SCA Awardees’ Philosophy of Life: Generosity


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

The honorees at the May 1, 40th annual Sewanee Civic Association (SCA) awards ceremony shared two characteristics: strong ties to Sewanee and generosity as a philosophy of life. James Burnett and Mary Priestley received the Lifetime Achievement Award, between them blessing Sewanee with their generosity of spirit for nearly 100 years. Community Service awardees Georgia Hewitt and Felix Wilson shine as beacons of hope by the example they set for future generations.

“These awardees deserve the highest honors,” said SCA board member Chris McDonough presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award captioned the Summa Cum Laude Award. James Burnett, 82, graduated from Winchester’s Colored School, Townsend, and recently joined in a conversation about local Black history at a Franklin County Historical Society gathering. Receiving the award, Burnett minimized his five decades of community service. “I want to do something, not just lay on the couch and watch TV and sleep.” Burnett has done plenty, managing and maintaining St. Mark’s Community Center for more than 25 years, serving on the Sewanee Community Council, and as deacon of his church, in between delivering meals to shut-ins and taking community members to doctors’ appointments. Burnett’s life motto is simple: “If you are nice to people, they’ll be nice to you.”

Naturalist, outdoor guide, visual artist-illustrator, activist, community leader, musician, and author, Mary Priestley has shared her gifts with Sewanee since graduating from the University in 1972. During her early years in Sewanee, Priestley served as board chair of the Children’s Center, president of Sewanee’s PTO, as a Girl Scout troop leader, and as instructor and director in programs for high school students — the Sewanee Summer Scholars Program and the Bridge Program in Math and Science. Today, Priestley is more widely known for her work with Friends of South Cumberland State Park and as the associate curator of the Sewanee Herbarium. Over the years, Priestley’s generosity, creativity, and dedication have touched multiple facets of community life.

The nominator of Community Service awardee Georgia Hewitt summed up Hewitt’s special brand of generosity with the comment, “If you need something to be done, Georgia does it — often without being asked or told … Georgia is always looking out for others.” Hewitt has served on the Sewanee Parent Organization board, as a member of the Sewanee Parks Committee, and as coordinator for Sewanee Youth Soccer. For many years, she taught gymnastics at the Sewanee Elementary Friday School and has a unique gift for bringing out the best in kids while encouraging them to be kind to one another. Hewitt epitomizes the unsung volunteer hero, signing up to help in whatever way is needed.

Felix Wilson’s nominator described him as a “valiant, responsible, and dependable leader in any volunteering activity which benefits his community.” But what additionally singles out Wilson is his youth. The Religious Studies major will graduate from the University this May. As chair of the Interfraternity Council’s Service Committee, he led his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, and the Greek community to embrace community service and philanthropy, raising more than $7,000 for Rotary’s Hunger Walk, as well as volunteering for the Morton Memorial Church Food Ministry, the University Farm, Sleep in Heavenly Peace children’s bed program, children’s reading programs at SES and MES, and the Hospitality Shop. “I’ve always known Sewanee,” Wilson said, “but now I’ve found a new place for myself here. And it’s a place of purpose.”

Turning to business, SCA President Kiki Beavers announced the Community Chest exceeded its goal, raising $110,063. The surplus allowed the SCA to fund a $1,000 emergency request by Early Literacy Ambassadors, a program that helps foster childhood reading skills. Beavers thanked Community Chest stewards Kathy and John Solomon and Clay and Paula Yeatman. The Community Chest had a record 340 donors.

The following slate of officers for 2023-2024 were voted in: President, Kiki Beavers; Vice President, Ken Taylor; Treasurer, Hus Ahmad; Secretary, Millicent Foreman; Members at Large, Carl Hill, Chris McDonough, David Michaels; and Director of Classifieds, Bentley Cook.

SCA plans for the summer include a school supply drive. SCA dues, due in September, are still just $10 and include a year’s subscription to Sewanee Classifieds.

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