10th Anniversary Spotlight – Sharon Miller Pryse – Founder & Former Luncheon Chai

From the beginning, the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee (WFET) was fortunate to have the support of 65 Women whom we call Founders, who believed that East TN should have the benefit of a Women’s Fund, and each pledged a minimum of $10K to form the Women’s Fund Endowment at the East Tennessee Foundation (ETF).

How did you learn about the WFET and why did you decide to become a founder?

“Mary Ellen Brewington invited me to a function at her home, and I learned about the mission — to serve as a catalyst to transform the lives of low-income women and girls in East Tennessee. It was there that I decided to join.”

You were one of those Founders who quickly embraced the value a Women’s Fund brings to the community – funding life and work skills and education while advocating for change in violence against women. What were your thoughts on building an endowment?

“Building an endowment at ETF to perpetually provide support for women’s issues in our region was very appealing to me.”

What it was like growing up?

“I am from Atlanta, grew up with brothers and did what they did. If they worked on the boat dock, I worked on the boat dock. If they went hunting, I went hunting–my family let me experience this. It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me that girls didn’t do those things that I realized I was an exception. Perhaps that’s why I never had a female chip on my shoulder. Culturally, I am aware of the disparity between young women and young men, and in some cases, the lack of encouragement for girls to choose post-secondary education. Even in my home the boys were pushed or encouraged to pursue Ivy League schools, but I was not.”

You are one of the few women in the country to own/Chair and develop a private financial institution.

“Early in my career, and I literally worked my way up from the bottom, I kept my head down and did the work to earn the respect of my peers. I engaged in the community with the support of some wonderful leaders — mentors who saw potential in me. Very often I was the only woman at the corporate table. They may not have expected me there, but they knew my name when they left.”

What do you like most about the Women’s Fund?

“The Women’s Fund does the best job of bringing women together, educating them about philanthropy, and cultivating younger givers. This makes such a lasting impact for the whole community. We need more of this in our community – they are our future.”

What do you want young women to know about their self-esteem and what career path they should choose?

“I don’t want young women to take on enormous debt for a career where they are not suited or won’t be happy…they need more counseling to look at all the options: college, trade school or certification.”

What would you like to see the Women’s Fund accomplish in the future?

My dream for the Women’s Fund over the next 10 years is to see even more community collaboration and facilitation of new opportunities for low-income women and girls in East Tennessee–to be that catalyst to bring groups together to do the best for our women and girls in East Tennessee.

Founded in 1987 by Sharon, and now with offices in Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities, The Trust Company of Tennessee currently has approx. $5 billion under management. The firm helps individuals, families, business owners and nonprofits make better financial decisions through wealth management, personal investment strategy, corporate retirement plans, estate planning and personal trust services. Sharon is a beacon for what one woman can do if you put your mind to it.

During our 10th Anniversary, we want to acknowledge Sharon’s important contributions to the Women’s Fund, but also to our greater community. She has held all the prominent roles one could hope to achieve and won most all the awards, including a wonderful new award as one of three finalists of the US Chamber of Commerce, Dream Big Awards –Women Owned Business category. About this award, Sharon said, “It is humbling and a confirmation that we place our priorities in the right places. I congratulate our team for their work that has earned our firm this distinguished recognition.”

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