To honor her service of more than 31 years as president and a founder of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, friends, family and present and past colleagues threw Ellen Lehman a retirement party, and what a party it was.
The Noah Liff Opera Center hosted the celebration on Dec. 29, just prior to Lehman’s official retirement on Dec. 31. Her successor, longtime Nashville nonprofit leader Hal Cato, began work at CFMT in November and was among the well-wishers at the soiree.
“Ellen is living proof that one person can change the world,” said Aubrey Harwell, current CFMT Board of Trustees member and former board chair, who kicked off the program.
Among her remarks Jerry Williams, fellow CFMT Board of Trustees member and also a former board chair, announced the creation of The Community Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Lehman’s honor.
The annual award, with $15,000 going to the winner, will recognize an outstanding social entrepreneur who is successfully implementing visionary solutions to community problems.
“I’ve always considered Ellen an entrepreneur,” Williams said, “someone who recognizes an opportunity, and through drive and laser-like dedication, makes that opportunity a reality.” From the organization’s austere beginnings in her garage office in 1991, Lehman shepherded the growth of CFMT into the largest nonprofit in Middle Tennessee.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper attended the retirement party and read a proclamation that heralded The Foundation’s contributions of more than $1.2 billion to area nonprofits through Lehman’s time leading the organization.