Happy Jones has been passionate in her support of Girls Inc. of Memphis for enough years that she's unclear on when she started. But for her, that's beside the point.
"Girls Inc. has been around a while, and it keeps on growing," she says. "Now they've got the farm and all that-it's remarkable. And they need to keep going."
Because of supporters like Happy, Girls Inc. of Memphis is going strong, adding a Youth Farm in Frayser and expanding in Memphis, including a brand new presence at Booker T. Washington School.
Happy's life also provides a stellar example of what it means to be strong, smart and bold.
In 1969, the year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the city's sanitation workers were about to strike again because the city would not recognize their union.
"We got a couple of buses and rode around to see the sanitation workers' houses, and how they lived," Happy said. "It was pathetic."
The next day, the same group of women went to City Hall to address the mayor and city council. They insisted the issue was poverty and racism, not unions or management.
"They folded - right at that meeting," she said. "They recognized the union and we didn't have another strike. THAT'S how powerful the women were who were on that ride."
Happy—whose given name is Dorothy—says that her older sisters came up with her nickname. “They named me Happy before I was born. They said the new baby was going to be called Happy. So that was that.”
She was born in Memphis, attended Lausanne for lower and middle school and went to an all-girl boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut for high school.
“My folks chose it, and I’m delighted I went, because I got another world view,” Happy said. “There were more people up there who were liberal.”
She came back to Memphis to attend Southwestern but didn’t graduate.
“I got married and had three children and began to make trouble.”
She registered to vote on her 21st birthday and soon got involved in politics, helping run local campaigns for Republicans.
In 1968, The Commercial Appeal named her one of the 20 most influential political figures in Shelby County. Her notoriety probably helped in the concerned women vs. City Hall incident, but her activism made friends and family uncomfortable.
“I would go out to something at the Memphis Country Club and somebody would come up to me and say, ‘You used to be my friend.'”
She was eventually forced out of local Republican Party leadership. But she made new friends. And today she’s a Democrat.
For a mother of three grown girls and someone who likes to “make trouble," Girls Inc. seems like a perfect match.
“I support them because I support the mission,” Happy said. “What they’re doing is mentoring girls who might never have the chance to be exposed to the things that Girls Inc. is exposing them to. That’s why I think it’s an excellent organization.”