Martin Penny '03
I came to FRA in middle school. I was drawn here because of my love for football and baseball, and I had attended summer camps with George Weicker, David Tucker, Ed Zaborowski, and Jerry Williams—four men who ended up being influential in my life. When I transitioned out of the public school setting and into smaller class sizes, I was challenged to take a leadership role among my peers. That helped me academically and gave me a moral compass. At FRA, I was very much prepared academically.
I went to the University of Tennessee for undergrad and got a Master of Public Administration. Then, I received a Master of Sustainability at Lipscomb University, and was pursuing a PhD in Public Administration when I started to have children. My experience at FRA, along with my degrees from the University of Tennessee and Lipscomb University, laid the groundwork for what I do today.
Many teachers at FRA greatly impacted my success in academia and in the business world. For example, I will always be thankful for the classes I took with Jerry Williams. Coach Williams taught me how to write in a way to get my point across clearly. His mentorship in the classroom and in athletics will always stand out to me.
FRA taught me how to set a schedule, organize for future success, communicate with adults, and connect with individuals from different backgrounds. I was able to develop my leadership skills and hone my preparedness by playing for good leaders and coaches, and those skills have been helpful to me in my career.
In my job as a Director of Advocacy for AARP Tennessee, I am working for the betterment of Tennesseans who are 50 years old and older. I work with elected officials at local, state, and federal levels. Each week during Legislative Session, I review legislation, and prepare a calendar for bills AARP Tennessee will support or oppose.
At AARP, we are volunteer driven, so we make sure our volunteers are connected to the issues we are working on and what they might want to engage with. We want to make sure that our elected officials on local, state and federal levels are hearing from us.
I love taking legislation that initially might be partisan and making it bipartisan—something that's difficult but needed—and getting people on the same page whether they be Republican or Democrat. I am working with leaders of all different communities to put their voice out there and getting legislation written in a way that brings everyone on board.
One of my biggest professional wins in a previous role was when I had a client called the Pew Charitable Trusts. We had the National Parks and Infrastructure Bill, which was the last major bill Senator Lamar Alexander passed. It provided funding for the National Parks and Infrastructure backlog. In Tennessee, we have the most visited national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which gets about 11 million visitors per year, even through COVID-19. The next largest is the Grand Canyon at six million.
I’m also proud of my involvement with Turner’s Heroes. In February of 2019, Turner’s Heroes was started by former Vanderbilt University student athlete Cody Markel, and I was asked to serve as Chair at the inception of the organization.
This organization was founded to honor former Vanderbilt student athlete, Turner Cockrell, who passed away in the fall of 2018 with cancer. Turner's Heroes supports pediatric patients through superhero themed events at children's hospitals with athletes at all levels, as well as funding pediatric cancer research at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
My oldest daughter spent a week at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and anyone who has spent time at these places knows what a blessing the children are to others as well as those who care for them. Turner's Heroes is important to Nashville because it helps make pediatric patients feel like heroes while having fun with local athletes.
Turner's Heroes has grown to work with universities across the country, connecting their student athletes to pediatric patients at Vanderbilt, Austin Peay State University, Georgia State University, Cleveland State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Turner's Heroes has also honored pediatric patients in the Nashville area through their connections with NFL athletes and PGA tour pros. Finally, Turner's Heroes funds integral and innovative pediatric cancer research to ensure that, one day, no child will lose the fight against pediatric cancer.
Being around Coach Weicker, Coach Tucker, Coach Zab, and Coach Williams through baseball and football was something I loved, knowing that they helped start this school in its early years. I could tell what they put into FRA, and I appreciated feeling like I was a part of the work they put in together.
Jay Salato and I were in the same class, and I love that he is the head of upper school today. It just proves again how influential those four coaches were in our lives and how that has carried into the next generation. We were around them when they were in their 30s and early 40s, and there’s something to be said for the life lessons and characteristics they modeled and instilled in us.
I was the kind of student who definitely needed FRA. Being at a smaller school helped me get the additional attention that I needed. It was a tough transition at first, but I had teachers who went the extra mile for me. My teachers and coaches helped keep me on the right track. I was surrounded by support and found a family here that I know is always going to be there for me. It feels like I’m forever a part of a team.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself, “Slow down and live in the moment. Do the best you can, and don’t try to be the best for somebody else.” I would also encourage current students to listen before they speak and embrace the moment.
Martin is currently serving as the director of advocacy at AARP Tennessee. He attended FRA from 1994-2003 and was a member of the varsity football team, varsity baseball team, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the vocal ensemble. He holds a bachelor's in political science and a master's of public administration from the University of Tennessee as well as a master's in environmental science from Lipscomb University.