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Pictured (L-R): Leadership Tennessee executive director Cathy Cate, First Lady and Leadership Tennessee III member Crissy Haslam, Dolly Parton, Class IV member and Excellence in Leadership Award chair State Rep. Mark White. Photo credit: Patrick Sheehan

Dolly Parton was presented with the inaugural Dolly Parton Excellence in Leadership Award by Leadership Tennessee Saturday night (Aug. 11) for her selfless work to improve lives across Tennessee.

Parton’s contributions to the Volunteer State are transformational to generations of Tennesseans, including her “Smoky Mountains Rise” telethon, which raised more than $12.5 million for her My People Fund, to provide financial assistance to victims of the devastating Gatlinburg wildfires in 2016. In addition to the joy her music has brought to millions of fans, Parton’s Imagination Library mails free books to children from birth until they begin school regardless of family income. Since its launch in 1995, the program has given more than 100 million books to children in five different countries on three different continents.

“Tennessee has many talented sons and daughters but there are few who are as beloved as Dolly Parton,” First Lady Crissy Haslam, chair of the Fifth Anniversary Committee said. “And while she may be most known for her music, she has undoubtedly proved to be an exemplar of leadership through her generosity, humility, inclusiveness, expertise and passion. As a state, we are indebted to all that Dolly has done for Tennessee and its people; there is no one better suited for the very first Excellence in Leadership Award.”

“My dream was to make as many people happy as I could in this life, and I am grateful to Leadership Tennessee and First Lady Crissy Haslam for recognizing our work done to improve the lives of all Tennesseans,” Parton said. “Even more humbling is for decades to come the future leaders of Tennessee will receive an award with the Parton family name attached to it, and for that I am truly honored and thankful.”

The Dolly Parton Excellence in Leadership Award, designed and created by artist and Nashville native Ben Caldwell, marked the culmination of a year celebrating Leadership Tennessee’s fifth anniversary.

Leadership Tennessee executive director Cathy Cate and Class IV member CeeGee McCord, director of global, public and community affairs and vice president of the Eastman Foundation, also announced the three winners of the Volunteer State of Mind initiative receiving grants for volunteer programs across Tennessee:

  • Hunger’s Hope Food Sorting and Packing from the Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis
  • Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in Nashville
  • Pellissippi Pantry from the Pellissippi State Foundation in Knoxville



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