Carol Gardener Transou, Founder of the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee, Remembered Fondly

Rarely do we have the opportunity to share, from one’s own point of view, an individual’s life history. What we are about to share is from Carol’s own hand. We couldn’t be more proud that she was our Founder, leader, teacher, and, most of all, visionary and friend. She had a bold vision, and was determined to make a difference for low-income women and girls in East Tennessee. We are immensely grateful for her leadership, and that she left us with this sweet story about her life.

I was born in Nashville and grew up on a farm in Brentwood, Tennessee. My early education was in public schools. After high school I went to Lindenwood College for Women (then) in Missouri. Perhaps it was typical of women’s colleges of that era, but I found life there to be very stimulating, because of its emphasis on educating women to be all that they might! I graduated magna cum laude, made life-long friends and am so grateful for the education I received and the mentors who guided me.

Immediately after graduation, I left to travel in Europe for three months – an experience that further opened up the world for me. The money for the trip – then only $l,000 – was a gift from my grandmother and mother. The faculty at Lindenwood prepared my itinerary, which included a big dose of art, architecture, and culture.

When I returned home, I taught 7th grade – all subjects. About that first year I will say little, except that by those students, I was “taught to teach!” I won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship the next year, and did graduate work at Vanderbilt where I met my husband, Bedford. We had desks near each other in the Graduate Study Room of the Library. Bedford was in Vanderbilt Divinity School, having changed from engineering to theology. We married two years later – and celebrated 50 years together in October 2011.

I taught 25 years at Science Hill High School in Johnson City. In l987 I was named Tennessee Teacher of the Year in a long (and tedious) process across the state. In that capacity, I spoke all over the state about education – and my classroom was filmed, and filmed, and filmed. Two years later I became Tennessee’s first Teacher-Scholar in a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I was given a year’s sabbatical to study the Vietnam War and how to include it in the high school curriculum. That year began with an invitation to the White House, where the first “50” Teacher-Scholars were honored. What an exciting morning for me!

I retired in l992 and have spent a good bit of time since then in charitable and community work. Especially important to me are the Sunshine Lady Foundation, the East Tennessee Foundation – Women’s Fund, and the Harris Fund of ETF. Our community has profited from these relationships, and I have enjoyed both the work and the connections. I love the idea of a Women’s Fund, and by the grace of God and the enthusiastic cooperation of significant women on the Board of ETF, we started a Women’s Fund and have enjoyed great success. This has been a dream-come-true – as the members of the committee met, planned, and succeeded. Alice Mercer, Mary Ellen Brewington, Marty Begalla, and Kay Clayton from the ETF board quickly volunteered to be on the Planning Committee with me and proved to be superb leaders and hard, hard workers. (Don’t tell everyone — but some years ago – not too many – Kay was my student!)

I love East Tennessee. Bedford and I live in Johnson City and also have a farmhouse in Roan Mountain where I garden, rest, and even get to read a bit! East Tennessee State University is important to us, and honored me last year by making me an “Honorary Alum.” We are very supportive of a program there called Roan Scholars. Milligan College a few years earlier had named me as a “Leader in Christian Service,” an honor that I appreciate. I love gardening and participating in Munsey United Methodist Church and Fortnightly Book Club. (Six of eighteen book club members are Women’s Fund Founders!) We love to travel and have done quite a bit of it. From 2011 until 2012, we lived in Paris, where Bedford was one of the ministers at The American Church of Paris. That was our second time living there, and we had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower (just down the street) from our living room window.

Looking back over my years has been fun. I am grateful for the life I have led, the good health I have, the enriching work and friendships, as well as having a very supportive husband. I am also looking ahead and forward to what is to come…

Adored by so many, Carol passed away on November 17, 2021, and is survived by her husband, the Rev. Bedford T. Transou Jr. of Johnson City. She loved the Women’s Fund and was very proud of this legacy and her part in it. She was the first and is the only Emerita member of the Women’s Fund Board. Her generous spirit and contagious energy will be missed by all.

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