Prior to moving to Memphis, I was a member for a number of years of The Rotary Club of Jackson, which is the State of Mississippi’s largest service club.  Most readers are probably familiar with Rotary, but for those who aren’t, it is an international service organization formed in 1905 with over 1.2 million members worldwide. On July 12, The Rotary Club of Jackson will be celebrating its 100th anniversary with a special event and will have Rotary International President Gary C.K. Huang from Taiwan as a guest.  This will be a historic occasion to have a sitting RI president visit a local Mississippi Rotary club. One of the things I like about Rotary are its mottoes:  “Service Above Self and One Profits Most Who Serves Best.”


Scherry Gilliland

My interviewee this week, Scherry Gilliland, embodies these mottoes. She has been a member of The Rotary Club of Jackson since 1998 and as of Jan. 1, 2014, she is serving as executive director of the club. Scherry grew up in Brookhaven and graduated from Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Belhaven College. She shared, “I loved learning . . . and still do. Growing up, there were many opportunities to get involved in service activities. I was fortunate to serve in a number of different leadership roles throughout these years.” Scherry had an early interest in music and learned piano from her grandmother. She has shared her love of music for many years as a piano teacher and choir pianist. She also noted, “Raising my sons was the greatest leadership experience I have ever had. It was the lengthiest and the most important. During the years when I was preparing them for life, I didn’t realize that I was being prepared for my own future.”

In 1998, Scherry found her next passion, non-profit public relations and development. She has been a certified fund raising executive since 1998 and has worked with numerous organizations including Mississippi Children’s Home Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mississippi, Junior Achievement and Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi. In 2010, she was contracted to set up a 501(c)(3) organization that drills water wells in Malawi, Africa. I know for many, the thought of fundraising is overwhelming. I asked Scherry how she has been so effective and seemed to enjoy it so much.  She emphasized that she loves to learn people’s stories and see the real joy that comes from giving. Scherry, like other effective leaders, is a change agent and enjoys serving where positive change is needed.

A person of deep faith, Scherry said, “My faith guides every day of my life. My daily opportunities are God’s gift to me. What I do with those opportunities is my gift to Him.” She also shared that her advice for future leaders is to remember that every experience in leadership is preparation for your next opportunity. Don’t be afraid to take the opportunity that is offered to you…It is YOURS! If you don’t take it, someone else will.” Scherry’s passion is contagious. Her current role as executive director of The Rotary Club of Jackson allows her to share her passion with other service oriented leaders. In addition to other service activities, the club’s signature philanthropic project provides college scholarships for at least four high school seniors annually.

I have seen first-hand how philanthropic activities like these can impact lives. My sister, Meg Willoughby Swayze, was a beneficiary of the club’s generosity years ago when she was able to earn a master’s degree as a Rotary scholar. I am thankful for leaders like Scherry who are on the front lines of making a difference in the lives of our communities.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, June 26, 2014.]
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