Volunteer state

Centerpiece feature for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 27, 2012

Memphian gives back to community every day in November

Sarah Petschonek grew up with the importance of volunteering instilled in her by her parents.

As children, she and her two younger siblings would pull a wagon around the Jacksonville, Fla., neighborhood where she grew up, handing out fliers and picking up canned goods for food drives.

“I think there’s an important lesson there, it’s not just that we did it but that they took the time to tell me why we were doing it,” Petschonek said. “When you’re 8 years old and you go to a private school and everyone around you has everything that they need, it blows your mind when you realize there are 8 year olds that don’t have food every day.”

It’s a revelation that has stuck with her and shaped her. It compelled her to volunteer throughout her years at Houston High School once her family moved to Memphis, and through college at the University of Memphis where she attained undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees.

At 30, having left a job in Nashville to move back to Memphis, Petschonek found herself looking at several months without work and was searching for ways in which to fill the time.

Volunteering, reflexively, was part of a plan that would grow into what she calls “Mission Memphis: 30 Days of Volunteering.” The idea was to volunteer with a different organization every day for the month of November … (read more)


Thankful for times past, memories of family

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Nov. 22, 2012

Empty seat at table full of cherished memories

It’s the most nostalgic time of the year. There are memories everywhere today, in each shaker of spice, in the clatter of silverware and carried in on the aromas from the oven. Who doesn’t equate the myriad scents and sounds of Thanksgiving with childhood and the kitchen of a grandparent or great-grandparent?

Today is one of remembrance, a main course of sentimentality simmered over years past when, as children, we looked on from the kids’ table to where the adults ate, wondering if the food there just out of reach wasn’t sweeter and more plentiful, the talk more substantial and promising.

Time’s crawl seemed interminable then, as though it would never get us to the grown-up table. And then one year it did; chairs were shuffled, and a place was made beside a favorite aunt or uncle. We began to look back almost immediately, spending this time each year remembering what it was like to be so carefree and, hopefully, thankful for that time past.

It’s been a tough year for our family. My father died in the spring, and just last month we lost my grandfather. Such happenings make the gatherings we’re having today, surrounded by family but with an obvious empty chair, a bit more melancholy.

We give thanks for those in our lives today as well as those no longer with us for whatever reason, for those we knew and who enriched our lives for having known them. Look to the kids’ table, to that island of innocence, a refuge with its spilled milk, half-eaten turkey leg and discarded cranberry sauce where nothing unforeseen could touch you, where no concerns from the adult world, never more than a few feet away, would ever be seated.

Give thanks for your children who still believe that nothing will ever change, that sickness and sadness are ghouls to be stopped at the doorstep of the family home.

As my grandfather’s illness progressed, it was his seven children who came together to look after him, and my grandmother to care for him and wrap him up in their memories.

My aunts and uncles, my mother, have had to act the adult more than ever in the past year. Yet they’ve also, I believe, spent some time at the kids’ table, whole meals of nostalgia eaten with their mother at one end of the table, and their father at the other.

I gave the eulogy at the funeral and, in it, talked of how my grandfather could fill up a room with his very presence. In the absence of his physical presence this Thanksgiving, he is still here with us, the dining room filled with his family and his memory.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Communication skills serve Caraway well in law

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 22, 2012

“I went to law school so I could hear myself talk,” jokes Kirk Caraway, a partner with Allen, Summers, Simpson, Lillie & Gresham PLLC.

He’s laughing, but there is some truth behind such a statement in that litigators must possess a certain confidence in their expertise and their experience, especially when arguing in front of the United States Court of Appeals or the Tennessee Supreme Court, as Caraway recently did.

He’s been amassing his communicative skills since his days at White Station High School when his interest in journalism led him to the school newspaper and a statewide competition for writing as a junior. As a senior, he was editor of the sports section.

This interest spilled over into the University of Memphis where as a student he had designs on becoming a sports writer.

“The graduates that were getting out of college were then taking jobs in little bitty small towns and having to write about the local T-ball game or whatever the case may be, and I’m just not a small-town kind of guy so I didn’t want to go that route,” he said … (read more)


Blaylock honored as fellow in Memphis Bar Foundation

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 15, 2012

David Blaylock grew up in Smalltown, America. Oxford, Miss., to be exact, on the historic square in his father’s shop, Blaylock Drug Store, the current home of Square Books.

As a boy, he worked in the drug store yet realized early on that “it was not what I was cut out for.” His interests lay elsewhere, 250 miles north in the hallways of Vanderbilt University where he studied history and English.

“In small towns, the lawyers were respected members of the community who seemed to be doing a lot of good for people and helping people, and I just thought it was a good profession to follow,” Blaylock said.

He followed that profession back home and the University of Mississippi School of Law where he graduated in 1964. Having graduated, he left Courthouse Square in Oxford for Court Square in Memphis where he saw more opportunity for experience and space to spread his wings.

“The oldest lawyer in Oxford at that time was maybe 50 years old, so I didn’t see much room opening up,” he laughs. “Oxford was a lot different then, it was a lot smaller and wasn’t growing all that much.” … (read more)


Shaping Combat

Centerpiece feature for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 14, 2012

Crew Training International directs way missions are flown

In an unassuming building in Germantown is a company helping to shape the way combat pilots and ground crew work, and combat missions are flown the world over.

Inside that building, situated among aviation memorabilia and artifacts, is Alan Mullen, former Navy pilot assigned to the U.S.S. Nimitz and TOPGUN instructor, and the founder of Crew Training International.

CTI, the Memphis-based firm with top secret clearance that provides training, safety management systems and innovative programs to facilitate critical skill retention and risk management for clients such as the Department of Defense and all units of the Combat Air Forces, recently won a $17 million contract to provide Contract Aircrew Training and Courseware Development for the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School, part of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas.

The contract is significant “not totally in terms of revenue, which is important, but the length of it because it’s five years and we’ll acquire 14 or so additional employees so it’s good for the company in terms of longevity,” said President and CEO, Jack Holt … (read more)


Tayloe brings banking knowledge, energy to Financial Federal board

Feature profile for The Memphis Daily News

Special Emphasis: Financial Services

Nov. 12, 2012

At the age of 34, William Tayloe became the youngest president in the 27-year history of Financial Federal Savings Bank. Now, at 39, he has been named to the bank’s board of directors.

Financial Federal has a strong base in real estate banking, a natural for Tayloe, whose family is well-known in the area real estate market. He began as a loan officer and, like so many of the other employees of the bank, has worn many hats over the years.

“When I was looking around, Financial Federal had a pretty successful business and was a highly respected lender,” Tayloe said. “In particular in real estate, both residential and commercial, so that was probably what was attractive to me.”

He was named president in 2008, an inauspicious year for business in general and for the banking industry specifically.

Tayloe endured a trial by fire, leaning on the knowledge base of the many veteran employees, mentors such as Kent Wunderlich, shareholders, quality customers and, of course, “a strong capital base, a good foundation,” Tayloe said.

“I think he’s done extremely well,” said Wunderlich, chairman of the board and general counsel for Financial Federal. “I think every bank had some concerns in 2008, some things that we’d never seen before and we all had to adjust somewhat, and it took a lot of thought, a lot of energy, a lot of organization to keep moving on.” … (read more)


Kids so far unscathed by ravages of nature

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Nov. 8, 2012

Kids so far unscathed by ravages of nature

Other than last week’s tremors sent across the river by an Arkansas earthquake that didn’t even register on their sugar-addled seismographs, my children have, thankfully, never known a natural disaster. So when the windswept farmhouse of reality landed on them in the form of news coverage and classroom discussion about Hurricane Sandy last week, they were properly awed.

I can recall accounts of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 that hit South Florida, where my kids’ grandmother now lives, and of Floyd, which struck North Carolina in 1999. I was there for Hurricane Opal when it devastated the Gulf Coast in 1995 and was amazed by the brutal force of Mother Nature on those small coastal towns where so many Memphians vacation.

Even without experience, my kids are ready. Their bedrooms are natural disaster preparedness zones. Several years ago, I witnessed a search-and-rescue planning exercise conducted by the city of Memphis and the Medical Education Research Institute in which a nondescript office was transformed into a panic-stricken site of destruction. The scene had nothing on my kids’ rooms. Watching them pick among the ruins for an errant shoe or long-lost textbook is like watching Tennessee Task Force 1 brave shards of concrete and fire to find survivors. I’m thinking of leashing some kids and leasing them to the rescue team.

The weather-related catastrophes of my children so far have been limited to heavy rains and lost electricity when they’ve had to suffer through an evening of no television or Internet access. The candles amuse them for a while, like tiny torches in a cave; the flashlights entertain them longer, until the batteries run out.

We have only the rudiments of a survival kit in our home for when the big quake that the experts promise us is coming finally does arrive. We have 6 gallons of fresh water stockpiled and, as of this writing, half a box of Pop-Tarts, one working flashlight, five Bud Light Limes bought by mistake, an untold number of plastic Kroger bags we keep forgetting to return for recycling and a closet full of board games to keep us entertained or to burn for warmth.

Hurricane Sandy was mild compared to some, but the area she hit is densely populated, and much havoc has been wreaked. Though I kid here, the hardships and loss felt by those in her path are real, and should you be inclined, I urge you to contact redcross.org, or another relief agency of your choosing, to make a donation and help those in need today, and those who will certainly need help in the future.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Helping clients ‘sleep at night’ drives estate attorney

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 8, 2012

There are only seven attorneys in Memphis certified with the state of Tennessee as specialists in estate planning.

Five of them work for the firm of Wyatt Tarrant & Combs LLP, and Mike Adams is one of those lawyers.

To be certified, an attorney must have passed a test and been peer reviewed while 80 percent of his continuing legal education must be in the area of estate planning. It’s training and a distinction that is important to Adams, a 1997 graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, and which compelled him to further his studies.

“Right after law school I decided I wanted to really focus on, and specialize in, estate planning, so I went to one more year of law school down at the University of Miami,” the only law school in the country at the time offering a Master of Laws in the subject, Adams said.

It was a personal experience that ignited his interest in this area of law. His grandfather died just before Adams began law school and he was able to help his grandmother through a lot of the transition … (read more)


Seely sees career at Memphis Area Legal Services as ‘mission work’

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 1, 2012

October was National Pro Bono Month in the legal profession, a time when attorneys are urged to use their knowledge for the greater good and help those in need.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has written that “a lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.”

Though this is more of a suggestion than a mandate, many attorneys do want to help, and that’s where Linda Warren Seely, director of private attorney involvement for Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., comes in.

MALS is the principal provider of civil legal assistance to low-income individuals and the elderly in the area … (read more)


Elmwood Cemetery’s caretaker cottage endures as treasure-trove of history

Hidden Memphis feature for The Commercial Appeal

Oct. 29, 2012

The black-and-white images decorating the interior of Phillips Cottage in Elmwood Cemetery have many stories to tell, but the plaster walls of the cottage have even more — stories of grieving loved ones remembering their dead, of a fever that spread and threatened to eradicate the population of Memphis, of generals, mayors and the men and women whose final journey, whether on horse-drawn carriage or by automobile, passed by its front door.

Phillips Cottage was built in 1866, 14 years after the founding of the cemetery, as a one-room structure for Samuel Phillips to conduct the business of overseeing funeral arrangements and tending to the grounds. Despite its utilitarian use, the cottage was designed in the ornate Victorian Gothic Carpenter style, popular at the time with its gingerbread trim and churchlike windows. A steeple-shaped finial decorates the northern peak of the roof.

Kimberly McCollum, executive director of Elmwood Cemetery, and Michael Davis, superintendent of Elmwood, stand outside of Phillips Cottage, which was built at Elmwood in 1866 to be used as an office at the cemetery.

Phillips Cottage has been used consistently since its construction, but is much more than office space today. It is a living, working museum with records and artifacts dating back to the 19th century.

The small staff welcomes the public to peruse and take a trip back to that Victorian era when the cemetery was outside the city limits and only the first of its 75,000 bodies were interred … (read more)