There is just nothing like a true southern gentleman, and these Williamson County Gentlemen of Distinction have achieved that status and so much more. This issue celebrates these respectful, dedicated, courageous, and compassionate men who embody the best of our community. All were nominated and chosen for their personal and professional accomplishments as well as their impact and contribution to our community. Introducing YOUR 2021 Gentlemen of Distinction!
Arts: Ron Shuff
Ron Shuff is the owner of Shuff’s Music & Piano Showroom. In the late 1970s, Ron moved to Nashville to be involved with the music industry. He accepted a job to be the Director of Music and Fine Arts at Brentwood Academy. During this time, he planned to complete his dissertation for his Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi. In 1977, he and his brother bought Norcross Music in the Atlanta area, and he commuted on the weekends to play gigs and help with the business. After a year of this, Ron’s wife thought that Franklin needed a music store and that is how Shuff’s Music and Piano Showroom came to be.
In 1978, Ron opened his store in downtown Franklin. During this time, there were many vacant stores and empty buildings. He recalls: “There was very little business in the beginning, but I was determined to work through it.” Just before the second anniversary of the store being open, Ron’s wife (who was also his business partner), sadly passed away from cancer. He had to figure out how to raise three young kids and run a successful store. With a lot of love from the community, they were able to survive.
Ron is very proud of his family. In the early years he says, “The community was like an extended family that encouraged and supported my children.” This is one of the things that makes Williamson County so special to Ron. He explains, “It is the people that make Williamson County special. Without the love and support of our community, church, schools and friends, we would have never survived.” Being a part of this special community has been a very rewarding experience for him. He believes that music has been a major catalyst in the development of downtown Franklin. Ron’s store has certainly been a huge part of the development and growth of our town.
Ron is inspired to work harder, be better, and do more because he wants to pass on the love of music and community. He does this through his involvement in his church, First United Methodist in Franklin, as the Director of Music and still being involved in the music department at Brentwood Academy. If he could go back and tell his younger self anything he would say: “Remember that God is in control and my job is to do my best every day.”
His idea of a gentleman is someone who "treats others as you would want them to treat you." Ron has always lived by this pillar and anyone who has ever met him can attest that he lives true to his word.
Civic: Joseph "Woody" Woodruff
Joseph "Woody" Woodruff has been a Circuit Judge for the 21st Judicial District since August 2014. He and his wife Beth have raised four children together. In addition to that, they have three grandchildren who attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. When he was growing up, there were always two things that he wanted to be: A soldier and a lawyer. Fortunately, he had the opportunity to do both after he graduated from law school in 1981 and was accepted into Army JAGS Corps. After six years in the Army, he left active duty to move to Nashville to join the law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis and in the summer of 1987 his family moved to Franklin. As a lawyer, he has worked with and against, some extraordinary legal professionals and represented clients in trial and appellate courtrooms in more than twenty-six states. Woody was exposed to dozens of outstanding judges and a few who were not so outstanding. He realized that “the rule of law depends on the support and confidence of the people, and that support and confidence requires good judges.” When he was approached by some respected lawyers who asked him to run for the election in the circuit court, he “felt a little like a person who gets a call to ministry.”
Woody has served on the boards of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, and was one of the founding directors of the Kids on Stage Foundation. He finds inspiration to work hard because “Courts are where people turn to have conflicts, problems, and disputes decided when no other institution in society has succeeded. Our society cannot function or thrive if people do not have access to a fair process for deciding disputes. That fair process depends on judges who apply the law to the facts without bias and in a manner that is intellectually honest and transparent. It’s a true calling, and I’m excited to go to the courthouse every day.” Woody believes that “success has many parents, and failure is an orphan.” Over the last seven years as a Judge, he has collaborated with many different people within the Williamson County Government and the Tennessee General Assembly to bring positive change to our judicial district. Some of those changes include: Creating full time staff positions in our chambers for judicial law clerks; comprehensive revision of our local rules of practice; creation of a new circuit judge position to handle the dockets of Hickman, Lewis and Perry Counties; judicial redistricting that will reorganize the existing 21st Judicial District to consist of Williamson County only; and annual judicial forums with the practicing lawyers in our community.
Williamson County is special to Woody in many ways. It is home to major corporations and entrepreneurs, artists and authors, developers and preservationists. It is blessed with beautiful countryside and a rich history, but the most important thing to him is the people that make up this community. He was asked what being a gentleman means to him, and he responded: “Being a gentleman begins with respecting every person’s human dignity. It means treating people the way you would want to be treated in return. There are times when a judge has to make a decision that will impose very grave consequences on someone-sentencing a person convicted of a serious crime for, example-but a judge can do so and still treat the defendant with courtesy instead of arrogance; kindness instead of anger. Showing respect for a defendant’s humanity-referring to them as “sir” or “ma’am”-is not ignoring the severity of the crime, it merely affirms the fact we are all human regardless of our station in life, the choices we have made, or the circumstances into which we were born.”
Education: Josh Phillips
Josh Phillips has been an inspiration to every student that has ever been in his classroom. He is the current Assistant Principal at Brentwood Middle School but was a history teacher and soccer coach at Independence High School for fourteen years. Josh explained that “Becoming a teacher became a goal and dream when I was in middle school. I experienced the life-changing influence of amazing teachers who were passionate about teaching and were honest and transparent with students. I truly believe students, just like adults, are drawn to people who can be real with them; tell them the truth, join them on their walk-through life, and support their passions as they grow up.” His former students would one hundred percent agree that he exceeded that goal. The professional accomplishment that he is most proud of is that he was one of the teachers who helped open Independence High School. Josh taught classes like AP European History, The History of Ideas, Greek and Roman Mythology, and Native American History. Year after year these classes quickly filled up and a spot in one of his classes became extremely coveted.
His wife, Stacy Phillips, is a theater teacher at Legacy Middle School where their youngest daughter, Maddie, is a cheerleader and runs track. Their oldest daughter Zoe is very involved in the theatre department at Independence High School. The family resides in Thompson’s Station and has lived in Williamson County for seventeen years. One of his greatest personal accomplishments is “raising two daughters with an amazingly supportive wife. I love my wife and daughters more than words can describe and perhaps I need to publicly say that more because they deserve it!” A few years ago, Josh had some unexpected health problems. He went into kidney failure and had to go through dialysis, but thankfully ended up receiving a transplant. Josh “loves the Lord and wants everyone to know that He has walked me and my family through some very difficult health circumstances.” He is inspired to work harder, be better and do more because of his family. He wants them to be proud of him more than anyone else. Josh wishes that he could tell his younger self to “Spend more time with family when the kids are young! My girls have grown up so fast!”
The thing that makes Williamson County to special to Josh and his family is the “small town meets city vibe.” Josh and his wife moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Nashville in 2002. He can remember telling Stacy, “Nashville is where the north meets the south, where there’s a blend of the best of both. Williamson County’s schools are amazing, and the community is safe.”
Josh defines being a gentleman as “choosing to be a man of integrity. Integrity, compassion and truth are qualities that young men need to be mentored to choose and older men need to be reminded to recommit to.”
Entrepreneur: Anthony McLemore
Anthony Mclemore is a lifetime resident of Williamson County. He has seen so many changes in this small town and rapid growth over the last few years. As a child, he grew up enjoying this area. Everyone knew each other, if he saw a new face, they were likely visitors. Williamson county was simple then, with no traffic, no congestion but the growth has been positive. He has enjoyed living in Williamson County and all of his family’s history is here.
Anthony has been cutting hair since the age of fourteen and opened his barbershop, Cuts n Blessings, in 2007. He has been married to Karen McLemore for eighteen years and has two children, AJ and Allana. AJ is a rising senior at Battle Ground Academy and he plays baseball and football. Allana recently got married. The family are members of the Church of Christ on Fowlkes Street. His greatest personal and professional accomplishments he says are “marrying my wife Karen McLemore and starting the Cuts n Blessing business from the ground up with her support. I am so proud of what it has become today. Also, having the opportunity to physically baptize my son and daughter in their early teens. We are looking forward to even greater things with God’s grace!”
Williamson County is special to him because of the rich history that many people do not even know exists. He mentions, “So many people of all races have made a huge impact in this city. This is a great place to live and raise children in a great community with great schools.” Anthony is known in the community for supporting local charities and other venues within the City of Franklin that help make an impact on our community. Some charities that he has supported are Shop with a Cop, Franklin Housing Authority, Hard Bargain Association, the African American Heritage Society and local children’s sports sponsorships. He explains that: “Our Barber business is diverse and has been inspirational in bringing people of all walks of life together for a common cause. The shop focuses strongly on the community because the people are the fabric of our business.”
Anthony is inspired to work harder, do better, and do more because “I’m always striving to be better each day God blesses me with life. When you’re a man who wants to lead his household and provide for his family, working hard, being better and doing more should be automatic. I want the best for my family and children and hope to leave them a legacy years down the road.” If he could tell his younger self anything, he would tell him to “have goals early in life. Set timelines on when you want to accomplish goals. Shoot for 100% in everything you do. If you fail try again, you can’t fail if you don’t try. If you’re not gonna do something right, don’t do it at all. Most of all put God first in all you do and you will reap the results of prosperity.”
When he was asked what it means to be a gentleman he responded: “I think to be a gentleman is to first learn self-respect. If you don’t love and respect yourself, it’s likely you won’t have respect for others. If we treat others the way we want to be treated, the gentleman will come out in everyone! It’s that simple!”
Finance: Chuck McDowell
Chuck McDowell is the founder and CEO of Wesley Financial Group. Chuck and his wife, Jo Ellen, moved to Fairview in 2011 and then moved into their current home in downtown Franklin in 2017. He has two sons, Charles and Cameron, who both work at WFG. Chuck married Jo Ellen in 2012 and they are now firmly entrenched in Williamson County. After working at the Country Music Hall of Fame, she worked at the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. She’s now active in many community organizations including serving on the board of Friends of Franklin Parks. They live close to downtown Franklin and their best days are when they walk down to one of their favorite restaurants like Culaccino or Franklin Bakehouse and just people watch. He also enjoys getting out to Troubadour to play golf with good friends like Mayor Ken Moore.
Chuck founded his company the same year they moved to Fairview with the intent to help those who had been misrepresented and lied to by timeshare companies. His company is the leader in helping these victims get out from under crushing timeshare debt. Chuck sold timeshares for a short period of time and quickly realized that the industry is mostly built on telling unsuspecting consumers anything to get them to buy a timeshare, even if they could not afford it. When he quit that job, he started helping those that he sold to get out of their timeshares and it grew into the business they have today. In 2012 he won a lawsuit against one of the largest timeshare companies in the world. His company has grown ever since, and they have amassed more than 500 employees in Franklin and Las Vegas. The biggest contribution he feels that he and his company has made to this community is: “We named our company after John Wesley, founder of the 18th century Methodist movement, so there would be a constant reminder of a simple guiding principle about how I try to live my life and how we operate our company: Helping people. Whether it’s with my co-workers (I don’t call them employees), our clients or charitable organizations in our community, I feel it’s my responsibility and calling to do everything I can every single day to help others.” The thing that drives Chuck to work harder he says is “the thrill of climbing the mountain to see what’s next in business drives me. That said, nothing excites me more than seeing our team members at WFG thrive in the environment we’ve created. Being named as one of the Nashville Business Journal’s Best Places to work last year was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received because it was based on what our co-workers had to say. I’m also constantly moved by the stories of the clients we’ve helped. That’s what it’s all about.”
The thing that makes Williamson County special to Chuck is the fact that it feels so much more than the place that he lives and works. He has never lived anywhere else where so many people care about the overall community and who actually work together to make it better. He explains that “the sense of camaraderie and ability to plug in and get engaged is why we moved here.”
Chuck’s greatest personal accomplishment is “raising two young sons as a widower and watching them grow into fine young men who I get to work with every day is right at the top of the list. Also, right on top is when I reconnected with my best friend and kindest person I’ve ever met, Jo Ellen, on June 25, 2011, thirty years after we first met.” On the other hand, his greatest professional accomplishment is “to now lead a company that is at the top of its industry and that helps so many others, is humbling and a great accomplishment. However, I’m not fulfilled. I’m going to continue climbing the mountain to see what else is up there. I think my greatest work accomplishments are yet to come.” Chuck defines being a gentleman like this: “The easy answer is to the little things…like saying “yes sir” and “no ma’am” or holding the door for others. But I really believe that the key to being a gentleman is to be kind to everyone and, as the Tim McGraw song says: ‘When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around and help the next one in line.’ That’s what a gentleman does.”
Hero: Wylie Jones
Wylie Jones is a firefighter and has been with the Franklin Fire Department for twenty-one years. He is currently working as an engineer on Ladder Eight. Before joining the FFD, he was enlisted in the Air Force as a firefighter. He always knew he wanted to be in the military but joined the Air Force because “I was working out at my gym when a guy walked in wearing a fire department t-shirt. He explained how he was a firefighter in the military and took time away from work to go with me to a recruiter. His name is Andy and the rest is history.” While Wylie was in the Air Force, he was deployed three times after 9/11 with the last one being in Baghdad. He is unsure of the exact number of fires he has fought over his lifetime but decided “a lot” should cover it.
His role in the department is as an engineer. He primarily drives to the scene and once they are there, he makes sure that the firefighters have the water they need to properly extinguish the fire. Wylie is “grateful for the opportunity to serve in the role of and engineer at St. 8 in the Westhaven community.” He is also a member of the Swiftwater Rescue Team and a participant in fire prevention. The fire prevention division is led by Jamie Melton and is a “great place to engage and connect with the public.” They also do a ton of public events and visits to schools to inform the children about a variety of public safety issues but mainly fire safety.
Wylie has lived in Franklin basically his entire life. He is a graduate of Franklin High School and he grew up living on Boyd Mill Avenue with his parents Julie and Stanley. He explains that his family has very deep roots in Franklin by saying, “This county is where many generations of my family can be traced. The plaque on the old courthouse, to commemorate the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, carries the name of an ancestor of mine. Much of the Jones family is still here after all these years.” Wylie’s Uncle, Frank Jones, was a mailman here and he had a habit of giving peppermint candies to the kids on his route. His other Uncle, Lee, owns Anderson Auto on Bridge Street. His greatest personal accomplishment is “building my wife, Angie, a she-shed in our backyard. She loves it and my grandkids Amelia and Camden do too!”
Wylie finds inspiration through his parents. He elaborates by saying “My dad worked at Textron in Nashville as a machinist for over thirty years and my mom worked in the county school system for over thirty years as well. We didn’t have much in my youth, but we had what we needed. Watching my parents work and sacrifice for all that time inspires me to this day. They are both living a well-deserved retirement now. Thankfully. I was required to work all kinds of different jobs, sometimes at the Jewell farm on 96 taking up hay; working with my grandpa cutting firewood, cutting grass, you name it. I think all that has enabled me to put in the work toward any goal I choose.” Wylie wishes he could tell his younger self to “Work hard, don’t quit, and be sure to have fun.” He has given that advice to his children Daniel and Amanda over the years. His philosophy on that is: “Though life inevitably throws challenges your way, simply sticking to that mindset should be enough to make you a success in whatever you choose to do.”
Wylie believes that being a true gentleman starts with being genuine. He follows that up with: “We all know a gentleman by his consistency because being a gentleman can’t be faked for very long. An example for women may be that a guy was such a ‘gentleman’ on the first couple of dates but now his true colors are showing... a genuine phony. Clark Gable and Sydney Pointier are Hollywood gentlemen that we tend to use as examples of what to emulate, and guys like them are hard to find these days. But ultimately, a man who is genuinely respectful, and courteous with a can-do spirit is the modern gentleman.”
Media: Derby Jones
Derby Jones purchased the Williamson Herald in 2006 and has been owner ever since. Derby grew up working for his family newspaper business in Johnson City, Tennessee. He moved to Nashville in 1994 to work for The Tennessean newspaper. He learned from his Grandfather, Carl A. Jones who was a newspaper publisher in his hometown, that the local newspaper can help the community. Carl was Derby’s inspiration. He never cared about what others thought of him and he always did what he thought was best for the community.
Derby married his wife Cassie in 1999 and the couple has two children, Maggie and Derby. Both children attend Brentwood High School. His family moved to Williamson County in 2004 because they wanted his children to go to Williamson County Schools. This was tough for Derby because his heart was still in Nashville. Derby and Cassie’s personal lives revolve around their children’s school, sports, and social lives. When they are not with their children they are out in the community. Cassie serves on several boards including Franklin Tomorrow, Williamson Inc., First Citizens National Bank Smart Women advisory board, and is an advocate for the Alzheimer’s’ Association. Derby is involved with the Franklin Noon Rotary Club as foundation president. He was recognized by the Franklin Noon Rotary Club last year with the distinguished service award and it made him cry. He is also on several other boards and he tries to give as much time as he can.
Derby’s greatest professional accomplishment is being able to keep the Williamson Herald going. He expanded on that thought by saying: “I was not sure if the paper would survive in 2008 and even last year, I was worried whether we would make it. But thanks to our readers and advertisers, we have managed to survive. I could not have done this without my wife, Cassie, and my great staff who work so hard to make this a great product. It’s a labor of love for sure, I am proud of what my team is doing on daily basis to inform our readers.” Derby thinks The Herald and sister publication Southern Exposure, are very valuable to this community because they tell the stories of local people. He explained that the contribution of he and his publications are to be a “community asset that informs our readers on all topics important to Williamson Countians. Local news is important, and I urge everyone to support all local media. My role is to hire great people and we have some really talented people that cover all aspects of life here in Williamson County.” He is driven to work harder, be better, and do more because his business requires it. The local media face more challenges every day. Derby clarifies that this a tough business to be in if you want to make money, but he is driven to play an important role in the community and he has a goal to become the best local newspaper in the county.
Williamson County is special to him because of the people. “I have met some of the greatest people who live and work in this community. Secondly is the beauty. This is a gorgeous place to live and work and raise a family. And the history is amazing. I had no idea how much history was here until I moved to Williamson County and started working here every day.”
Derby defines being a gentleman as: “Just being respectful and nice to people is important. Be courteous to people, it’s really not that hard. I think it also means that you come from a good family, which I am blessed to say that I did.” His dad always told him to be a gentleman in every situation. He didn’t always listen, but he had four younger sisters to keep him in line.
Legend: Jimmy Gentry
Jimmy Gentry is a soldier, teacher, and coach who has lived in Franklin his entire life. Born in 1925, he is one of eight children that grew up in a working-class family during the depression. After high school graduation, he left for the European Theatre of World War II, and he returned home a changed man. He was awarded two bronze stars for his actions during the invasion of Germany and was among the first Allied troops to enter Dachau, the infamous Nazi death camp. You can read more about his time in the war and his transition back into home life in his book An American Life. Shortly after his return, Jimmy married his high school sweetheart, Rebecca Channell, and they had three sons. The family lived in downtown Franklin initially, then on Murfreesboro Road and eventually moved to Rebecca’s family farm in the mid-1970s. Jimmy still lives on the farm as well as both sons and their wives. He has five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Jimmy decided to further his education at Tennessee Tech University but he later transferred to Peabody College to be able to coach football at his alma mater Franklin High School because he “thought that sounded like something I would like to do.” He continued coaching into his eighties. While in college, he majored in education and one of his greatest accomplishments is shaping and molding students in Williamson County to become contributing citizens. Jimmy has mentored and challenged local young men and women throughout his career as a teacher and coach. Many of his students have gone on to prominent positions locally and nationally. He has always been a hard worker and has always advocated for others to do the same. The thing that inspired him to work harder, be better, and do more was when at the age of twelve he lost his father and he had to start providing for the children who were left at home. He helped contribute to the family through hunting, fishing and trapping with his brothers. If he could give any advice to his younger self, he says “I might suggest that he consider those who have been through a lot of life before him. That they know things he doesn’t and to always listen well to your elders. I’d say to always consider your physical body as something God gave you and to take care of. I took care of myself by not smoking or drinking, while everyone else around me was. I’ve tried to eat well, go to bed early and keep a positive outlook on life. I would also say to always keep looking around you. Everything you see in nature and people was created by God. He made it all and He deserves the credit.”
When he was asked what makes Williamson County so special to him, he responded: “Well, that’s hard to answer because there’s so much special about Williamson County. Just look around at the terrain and all the hills and valleys. It is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, besides Austria. Another thing is that we are so close to the big city of Nashville for commerce, and yet still out here in the country. Also, all of the history here is very interesting. Lastly, the people of Williamson County have traditionally been very warm, Christian, friendly people.”
However, we cannot forget the reason Jimmy is on this list. When Coach Gentry was asked what he thinks it means to be a gentleman he responded: “Well, being a gentleman, you have the feeling that you’re not just a human being, you’re a gentleman. I think mostly it means having respect for those around you. You can talk to someone for just a few minutes and know if they’re a gentleman, by the words they use and how they present themselves. Please, thank you, sir and ma’am lets you know they were raised right and to be respectful of others. Opening the door for women? Well, you shouldn’t even have to think about that. All these things are a part of being a gentleman.”