In the field of education, Memphis may just be the new “it” city. Having won recent grants from the Gates Foundation and Race to the Top, many have dubbed it an “overnight success.”
But a proud Barbara Hyde will tell you these opportunities were not so sudden at all. In fact, they were 20 years in-the-making, starting with her husband, Joseph “Pitt” Reeves Hyde III, quietly making the rounds in the Tennessee Statehouse.
The Hyde family’s commitment to Memphis, not only in improving its education, but also in preserving its authentic natural and cultural assets, dates back even further. When Pitt’s grandfather arrived in the early 1890s and co-founded the wholesale grocery business, Malone & Hyde, he also found a city that needed his help. This led to the creation of the J.R. Hyde Sr. Family Foundation.
Two generations later, enter grandson Pitt, who dramatically expanded Malone & Hyde before founding the auto parts distributor, AutoZone. In 1992, when Pitt took the helm of his grandfather’s foundation, he also founded the J.R. Hyde III Family Foundation. Today, Barbara serves as President of both foundations, which continue their focus on Memphis.
Believing that politics stand in the way of change, the Hydes have come at education reform from every angle—relentlessly focusing on the things they can change, patiently pursing quality, and abandoning budget constraints when opportunity knocks.
Leading by example, the Hydes have rallied Memphis’ small pool of philanthropists to come to the city’s aid. A case in point is the Civil Rights Museum, which the Hydes and others helped create in the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. While the museum celebrates the freedom that was at the heart of King’s message, it also stands as a testament to activism, not only of Dr. King but also of the Hydes and of others who are supporting Memphis’ renaissance.
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