Sometimes in the quiet of the morning, before her 18-month-old son Harris adds his voice to the day, Rhett Bentley, a bookish child of coastal Georgia, may imagine echoes of her father.
"Rhett, wake up and take advantage of every opportunity today!" Jerry Reeves would thunder to his daughter over his 6 a.m. coffee, along with the reminder: "Have fun every day!"
There's a lot to be said for caffeinating your mornings with positivity.
Bentley, 31, a native of Savannah, Georgia, is communications director at Thrive Regional Partnership, a Chattanooga-based growth planning and preservation advocacy group serving a 16-county, multi-state region. Being stewards of the natural world while working to make people's lives better through thoughtful growth is Thrive's mission, and Bentley's north star.
* Job: Director of Communications, Thrive Regional Partnership
* Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
* Age: 31
* Family: husband, Rob Bentley; son, Harris, age 1
* Hobbies: hiking, gardening and floral design, entertaining
"I come to work to be part of something bigger than myself," she says. "It's pretty inspiring to work for an organization that's so grounded in place."
Beyond that, Bentley is a mother, a wife, a lover of language, and a striver. She even has a personal mission statement: "To live my life and cultivate relationships in a way that is kind, authentic, creative and intelligent. Each day, in gestures great and small, I strive to meaningfully fulfill the roles I serve."
She chases creativity and intelligence, in part, by feeding on the words of lyrical authors such as Cormac McCarthy, whose Western novels were the subject of her honors thesis at the University of the South, and the late Pat Conroy, the grand-master of coastal Carolina-based literature for whom she worked briefly as a project editor. Both of these writers are known for their vivid descriptions of the physical landscape, which dovetails nicely with Bentley's day job.
In her study of Cormac McCarthy, Bentley sees a theme emerge: that the natural landscape has a permanence that makes human events seem fleeting by comparison.
"We are here on this planet for a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things," she says.
Through her 20s, Bentley worked as student activities coordinator at the University of the South, an intern at the Dallas Museum of Art and director of programs and marketing at the Southern Literary Alliance in Chattanooga. Her jobs have honored the wish of her mother, Isabella Reeves, that she would cross disciplines and embrace travel, literature and the arts in her life's work.
Like millions of other working mothers, 2020 was a stress test for Bentley, who entered the year caring for an infant and then endured months of pandemic-induced mental tension while trying to balance her career and maternal duties. She tells of apologizing to her boss last year in a tepid self-review, only to be told to stand tall.
"She explained that by punishing myself for having a baby, I was doing a disservice, not only to myself, but to other mothers and would-be mothers in the workplace," Bentley says. "It was a timely reminder that she hired me as a whole person, and that becoming the mother of a tiny human was only going to make me a stronger professional."
Bentley says Savannah and Chattanooga share qualities, including natural beauty and close-knit family networks.
"Even visiting Chattanooga when I was a student at Sewanee, I just felt this connection that it was similar to my hometown (Savannah) but in the mountains," she says. "I've always been a mountains girl."
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