When Ken Burns named Shelby Foote one of the narrators of his 1990 PBS series on the Civil War, the acclaimed historian mesmerized viewers, by making them believe that — somehow — he had actually been there. Foote attended Sewanee and the University of North Carolina, but called Memphis home for the last 40 years of his life. While living here in the old Fort Pickering neighborhood overlooking the Mississippi, Foote wrote several acclaimed novels, among them Shiloh and September, September. But in the mid-1950s, he took an old-style ink pen and — 20 years and 1.5 million words later — produced the three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative, which is, and will probably forever be, the definitive account of the War Between the States.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1981 BY ALAN ULMER
As a seminary student at Yale Divinity School, Dr. Scott Morris picked up a pamphlet on how to start a health clinic. Today he runs the clinic he founded in 1987 — the Church Health Center, now the largest of its kind in the nation — and has helped other cities replicate his cutting-edge concept. The family practitioner and Methodist minister seeks and receives financial support from churches and healthcare volunteers to serve working uninsured people and their families — some 70,000 in the past year. Described by friends as passionate, remarkable, and tirelessly committed, Morris has also authored books and writes a column for The Commercial Appeal. His words reveal not only his knowledge but his love and respect for the individuals he’s called to serve.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1997 BY CLAY TOMAS
Being named “Miss McKellar Lake” was only the first of this high-energy Memphian’s many accomplishments. A native of Selmer, Tennessee, she almost singlehandedly created the Blues Ball, Nutcracker Ball, and Jingle Bell Ball fund-raisers. She organized downtown street festivals to celebrate the lighting of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge and The Pyramid. With her keen eye for fashion and a knack for business, she designed stunning gowns and dresses that soon appeared in the display windows of New York’s toniest stores, and her antique-lace creations even caught the eye of England’s royal family, with the late Princess Diana being one of her most famous (among many) customers. Since 1980, she has been chairman/CEO of the event-planning firm Celebrations, Inc.
PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1992 BY LARRY KUZNIEWSKI