The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee presented its 20th annual Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award to community leader Francis S. Guess for his lifelong commitment to equality, justice and the advancement of Middle Tennessee and its citizens.
The Kraft luncheon was held on December 5 in the Grand Ballroom of the Music City Center in Nashville.
Throughout his distinguished 45-year career, Guess’s body of work has included the widest range of worthy causes from economic development to the preservation of musical heritage to investment in the human condition. He has served on the National Civil Rights Commission; has acted as Commissioner for the Tennessee departments of Labor and General Services under then Gov. Lamar Alexander; and has provided volunteer support to more than 100 organizations.
Established in 1993, the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award recognizes community leaders who embody the strength of character and unwavering integrity of the late Joe Kraft. Past honorees include Aubrey Harwell, Jamye and MacDonald Williams, Monroe J. Carell, Jr., Pauline Gore, Martha Ingram, Clayton McWhorter, Steve and Cal Turner, Jr., Phil Bredesen and Andrea Conte, among others.
“No one who knows him can imagine what Nashville would have been like without Francis Guess. The child raised in public housing became the man whose fingerprints can be found on almost every major civic effort in our community. The child raised in the segregated south now champions equal access for minority business people to civic project contracts. The child who grew up to fight for his country wading (up to his neck) through the rice paddies of Vietnam became a philanthropist as well as a public servant, businessman, civic leader and humanitarian. I can’t think of a person in this community who has accomplished more on national, state and local levels than Francis Guess nor anyone who is more deserving of our thanks,” said Ellen Lehman, president of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
A Nashville-native, Guess began making his mark at a young age. He served in Military Intelligence with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tennessee State University and a master’s of business administration from Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Later, he completed the ‘senior executives in state and local government program’ at Harvard University.
Drawing on lessons from each, he became an ardent and effective supporter of equal opportunity through public and private positions.
In the public sector, Guess served 30 years as a member of the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights. Nationally, he was appointed as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by President Ronald Reagan.
Guess’s work in the private sector extends his advocacy for open opportunities. He served as executive vice president of The Danner Company, a management and investment firm, and remains the executive director of the Danner Foundation, a family foundation that has contributed more than $10 million, largely to Tennessee programs addressing education and health. He also owns and operates Helicopter Corporation of America (HELICORP).
His volunteer commitments include board and commission positions with the National Coalition of Human Rights, American Institute for Managing Diversity, Nashville Committee on Foreign Relations, Tennessee Minority Purchasing Council, Tennessee Advisory Committee of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and, among others, the Governor’s Monitoring Committee. Currently, Guess serves on the boards of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission; Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee; Nashville Minority Business Development Fund; Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Board of Officers and Directors; Metro Convention Center Authority; and the Nashville City Club. He is also a member American Legion Post 82, Inglewood and a life member of the NAACP.
Guess’s dedication, like Joe Kraft’s, to improving the quality of life for Middle Tennesseans through hard work, devotion to service and strong faith in the human spirit, explains why The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has named him the 20th annual Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award recipient.