We will miss Alice Ingram Hooker.
Mrs. Hooker, who passed away July 23, was a Nashville native who epitomized the city’s ethic of giving back. A philanthropist and a leader behind Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase, she provided a sterling example of family and community leadership. She also embraced this bit of scripture from Luke: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Her family recognized those attributes in their obituary of Mrs. Hooker.
“Her standards were high, her will and commitment unflinching,” they wrote. “Mrs. Hooker was unafraid to roll up her sleeves and stand toe-to-toe — albeit graciously — with the male power brokers of her time. Consequently, she leaves an indelible imprint on Nashville’s community and culture.”
Nashville has many wonderful leaders who give time and money unstintingly to their favored causes. But there are few of us who have the vision to combine their passions in synergistic ways that make one plus one equal three, or more!
Mrs. Hooker was one of those rare leaders.
According to her obituary, Mrs. Hooker was a founder of Nashville Memorial Hospital and the Memorial Foundation, the Tocqueville Society Alpha Chapter of the United Way of Middle Tennessee, and the Friends of the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.
It was in her leadership role at the hospital that she, and her late husband Henry, transformed one of Nashville’s unique springtime events into a powerful tool to raise funds to treat children.
In 1980 — when Mrs. Hooker was the first woman to be chairman of the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital board and Mr. Hooker was secretary of the Horsemen’s Association — they saw an opportunity to transform the Iroquois Steeplechase. They helped turn the Steeplechase, which had started in 1941 as a “pasture competition” by the Hillsboro Hounds fox-hunting organization, into Nashville’s premier sporting benefit. The partnership has raised about $10 million for the hospital and made the Steeplechase one of Nashville’s most successful sporting events.
In 2015, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame recognized the special partnership that transformed the Steeplechase by making Mr. and Mrs. Hooker the first couple to be inducted.
Their recognition reads: “It was a fine collaboration. Alice’s Children’s Hospital volunteers were a tremendous, effective corps to drive community interest and to handle the vibrant social side of the event. Henry’s foxhunters managed the race and its logistics.
“More than behind-the-scenes advisors,” it continues, “the Hookers were hands-on trailblazers. At the same time, they were able to preserve the flavor of the old days while masterfully looking ahead to ensure excellence.”
And all of Nashville benefited.
Mrs. Hooker was an example for the women who followed her, with her determination to complete each mission regardless of the societal pressures that surrounded her. She was a force to be reckoned with, and her consistent grace and hospitality are legendary. In addition to being the first woman to chair the Children’s Hospital board, she was also the first woman to be chairman of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
She was a commanding presence in supporting the role of children’s education, both in traditional school settings and in working to increase the educational efforts of organizations such as Cheekwood, where she served in many roles, helping enhance educational opportunities through their botanical gardens and art exhibits.
Her legacy of leadership was front and center as we said goodbye to a woman who served Nashville exceedingly well. Her legacy of leadership will live on in those she helped, in those she taught by example and in those who admired and respected the spirit of helpfulness that she exhibited throughout her life.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.