Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee Announces Honorees for 28th Annual Sage Awards


The Council on Aging (COA) of Middle Tennessee recently announced its 28th Annual Sage Awards honorees.

The Sage Awards, presented each year since 1992, are given to older adults who have made outstanding contributions to Middle Tennessee through a lifelong commitment of working to improve the quality of life in their communities. Awardees will be honored at a luncheon held on Oct. 28 at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs. To make a reservation for the luncheon, please visit

The 2019 Sage Awards honorees are: Julian Bibb (Franklin), Thelma Harper (Whites Creek), Bill and Sallie Norton (Nashville) and Gracie Porter (Nashville).

In addition to the individual honorees, COA is also honoring two organizations that have demonstrated a significant impact on the lives of older adults in Middle Tennessee. The 2019 Organization Sage Awards will be presented to Mental Health America of the MidSouth and Nashville Public Television.

“The Council on Aging believes that aging should be celebrated and embraced, and that older adults have a lifetime of wisdom and experience to offer communities,” said Grace Smith, COA’s executive director. “The Sage Awards allow us to recognize the men, women and organizations that have demonstrated visionary leadership and a lifelong commitment to making our communities better places to live.”

Sage Award honorees (couples or individuals) and alternates are selected by the Sage Awards Committee from the nominations received. The committee, which is comprised of past Sage Award recipients, COA board members and community volunteers, may also consider nominations from previous years. Eligibility includes any older adult (age 55 and older) living in the Middle Tennessee area served by COA.

Following are a few of the honorees’ accomplishments:

Julian Bibb began his career teaching English at Battle Ground Academy after graduation from Sewanee. He then earned his Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University Law School and spent 40 years at a Nashville law firm. Currently, Bibb serves as legal counsel for Franklin Synergy Bank. Charlie Warfield has been Bibb’s lifelong mentor, and he inspired Bibb to give back to his community. Working collaboratively with others, he has poured his energies into the community, championing land preservation, historic preservation and environmental stewardship efforts. Bibb resides in Franklin where he and his wife Jayne have raised their children and are currently enjoying their six grandchildren.

Thelma Harper is the first African-American woman elected state senator in Tennessee. First elected in 1991, Harper was the longest-serving female state senator in Tennessee history. She continued to break the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to preside over the Senate. Harper has been instrumental in some of Nashville’s most historic moments such as the development of the Music City Center, the Downtown Nashville Library and bringing the Titans to town. She was also instrumental in raising funds for Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College and many non-profit organizations throughout the years.

Bill Norton is a partner in the Bradley LLC law firm. He is a certified bankruptcy specialist and an adjunct professor on bankruptcy law at Vanderbilt University Law School. Norton is a fellow of the American Bankruptcy College, editor-in-chief of a 13-volume bankruptcy law treatise, founder, former president and board member of the Tennessee Turnaround Management Association, and past president and current board member of the Mi-South Commercial Law Institute. He is an experienced civil mediator and arbitrator and served as the chair of the board for the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center for 12 years. Norton is an active member of the Downtown Rotary Club of Nashville. Sallie Norton previously worked in the Alumni Office at Vanderbilt as director of reunions, and at Harpeth Hall as director of alumnae relations. She serves on the boards of the West End Home Foundation, the Purpose Prep Charter School and Opportunity Nashville. Norton previously served as a board member for Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, past president of the Junior League Nashville and as a board member for Renewal House. She is currently an active volunteer for Faith Family Medical Clinic, Leadership Nashville, Room in the Inn, Kappa Alpha Theta, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Daughters of the American Revolution. Bill and Sallie are both active members at West End United Methodist Church.

Gracie Porter has served elementary education in Nashville as a classroom teacher, principal and elected member and chair of the Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County School Board. She has also taught as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University and Belmont University. In 2016, Porter received her doctorate degree in administration education from Tennessee State University. Her community involvement includes Leadership Nashville, 100 Black Women, East Nashville Hope Exchange, Nashville Beautification Environment Commission and Madison Kiwanis Club. Porter also co-authored The First Guided Reading series – Visions: African American Experiences.

Mental Health America of the MidSouth has served Middle Tennesseans for more than seven decades. For 35 years, Mental Health America has provided Aging and caregiver support programs – including Alzheimer’s education and support – to older veterans, teachers, mentors, and parents. In 2017, Mental Health America conceived and launched the Tennessee Coalition for Better Aging, a group of 17 organizations that advocate with a united voice for improved public policy for aging Tennesseans and their families. This collaboration continues to make a meaningful impact on the health and welfare of older Tennesseans.

Since 2013, Nashville Public Television’s “Aging Matters” project has sought to raise awareness about the critical issues and challenges faced by our growing older population. Through 14 documentaries, short update features, a website and extensive community engagement, the project has informed viewers about how our communities need to change to ensure positive outcomes for all of us as we grow older. Nashville Public Television is available free and over-the-air to nearly 2.4 million people throughout Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky.

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