Chattanooga Now Bessie Smith event honoring trio a sellout - Feb. 6

Chattanooga Now Bessie Smith event honoring trio a sellout - Feb. 6

January 30th, 2014 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Outabout

Crisis management expert Judy Smith, inspiration for the Olivia Pope character on ABC's "Scandal," will be the guest speaker for the Bessie Smith Cultural Center's 30th anniversary luncheon Tuesday.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


¦ What: Bessie Smith Cultural Center 30th Anniversary Luncheon.

¦ When: 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4.

¦ Where: DoubleTree Hotel, 407 Chestnut St..

¦ Admission: Sold out.

¦ Phone: 423-266-8658.

¦ Website:

Educator Edna Varner, public-sector executive Rayburn Traughber and publisher Ruth Holmberg all, at one time or another, managed their share of crises in the Chattanooga area.

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the DoubleTree Hotel, the trio will be honored at the 30th anniversary of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

Someone also familiar with crises, Judy Smith, president of a crisis management firm, co-executive producer of the television political thriller "Scandal" and inspiration for "Scandal" character Olivia Pope, will be the featured speaker for the event, which has sold out.

Event chairwoman Stacy Lightfoot says the speaker is one of the unheralded people whose importance in national and international crises is not readily understood by the public.

Those people, she says, "needed to be on board" to "preserve the integrity" of clients in controversial and sensational national and international events.

Smith, now president of Smith & Company, once served as special assistant and deputy press secretary to President George H.W. Bush. There, she helped navigate the administration through the Gulf War and relations with Kuwait. More recently, her crisis firm has advised individuals including former Clinton White House intern Monica Lewinsky, actor Wesley Snipes and quarterback Michael Vick.

"Scandal," for which she also is technical adviser, debuted in 2012.

In the same way as Smith works, Lightfoot says, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center is attempting to offer worthy programming and educational events to "preserve its reputation as a cultural institution in the city."

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center traces its roots to 1983, when Jacola Ruth Goodwin, Roy C. Noel and Leonard E. Washington Sr. led an effort to preserve local black history and artifacts by creating the Chattanooga African American Museum.

The museum and adjacent Bessie Smith Performance Hall were given a home in a newly renovated facility at 200 E. M.L. King Blvd., in 1996, and the museum and hall were renamed the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in 2009.

The 30-year anniversary honorees, according to Lightfoot, are "three civil-rights trailblazers."

"They all made contributions to the African-American community in the sense of building relationships and creating a positive sense" of well-being," she says.


Edna Varner

Edna Varner

¦ EDNA VARNER: A University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate and former Hamilton County Schools teacher and principal, she now works with the Public Education Foundation on two projects that resulted from collaborations with

the Hamilton County Department of Education and community partners. In addition to her posts as assistant principal at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and principal at Chattanooga Middle School and Howard School of

Academics and Technology, she worked as director of leadership and assessment for New York-based Cornerstone Literacy Inc.

Rayburn Traughber

Rayburn Traughber

¦ RAYBURN TRAUGHBER: A product of Chattanooga public schools and a graduate of Kentucky State University at Fisk University, he held positions over 40 years with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, city of Chattanooga, state of Tennessee, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and Chattanooga Community Housing Development Organization. A charter member of the board of directors of the Chattanooga African American Museum and the only living founding member, he also was the state's first black commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Employment Security.

Ruth Holmberg

Ruth Holmberg

¦ RUTH HOLMBERG: A granddaughter of former Chattanooga Times and New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs, she was publisher of The Chattanooga Times from 1964 to 1992 and chaired the Times Printing Co.

from 1992 to 1999. In the city and state, she has been a leader in civil rights, the arts,

downtown revitalization and education. She served on the boards - often in leadership roles - of, among others, the Tennessee Arts Commission, Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Association, Public Education Foundation, River City Co. and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce.

Contact Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497.