Fab Five: Alice Mercer

Part of a continuing series on the five women who established the East Tennessee Women’s Fund.

Alice Mercer became involved in the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee with the realization that she survived her own early years because her very strong mother encouraged and insisted upon excellence no matter what obstacles existed. Understanding that she was fortunate to have had her mother’s influence on her growth and development, she wanted to make an impact the lives of women and girls in our region who do not have strong role models, so that they too have a better chance to succeed. Much of her adult volunteer work has been dedicated to helping those less fortunate.

Graduating with a liberal arts degree, she later decided to return to college and earned an MBA. In the early 1970s, only 10% of her MBA class was female which made her feel like a trailblazer. She became one of the very first women in Alabama to serve as a senior administrator in a public academic institution, and she often credited being “in the right place at the right time to benefit from Title IX legislation.” Believing that a career in academics was her future, she took a leave of absence from her position to return to school once again to earn a PhD, the terminal degree required to work in academe, in health care management. But life intervened and her husband took a job in Memphis, so after completing the PhD, she became a faculty member in public administration at what is now the University of Memphis. There she headed up the health administration division and a small research unit.

Upon moving to Knoxville she taught part-time at the University of Tennessee and later worked as director of the Cancer Support Community (formerly The Wellness Community) of East Tennessee, part of a national organization that serves people affected by cancer at no cost to the participant. She has served on the boards of Second Harvest, the East Tennessee Foundation, FISH, Wellness Community, Knoxville Symphony League, The Women’s Fund of East Tennessee, American Heart Association, West Knox Food Pantry, and her church in various leadership roles.

Alice’s work with the Women’s Fund began in 2010 with Carol Transou, at the East Tennessee Foundation, who planted the seed for work with low income women and girls, a seed that grew and flourished quickly. As the second chair of the WF Advisory Board, Alice worked on every aspect of the formation of the Fund, and currently serves as secretary of the board as well as a member of the advancement, advocacy, executive and grants committees.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, she is married to Charlie Mercer and has two daughters: Melissa, a lab manager at a school in New Orleans, and Mary Catherine, a doctoral student studying violence against women.

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