College/University attended?

I graduated from Chattanooga State in the late 70’s with an Associates Degree in Secretarial Science.

Tell us about yourself:

I am a native Chattanoogan and have never lived anywhere else but here. After I graduated from Chattanooga State I started to work at the Chattanooga Chamber in 1977 as a receptionist. I worked in many different areas at the Chamber including membership, communications, beautification, public policy, special events, and management of InterCity Visits. In 1999 I was promoted to the Director Leadership and Community Development where I served as director of the Leadership Chattanooga Program. The LC program was truly my most favorite job at the Chamber. I so enjoyed working with each class and watching each person go through their leadership journey. The friendships I made over the years are invaluable.

I am married to Steve Parks. We have known each other since the first grade and went all through school together and started dating the end of our senior year in high school. He is now retired from his career in law enforcement with the Chattanooga Police department where he was Chief of Police here from 2003-2006. We have one adult daughter, Janie Parks Varnell who is an attorney with Davis & Hoss. She is married to Adam Varnell and I have two granddogs.

What does leadership mean to you?  

From the work I did with the Leadership Chattanooga Program, I learned that leadership means many different things to different people. There are so many characteristics of a good leader. I believe that anyone can be a leader, no matter where you are on an organizational chart. In fact, I find that sometimes the people at the top of the organization are not always the best leaders. Leaders should mentor and encourage employees and develop effective teams. Everyone has different leadership styles and it’s important that people learn their style and how they can work with people in other styles, and develop creative, performing teams.

What advice do you have for women aspiring to be leaders in their field?

Stand up for yourself. Sometimes that is hard for women to do. I admit that I was not always the best at this. Be strong in what you believe in and don’t let others criticize you or make you feel that you are not important. Communicate with your team and encourage and compliment others when they do a good job. Celebration is so important for staff morale and, unfortunately, not enough companies and organizations do a good job with this. Inspire others and lead by example to reach a common goal.

What has been your proudest moment in your career?

My proudest moments are seeing graduates of Leadership Chattanooga become leaders in the Chattanooga/Hamilton County area. Many are elected officials, both locally and on the State and National level. And so many others are CEO’s and community leaders that have truly made a difference in our community. Along with the current Mayors’ of both Chattanooga and Hamilton County to others in local government who are in leadership positions, to heads of local nonprofits and successful entrepreneurs and small businesses, Leadership Chattanooga graduates are everywhere making our community better.

What steps do you think members can take to make more of a difference in women’s leadership issues in the local community?

Get involved with organizations like CWLI! Learn what the issues are and how you can get involved. Go to local events and community gatherings. There are plenty of non-profits and community boards and focus groups that need volunteers. Find several that interest you and get involved.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends. Whether it is time with girlfriends or gathering for a good meal and a nice bottle of wine! I’m a people person and don’t do too well by myself. I love photography and english smocking.

What have you gained most from your CWLI membership?

Meeting so many wonderful ladies. I’ve enjoyed working on CWLI’s events and helping a little with the Game ChangeHer program. I always learned a lot from the quarterly luncheons and learning from other female leaders in the area. I’ve made a lot of friends through CWLI and I love meeting people and learning from their leadership successes.