Like so many Girls Inc. of Memphis alums, Ann Shirley Patterson Williams has a long list of favorite memories. One of them, from a weekend camping trip in nearby Fisherville, may take the prize for most unique—because it involves cows and cops.
“We were up late laughing and being pretty loud,” Shirley recalls (she went by Shirley Patterson in those days). “The local law enforcement came out to warn us to quiet down because we were disturbing the cows. They said the cows wouldn’t be able to give milk the next morning unless the noise ceased. But seriously, the camping trips were a little scary, but incredibly special.”
The camping trips and everything else she got to do through Girls Inc. was special, she says. She fondly remembers talent shows, roller-skating, gymnastics and cooking classes. In a ceramics class, she made an owl that her mother still has today.
“My mom was single and there wasn’t much extra money for entertainment,” Shirley said, “so camping trips were a very special memory for me.”
Shirley started Girls Inc. (then Girls Club) in 1970 at age 12, taking part at the LDT Center. She graduated high school in 1976 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting from LeMoyne-Owen College, then a master’s in education from Union University.
After deciding that teaching wasn’t for her, she worked as a CPA until 1995, then stayed-home with her youngest son until he started school. She then went to work for Memphis City Schools doing vision and hearing screenings. She retired from the Shelby County Schools in 2018.
The college staff that worked at Girls Inc., Shirley says, was inspiring to her and the other girls.
“They were strong mentors who genuinely cared about me,” she said. “Their presence and ambition made me believe that I could attend college and have a good career in my future.
Girls Inc., she said, is where she gained good socialization skills and an understanding of how to have good relationships with others.
“The seeds for my life were planted at Girls Inc.,” she said. “I have done what my mentors there did with me—I was very active in my children’s education and formed relationships with their teachers as a parent and volunteer at the school. Today, I train parents how to advocate for their children as well as working with young people to help them understand the steps they need to be taking to have a better future.”
After she retired, Shirley became involved with Tennessee Voices, an organization that works with parents of children with mental issues, helping them to advocate for their children in the school system.
“I don’t work 9 to 5 in this new role,” she said, “but I have dedicated myself to making sure the parents with whom I work have the knowledge and skills to stand up for their children.”
That sounds like a lot of families are benefitting from Shirley’s time at the LDT Center learning how to be strong, smart and bold.
Ann Shirley Patterson Williams
Girls Inc. Alumna
Participant from 1970 to 1976