Nashville Moment: Alice Whitson & Amy Scruggs McElvey
Written By: Margaret Littman
Photographers: Lindsey Grace Whiddon
Alice Whitson and Amy Scruggs McElvey, Volunteers
Since 1963, the Swan Ball has been one of Nashville’s swankiest (and highest-dollar) fundraisers, helping support the horticultural oasis, Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. Alice Whitson and Amy Scruggs McElvey are among the longest-serving volunteers of Swan Ball (there are 200 others, as well), and they’ve served as evening coordinators for 21 years. Combined, their time volunteering comes out to four decades total, doing everything from cleaning up trash to getting programs printed and working with security.
This year, with a theme inspired by the line, “A Story of Champagne and the Stars” from The Great Gatsby), and music by Boz Scaggs, Whitson and McElvey will grab their clipboards for one last time. We asked them to reflect on their history of making what McElvey calls a “magical” evening into reality.
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Unexpected maneuvers: Volunteers have to be prepared for anything, including briefly evacuating to the mansion during a tornado warning in the 1990s. “Guests returned shortly, and it didn’t dampen their spirits,” McElvey remembers. “We’ve seen it all—tornadoes, giant rain storms, medical conditions. But, when you work with the same people year to year, everything is manageable,” Whitson adds.
Reflection: McElvey has kept a copy of every single Swan Ball program with which she’s been involved. “It is so much fun for me to look back, see these programs with our parents’ names on them, and reflect on how much fun we’ve had.”
On their friendship: “Swan Ball made a better match for me than Match.com could have,” McElvey jokes. The women work together well, in part, they say, because they are quick decision makers and don’t argue. The women and their husbands (all four Nashville natives) are friends and socialize when not volunteering together. “We’ve been together longer than some people have been married,” Whitson adds.
The after-party: “The first thing I do after the Ball, before I go to bed, is take notes. Then, I go out for a good breakfast with my husband. Then, I call Alice,” McElvey says. “I take my shoes off!” Whitson laughs. Her own adult daughters now volunteer for the event and understand their mom’s years-long lament of post-Ball numb toes, thanks to high heels.
Next year: Now that it is time to pass the responsibilities to the next generation, the friends look forward to bonding at their garden club, fawning over Whitson’s four grandchildren, and reading books in their spare time. When asked if they’ll attend the Swan Ball in the future as guests: “If we can talk our husbands into it,” Whitson quips.