November 21, 2019

Longtime Wilkerson Center benefactor Yount dies at 88

Jane Wilkerson Yount, a longtime supporter of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and a former member of its board of directors, died Nov. 18. She was 88.


by Kelsey Herbers

Jane Wilkerson Yount, a longtime supporter of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and a former member of its board of directors, died Nov. 18. She was 88.

Jane Wilkerson Yount

For more than six decades, Mrs. Yount made countless contributions to the mission of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, including assisting with the center’s opening in 1951. As a college student, she organized members of the Pi Beta Phi sorority chapter at Vanderbilt University to volunteer as receptionists, create therapy materials and act as test subjects to calibrate audiometers and other equipment.

In 1961, Mrs. Yount, her sister, Nancy Fawn Diehl, and the Nashville Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club organized the first annual Christmas Village event to increase the center’s financial contributions.

What began as a one-day event that netted $1,020 is now a four-day shopping extravaganza attended by nearly 30,000 shoppers and more than 260 merchants from 29 states.

Cumulatively, Christmas Village has raised more than $8.4 million for the Bill Wilkerson Center, and proceeds have supported the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center since its establishment in 1988. The institute serves adults and children with neurogenic speech-language disorders.

Mrs. Yount and her husband, Tom, endowed the Fred H. Bess Chair in Audiology at Vanderbilt to secure the future of a strong audiology program. In 2016, she endowed the Wilkerson-Yount Research Fund, which supports research in adult neurogenic speech and language disorders such as brain injury and stroke.

“Jane was a beacon to us all at the Bill Wilkerson Center. She shone brightly with her unique, bubbly and indefatigable personality,” said Roland Eavey, MD, Guy M. Maness Professor and chair of Otolaryngology and director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.

“She directed us with both her sage input and also practical pointers, such as having check-in kiosks at wheelchair height. She was there at the birth of the center and was the No. 1 cheerleader as the center grew and matured.

“She adopted you as a friend and made sure you were always aware of the unique history and features of the center. No one can ever replace someone like Jane,” Eavey said.

Mrs. Yount was the daughter of Wesley Wilkerson, MD, an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor who chartered the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center out of concern for a lack of intervention services for children with hearing loss.

The center was named after his son and Mrs. Yount’s brother, Bill, who was killed in World War II at age 19.

Since its founding, the center has become internationally known for its world-class treatments, research and education programs, largely due to the dedication, generosity and vision of the entire Wilkerson family.

“Over the last almost 70 years, Jane has been a vital part of the Bill Wilkerson Center’s history. She never lost sight of her father’s vision to create and grow a center specifically committed to serving those with communication disorders,” said Anne Marie Tharpe, PhD, chair of the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences and associate director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.

“Jane maintained a high level of involvement in the activities of the center, attending Christmas Village just last week. Most important, Jane loved the Bill Wilkerson Center and all who worked here. She considered us all as her extended family. She will be missed.”

A visitation will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Nashville on Saturday, Nov. 23, from 10 to 11 a.m., followed immediately by a memorial service from 11 a.m. to noon.