2023 Alumnae Spirit of Service Award Recipient: Florence Stumb Davis ’55
It started with tuna fish sandwiches. This is how Janie Hannon ’11 introduced her grandmother’s hospitality and lifelong service to others.
“Mimi is conditioned to think about what other people need,” Ms. Hannon said to an auditorium of Harpeth Hall students — and many of her family members — during last week’s Spirit of Service assembly. “One of the ways she does this is through food and flowers. When Mrs. Hill became head of school, Mimi brought tuna fish sandwiches, tea, and fudge cake over to Kirkman House.”
Then, exchanging a hug and a kiss with her granddaughter, Mrs. Florence Stumb Davis took her place at the podium in the Harpeth Hall theatre.
Mrs. Davis, 2023 Spirit of Service Award winner and a member of the first class to go through all four years of high school at Harpeth Hall, spoke to students about finding the “heartcatchers” that inspired her work in education, religion, history, and children. Mrs. Davis is part of a long legacy of women in her family who attended Ward-Belmont or Harpeth Hall. In the time since, she has served in leadership positions for a variety of organizations including the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, Alive Hospice, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, and First Presbyterian Church.
“If a cause truly touches your heart you will be able to give your time and resources to it and you will have fun doing it,” she said.
Mrs. Davis began her speech with a humorous anecdote about meeting her future husband during a Thanksgiving meal in 1942. She was just 5 years old. Her warmth and knack for storytelling had students leaning forward in their seats to listen.
“We got married after my freshman year at Vanderbilt. I decided to take a gap year. That gap year turned into 65,” she joked.
In those 65 years, she has become a devoted community servant, known for her dedication and bright spirit. Mrs. Davis spoke about three organizations that she holds especially dear, the first being Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.
“It was a heart catcher for me,” she said.
Mount Vernon, which receives no state or federal funding, relies on volunteer fundraising. The more Mrs. Davis learned about George Washington, the more enthusiastic she became, becoming a member of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Through fundraising and volunteer work, this organization preserves the estate for the one million visitors a year who travel to see it.
The second “heart catcher” for Mrs. Davis is Alive Hospice. When her husband was coming to the end of his life after battling cancer for 10 years, Mrs. Davis realized she needed support. She expressed her deep appreciation for the care and aid she received from Alive Hospice.
“The families of these patients need help to make it through the difficult journey they are taking with their loved one,” she said.
One of Mrs. Davis’ other beloved organizations is the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. Her association with the Y began when her young son wanted to take karate lessons there. Mrs. Davis decided to enroll, too.
“The only way to get to the karate class was through the men’s locker room. Undaunted, I walked through and kept my eyes straight ahead,” she said, spurring a roar of laughter throughout the auditorium.
Starting with this act of bravery, she went on to be the first female board chair of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. Mrs. Davis spoke of the Y’s commitment to providing tutoring, after-school care, and hot meals — things, she said, everyone deserves whether or not they can afford them. During her tenure, she helped develop Camp Widjiwagan, which now serves 7,000 campers each summer, regardless of financial status.
Mrs. Davis reflected on what she called “an ordinary life.” Unlike other Spirit of Service award winners, she told students she had no advanced degrees, no special certificates, and no letters after her name.
“I have not started a business, or been CEO,” she said. “I have not invented anything, won a Grammy, or written a book. I have led a fairly normal life, but for me, being able to serve these worthwhile organizations has blessed my life.”
As she spoke, it was clear to every member of the audience just how extraordinary her life of service has been. In the end, she received much more than a tuna fish sandwich from Harpeth Hall; she received a standing ovation.