Five Women You Need to Know

The Visionary

Karen Pershing

With an early career in social work, Karen Pershing was destined to help others. Public service is her primary focus, not just as the executive director of the Metro Drug Coalition, but also in the creation of Hands of Hope, a mentorship program for young mothers who struggle with substance abuse.

“Hands of Hope was a brainchild of mine,” she says. “It’s to pair up moms in stable recovery with moms who are pregnant or just had a baby and are in treatment trying to get to the other side.”

Karen strives to make a positive impact by empowering those in need and by working with lawmakers to promote public health strategies.

The Leader

Ruth Bailey

One doesn’t typically connect creativity with dentistry, but for Dr. Ruth Bailey, it was the artistry of the profession that drew her in. Simply, she liked being able to improve someone’s smile and, in turn, improve the lives of her patients. She decided early on to start her own practice and lead the way in reconstructive dentistry. For more than 25 years, she has been a leader in technology and techniques, caring for patients and building relationships with families in the Knoxville area.



“When I started, the internet wasn’t a big thing, so you put your name in the phone book, and that’s how people found you. Even though I put my name in, it didn’t appear,” she says. “There were almost two years when I wasn’t in the phone book, so it was mostly word-of-mouth. That was a great way to start a practice.”

The Entrepreneur

Debbie Elliott-Sexton

After moving to Knoxville in 1998, Debbie Elliott-Sexton decided to go into real estate with Sotheby’s International and prayed that God would put people in her life whom she could help. More than 25 years later, she has more than 30 team members under her, and it’s the goal of each agent to help people find their dream homes and create the lives they always wanted. Debbie not only built her business from the ground up, but she also continues to do the hard work of running it for the benefit of her children and grandchildren.

“We have six grandsons, 4 and under,” she says. “That’s why I do what I do—for all these grandkids. They’re the love of my life. The group of agents at my office? They’re like family. I trust the keys to my office with every agent there.”

The Mentor

Kelly Fletcher

Company owner Kelly Fletcher knows the power of her own voice. Since establishing Fletcher Marketing PR more than a decade ago, she’s solidified herself and her team as the go-tos for getting a message out. Not only that, Kelly goes above the call of her clients to mentor women and girls in the community to find their voices, improve their life and work skills, and be self-sustaining. She works with the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee, Project Grad, and works alongside communication majors at the University of Tennessee to provide real-life experience before they graduate.

“I’ve always had a passion for empowering women and what we can do—especially women in the South,” she says. “It’s grown as I’ve been an employer and became a mentor. It’s important to me.”

The Fundraiser

Hope Davis

Hope Davis’ parents moved from Savannah to Knoxville in 2011 when a series of health concerns became too great to handle. Shortly after establishing themselves in Tennessee, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and that’s when previous behaviors and symptoms—poor hearing, confusion, growing unrest in hospital scenarios—clicked into a place. As the disease continued to chip away at her father’s health, Hope decided she needed to act, not just as a caregiver but also as an advocate. As former ShowHouse participants for the Knoxville Symphony League, she and her husband, Scott, decided to raise money via a ShowHouse for Alzheimer’s Tennessee.

“We wanted to do it for an organization I strongly believed in,” she says. “Almost everyone we went to can say they know someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s widespread. We really need the money to go to research and treatment.”