By JAMES EVANS
Board member, Heart of Tennessee chapter
American Red Cross
It was a lightning bolt — a literal lightning strike, to be exact — that cemented Joey Peay’s belief that the American Red Cross is a worthwhile organization invested in serving the community.
Like many supporters, Peay’s involvement with the Red Cross started as a blood donor. He remembers giving in high school and consistently giving as an adult.
What brought the organization’s commitment into focus for Peay was a thunderstorm back in 2001. He has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Murfreesboro Medical Clinic since 2003.
Peay was jolted from his bed during the thunderstorm when he heard the unmistakable clap of a lightning strike. He checked his own house and barns before realizing it had struck his neighbor’s home.
“I go down through the field to jump the fence and went down there trying to help my neighbor and all of sudden the Red Cross volunteers show up too,” Peay said. “I was already involved with the Red Cross at that time but to see these volunteers out in the middle of a rain storm — a lightning storm under threat of a tornado — and here they are to help these people who had just lost their house and pretty much everything else.”
Peay has been named the recipient of this year’s Hero Award, which is given annually by the Heart of Tennessee chapter to a major supporter within the community. He will be the honored guest and receive the award at a breakfast on March 10 at Middle Tennessee State University beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Past honorees include community leaders Bob Mifflin, John Hood, Andy Womack, St. Thomas Rutherford CEO Gordon Ferguson, Dr. Liz Rhea, emergency medicine doctors Russ and Sherry Galloway, and MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee.
Peay first got involved with the local chapter through an invitation from his pastor to attend a Board of Directors’ meeting. They were in need of an accountant, and with Peay’s background — he has degree in accounting from MTSU and is a veteran in the industry — he was a good fit for the position.
“They were needing an accountant and I think that was his ultimate motivation,” Peay said of his pastor’s invitation. “So, I came to my first Red Cross board meeting and was ultimately invited to become a member of the Board of Directors, became officer, being treasurer, and served in that role for a number of years before transitioning into additional roles.”
He served as treasurer under two different executive directors until becoming the Chair-Elect for the Board of Directors in 2007. He then served as chairman for two years.
“I have this part of my fabric, for me to get involved with an organization, I have to believe in what they do and share their values and see the motivation by what they do for the community,” Peay said. “What I learned early on is that Red Cross is very much motivated to serve the community.”
The Heart of Tennessee Chapter’s response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was yet another example of the organization’s commitment to serve those in need.
“That was when I was further along in the leadership,” Peay said. “To see the devastation that happened with our country’s gulf coast — New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama coast — and to see the true defeat in the faces of my fellow citizens showing up in the greatest country on the earth. They lost everything. Fortunately, we as a community and the Red Cross as an organization could provide them the opportunity to regain footing.”
The Sewart Air Force Base in Smyrna was used to shelter evacuees from the gulf coast. Peay was serving in the role of treasurer at the time but also used his access to resources at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic. As the CEO, he set up a schedule that allowed the clinic’s employees to serve shifts at the Red Cross to assist with answering phones and other tasks as needed.
During his chairman years, he led the organization through its local response for those affected by Hurricane Gustav and the Good Friday tornado in Rutherford County, which impact 827 homes.
“Just to see the devastation through our community when that tornado ripped through — what was it a 20-mile path? — from one end of the county to the other,” Peay said. “Red Cross was there.”
Even after Peay’s term as chairman ended, he continued to make a significant impact on the organization. Most notable was his leadership to secure funding to move the local Red Cross headquarters to its current location on Memorial Boulevard. The building previously housed the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, and a capital investment was needed to renovate the building to suit the needs of the Red Cross.
Peay, as the immediate past chairman, was instrumental in working with the Christy-Houston Foundation to secure funding for a new facility.
Peay is well-known throughout the community, both as the leader of MMC and for his passion for the community. It made him an asset when fulfilling the local chapter’s mission, Board member Roy Boyd said.
“Joey would often provide resources to the chapter both financially and trained medical/accounting professionals to assist through various significant events that impacted the chapter over the years,” Boyd said. “Whenever there was a need he would find a way to help. His connections to the community opened many doors to us in numerous ways. Just his presence would help us attract resources and board members to help us guide the chapter.”
Since leaving the Board, Peay has continued to support the Red Cross financially and by giving his employees an opportunity to develop through community service.
“What I’ve learned is you’re more richly repaid when you give of yourself,” Peay said.
He added: “It’s a blessing in and of itself to be able to help others. And so I want to do that however I can.”
You can learn more online about the Heart of Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross — which covers a 17-county region including Rutherford — or call 615-893-4272.