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VIProfile: Jackie Wilson

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Story by Gay Lyons | Photography by Scott Temple

Chattanooga native Jackie Wilson’s career in corporate public relations took her to Los Angeles and then to Houston. As head of financial communications, part of her job involved managing charitable giving, a responsibility that led to involvement with non-profit and cultural organizations. When she moved to Knoxville after she retired in 2002, she looked for opportunities in her new community.

“I knew that getting involved with organizations was a great way to make friends,” said Jackie. “I supported the opera in Houston, so it was a natural in Knoxville.” The relationship with Knoxville Opera was put in motion by someone connected with Houston’s opera who let the staff at Knoxville Opera know Jackie was moving to town. Over the years she served as president of both the Opera Board and the Opera Guild; she was inducted into the Knoxville Opera Hall of Fame in 2018.

Jackie also became involved with the YWCA, Knoxville Museum of Art, Friends of Literacy and Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.

“Betsey Bush introduced me to the Botanical Garden,” said Jackie. “Joan Ashe and I were co chairs of the first Green Thumb Gala, the Garden’s first fundraiser, in 2010. I love the Botanical Garden. I want to get more people out there. It’s such a gift that we have this great public garden.”

Now in its 10th year, the Green Thumb Gala is the Garden’s largest fundraiser, attracting over 350 people. In 2012, special event chairs Vicki Baumgartner and Jackie envisioned a series of parties in private gardens with the “in Bloom” tagline: Lunch in Bloom, Vino in Bloom, Champagne in Bloom and Hats in Bloom.

“I had attended a luncheon in Houston where women tried on hats,” said Jackie, “so I knew it would be fun. I had met milliner Patricia Frankum when she was an exhibitor at the Rossini Festival, so I approached her to see if she was interested in teaming up with us for this event.”

50 guests attended the first Hats in Bloom Luncheon, which featured hats by Patricia, champagne mimosas and a seated luncheon. The event grew to 100 and 150 in 2014 and 2015 when the event was held in the Martha Ashe Garden. Starting in 2016, the event has been held in the Dogwood Center and on its adjacent terrace, tented for the occasion, and draws a crowd of 250 guests, which is the maximum for the space.

“From 2013 to 2015, we were so lucky to have beautiful weather,” said Jackie. “It rained the first year we were in the Dogwood Center.”

Starting in 2016 the Hats in Bloom committee created two new ways to support the Garden at the luncheon. Guests who purchase “Top Hat” tickets arrive an hour early for bloody marys, champagne and passed appetizers--and the first opportunity to purchase hats. For a larger contribution, Garden Angels receive two Top Hat tickets, reserved parking and recognition. Garden Angels are also invited to a special tea in a private home as a thank you for their support.

“There’s no program, no auction,” said Jackie. “What it’s become is a tradition where women bring their daughters, their daughters-in-law, their business colleagues and their girlfriends. Many people have told me it’s their favorite event of the year. Everyone’s dressed up. They make it a friendship event and a tradition. I love that. It’s something people look forward to.”

“Hats are not required, and a hat purchase is not required,” continued Jackie. “Florists, designers and nurseries donate fabulous centerpieces which are available for purchase.”

“The success of Hats in Bloom is due to the fabulous committee we have,” she said. “It would not happen without the committee. We have so much fun. I can’t thank everyone on the committee enough.”

“Volunteering for these things is how you make friends in this town,” she continued. “I just love the people I’ve met on these non profit boards. I cherish those friendships. People need to do that. You need to find something you care about and get involved.”

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