StyleBlueprint is honored to present the following interview with Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam for our Faces of Nashville profile. What appealed to her most about doing this interview was the opportunity to get the word out about her passion for ‘Raise Your Hand Tennessee.’ If you don’t know about this organization, it is time, literally, to raise your hand and get involved. Under the umbrella of United Way of Middle Tennessee, Raise Your Hand Tennessee recruits volunteers to read, mentor and help children improve their performance in schools. To sum up the First Lady’s message to StyleBlueprint readers – Raise Your Hand Tennessee needs your help.
We hope you enjoy our interview with the First Lady of Tennessee, Crissy Haslam, as much as we enjoyed interviewing her:
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Houston, Texas, and moved to Memphis when I was eight years old. My Mom, brothers and their families still live in Memphis. I was the one to leave when I married Bill and moved to Knoxville.
Do you have a funny memory from your childhood you would like to share with our readers?
What comes to mind is getting kicked out of a dance for not having a date. It was with two of my girlfriends, and we naively thought because we worked on the dance to help plan it and set it up, we could arrive without dates. Completely wrong.
How did you and Governor Haslam meet?
We both went to Emory University and met each other three times the first week of school. The first time was at an activities fair during orientation, then again at a fraternity house where we were introduced by a friend of my brother, and finally he was in the back seat when one of my brother’s friends picked me up for church. We became friends during college and started dating my junior year. We were married one year out of college. I was 22 years old.
Did you date other people during college?
Yes, but Bill said he hardly dated anyone in college before me. I know he was usually in the library!
22 is so young to married. Was it tough being so young?
The funny thing is, I really thought I would get married at 28. But when you marry at 22, you really grow up with your husband.
What part of your new job as First Lady of Tennessee do you enjoy the most?
I am most excited about the opportunity to make a difference for families and children. I’m reminded everyday of how important education is to our state, and when I spend time in schools, what I see firsthand is what a difference it makes when someone reads to the children. They become so much more engaged. Learning becomes fun. It’s been proven that when children fall behind because they struggle with reading, it affects every aspect of their education and their lives.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given?
Love God and love your neighbor.
You are passionate about improving education in Tennessee. Can you tell us about your involvement in Raise Your Hand Tennessee?
Raise Your Hand Tennessee is a statewide collaborative effort to recruit volunteers to read, tutor, and mentor Tennessee’s children and help them succeed in school and in life. The program aims at recruiting volunteers from all walks of life to help children improve their reading skills in our elementary schools. In Tennessee, only 43.9% of children are reading proficiently. We can do better.
Basically, children ‘learn to read’ up to third grade, then ‘read to learn’ after that. Poor reading skills affect a child’s ability to keep up with his or her peer group. Once students fall behind, they often end up dropping out of high school and struggling to find jobs. When businesses consider re-locating to a state, they look at the dropout rate in high school, as well as a variety of other factors. It’s also true that some states estimate the number of jail cells they will need based on their dropout rate. So in addition to being a personal matter for these young children who are struggling to read, it’s also an economic development issue and a budget issue for our state. That’s why it’s so important to catch the kids early and help them learn to read.
The United Way program makes it easy to volunteer. Just dial “211” or go to www.raiseyourhandtn.org to volunteer. When you call, they will assign you to a school and student. You can spend as little as one hour a week and make a huge difference in a child’s life.
From my understanding, your daughter just got married. Do you have any advice for women whose daughters may be planning a wedding?
Couple of thoughts. First, it is their wedding and their day, not yours. So my goal was to help them plan the wedding they wanted – make their dreams come true. Second, give them a budget!
How do you and your family relax when you are not performing the official duties of the state?
I have three children, all in their 20’s, and all living out of the state. So when they come home, it is a reunion of sorts. We love to gather, play board games and enjoy being a family.
When it is just Bill and me, we like to hike, bike, read and exercise. So far, we have discovered Radnor Lake and Percy Warner Park.
Do you have a favorite spot to vacation?
Mountains and beach. We used to go to Hilton Head a lot because it is closer to Knoxville.
Do you have any irrational fears?
It is not irrational. I hate heights, and the ironic thing is, my office is on the 27th floor. I have a gorgeous view, but I am just fine not standing near the windows.
What books can be found on your bedside table?
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. Please tell your readers that I am not having marriage problems, it’s just important to keep attuned on the topic. Also, I am reading Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. I wanted to read more of her work since she is a Nashville author.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God):
Coffee, chocolate and books—all at once if possible.