February 9, 2017

Passion for philanthropy a family affair for Brown

When Kathryn Carell Brown volunteered to lead the Growing to New Heights Campaign less than three years ago, she was following in the footsteps of her late parents Monroe Carell Jr. and his wife, Ann Scott Carell.

Kathryn Carell Brown, left, Edie Carell Johnson and Julie Carell Stadler with Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Anne Rayner)
Kathryn Carell Brown, left, Edie Carell Johnson and Julie Carell Stadler with Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Anne Rayner)

When Kathryn Carell Brown volunteered to lead the Growing to New Heights Campaign less than three years ago, she was following in the footsteps of her late parents Monroe Carell Jr. and his wife, Ann Scott Carell.

“I’m a lot like my father in that I like to get things done,” Brown said, noting her mother was more of a steel magnolia who mastered simultaneously the art of compassion and finances.

In reality, Brown’s embodiment of both her parents’ characteristics primed her for the chair role in the Growing to New Heights Campaign — the $40 million fundraising effort to support a four-floor, 160,000-square-foot expansion atop the existing structure of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

With construction underway, and two cranes positioned alongside Children’s Hospital busily preparing the structure for growth, the campaign announced this week that with tremendous community support it has successfully achieved and surpassed the $40 million goal in under the three-year anticipated time frame.

“We’re very excited, very pleased to announce that with the amazing support of our community, we have reached and exceeded our goal of $40 million,” Brown said. “It’s taken a little more than two years, which is really unbelievable. It’s been a whirlwind, but a really fun and fabulous one. I have met so many great people. My co-chairs have been fabulous. The way the community has embraced this campaign has been phenomenal.”

Brown’s commitment to volunteer her time to Children’s Hospital, combined with her passion and love for people, mirrors what her father and mother did nearly two decades ago.

“Kathryn’s enthusiasm has been fundamental to the success of the Growing to New Heights Campaign. Her heartfelt commitment, along with the support of her sisters and the entire Carell family, continues the altruistic legacy of Ann and Monroe Carell to provide the very best for children and families in our community,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I am incredibly grateful for Kathryn’s leadership and want to congratulate her for a campaign that has surpassed all expectations.”

Monroe Carell Jr., a frequent visitor to the pediatric unit at Vanderbilt and former chair of the Children’s Hospital Board of Directors, took the helm of a similar philanthropic effort in the late 1990s to realize the decades-long goal to build Middle Tennessee’s first and only freestanding children’s hospital.

He and Ann happily jumped on board, kick-starting the fundraising efforts with a transformational gift of their own. The hospital — named for Monroe Carell Jr. — opened Feb. 8, 2004.

Families quickly filled the space, seeking the high quality, compassionate care provided for everything from broken bones to childhood cancer. An expansion in 2012 added 33 beds and 30,000 square feet to that structure. Even more families came.

For the Growing to New Heights Campaign, the Carell daughters, Edie Carell Johnson, Julie Carell Stadler and Kathryn Carell Brown, and their families made a $10 million cornerstone gift to launch the effort. Once completed, the expansion will bring Children’s Hospital’s total footprint to more than 1 million square feet.

“I know my parents are really proud that we’re expanding the hospital. I am sure dad is thinking, ‘I am glad we decided to build it designed to accommodate additions,’” Brown said. “I know they are smiling on us and thinking we’ve all done a good job. I know they are proud that our community came together, joined arms and made this possible.”

Giving back to others

Long before Children’s Hospital existed as a freestanding building on Children’s Way, Monroe Carell Jr. used family dinnertime with Ann and their three daughters to instill messages of altruism.

Brown, the youngest daughter and Edie’s twin, recalls one such discussion in the late 1970s where her father explained why he had a 1-800 phone line installed in the Children’s Hospital — which at the time existed as three floors within Vanderbilt University Hospital. In that era, long distance calls could be expensive.

“Dad discovered that sometimes parents, who were from others places like Kentucky, would have other children and would have to go home to take care of them or they needed to work,” Brown recalls.

“They didn’t all have the means to call the nurses and get updates. Dad had the 1-800 line put in so that nurses could tell them what was going on with their baby or their child. He said, ‘How do you sleep at night not knowing what happened during the day with your child?’”

Those dinnertime chats were part of a larger theme in the Carell household, one that has transcended generations, a message that Ann and Monroe held firmly in their hearts, Brown said.

“My parents loved this hospital and really felt so passionate about children and others. They said, ‘If you are very fortunate and you have means, you need to give back to help others.’ That was something that my mother and father instilled in us,” Brown said.

Along with Brown, the entire Carell family strives to give back to VUMC and Children’s Hospital. Julie Carell Stadler currently sits on the Children’s Hospital Board and has led the effort to turn the 2016 Christmas Parade in Nashville into a nationwide visibility and fundraising event for the hospital. Edie Carell Johnson is chair of the new Vanderbilt VUMC Board, and played a leadership role in helping reorganize VUMC as an independent legal entity in 2016.

“I know Ann and Monroe would be extremely proud of Kathryn, Julie, Edie and their grandchildren for furthering their passion and dedication to children and the hospital,” said John W. Brock III, M.D., Monroe Carell Jr. Professor, Surgeon-in-chief of Children’s Hospital and Senior Vice President of Pediatric Surgical Services.

“The Nashville community has stepped up to the plate time and time again to go to bat for Children’s Hospital and show its love and support. I want to thank Kathryn for her remarkable leadership and the entire Carell family for sharing our story.”

The community response

When the Growing to New Heights Campaign team assembled three years ago, Brown and her co-chairs set out on a thoughtful mission to share stories about the comprehensive, quality care happening at Children’s Hospital.

The co-chairs are: Kix Brooks, country music artist/entertainer; Rick Dreiling, former CEO of Dollar General Corp.; Steven Hostetter, CEO of TriStar Energy LLC; Bob Rolfe, CEO of Medical Reimbursements of America Inc.; and artist manager Clarence Spalding, a partner at Maverick.
They set out to touch every sector of the community, advocating for growth of the hospital and expanded services for families.

Brooks and Spalding reached out to the entertainment community; Dreiling and Hostetter tapped into businesses and corporations; Rolfe worked with individuals including those on the Children’s Hospital Board.

Brown connected with individuals and families, many of whom she knows in the community.

“I joked with the campaign team that if I knew someone frequented a coffee shop every day that I might happen to show up there at the same time,” Brown said.

“We wanted to educate more of the community about the hospital and what is happening in the excellent pediatric care that we have in our own back yard.”

Those conversations in the community resulted in 112 new, first-time donors to VUMC. Brown is quick to divert attention away from her volunteer leadership, to credit the team effort and the community for the campaign’s success.

“Really, when you love a place and have a soft spot for it in your heart, it’s not hard to ask. People may not necessarily have had a personal experience, but once you talk about it they are delighted to give,” Brown added.

She said she was particularly touched by the generosity of families whose children had been patients at Children’s Hospital.

“They’ve had a lot of emotional times there and they gave back and got the word out to others. That is the greatest testament, for someone who has been there and lived through it and wants to give back, help others and tell more people about it. That’s unbelievable,” Brown said.