Gary and Tammye Whitaker are the 2017 recipients of Cumberland University's Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. The Lebanon couple will receive the award at commencement on Saturday, May 6.
The award, established by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, is given to community members who selflessly serve others. Sullivan Awards are highly prized and have been awarded to people whose lives of service have changed the world with little fanfare as well as those who have become household names - recipients include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, television icon Fred Rogers and Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell.
The Whitakers are involved extensively in the Lebanon community. Together, they are members of College Hills Church of Christ, graduates of Leadership Wilson and board members of Sherry's Run, the 5K run/walk named in memory of Sherry Patterson Whitaker, Gary's wife who passed away from colon cancer in 2004. Sherry's Run has raised more than $3 million for support of area cancer victims and their families. Additionally, the Whitakers have recently established a scholarship for Tennessee Promise students attending Cumberland University who wish to pursue a bachelor's degree.
"We are in awe of receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and are honored and humbled to even be considered. God has blessed us so much, and we are so grateful and thankful that He gives us opportunities to help others," Tammye Whitaker said.
Gary Whitaker has also served on various committees of the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce. He was a past chairman of the Southeastern School of Consumer Credit for the Tennessee Banking Association, served on the board of Wilson County Adult Education and coached Little League Baseball for more than 10 years. Currently, he is an executive vice president at Wilson Bank & Trust, where he has worked for 21 years. He grew up in West Nashville and graduated from Cohn High School. He has a degree from The Graduate School of Banking from Louisiana State University.
Tammye Whitaker grew up in nearby Liberty, where she graduated from Dekalb County High School. She has a bachelor's degree in social work from Belmont University and a master's degree in higher education from Middle Tennessee State University. She is retired from Belmont University, where she worked for 22 years in the office of student affairs and as assistant dean of students.
Her individual community service includes leading various support groups for single mothers, divorced persons and caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. She has served on mission trips with college students, was the conference chair for the Tennessee Association on Higher Education and Disability and helped Wilson County Schools provide information to junior and senior high students with disabilities about requesting accommodations when they entered higher education.
"Our greatest satisfaction comes from becoming involved in individual lives. Sharing with others, whether that is assisting with some physical need, teaching life skills that are Bible-based or taking the time to walk with someone during a period of transition," Gary Whitaker said.
The Whitakers have two adult sons, Matthew and Tyler, who both live in Lebanon. Gary and Tammye enjoy playing with their grandchildren, sitting on their deck watching nature, being with friends, reading and traveling. They both say their parents instilled in them the qualities of service and giving.
"Most of us see the value of helping others and may volunteer or contribute to a cause that's near and dear to our hearts, but Gary and Tammye Whitaker take service above self to a higher level. They are catalysts of change - they improve people's lives. They don't just contribute to a cause, they create a hugely successful fundraiser. They don't just volunteer their time here and there, they lead support groups," CU President Paul Stumb said.