It’s always the Year of the Tiger for U of M alumni, but 2010 also marks the Year
of the Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. Under that theme, the University of Memphis Alumni
Association bestowed its highest honors in a gala at the Memphis Zoo in April.
Ron Hart and Theopolis Holeman were honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award; Tre
Hargett was named Outstanding Young Alumnus; Rita Sparks was recognized as the Distinguished
Friend of the University; and Bobby Wharton received the J. Millard Smith Illustrious
Service to the Association Award.
Hart (BBA ’81, MBA ’83), a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, based
in Atlanta, has been named one of the nation’s top financial advisers by two publications.
In September 2008, Registered Rep magazine and its Web site, registeredrep.com, named him the No. 4 financial adviser in the country, based on assets under management.
Last year, Barron’s named Hart the 54th top financial adviser in the country based on its scoring system.
He is a syndicated columnist whose work appears in 30 newspapers with a weekly circulation
of 1 million readers. His columns have been described as “Lewis Grizzard meets P.J.
O’Rourke with a dash of Will Rogers’ horse sense.” Hart appears on CNN and has been
quoted in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of the book There is No Such Thing as a Pretty Good Alligator Wrestler, published last November.
Hart attended the Institute for Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University.
After earning his MBA, he went to work for Goldman Sachs. Hart also has served on
the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Holeman (BSET ’71) was named the 2008 Outstanding Alumnus of the U of M’s Herff
College of Engineering. He is group vice president of U.S. operations for Spectra
Energy, one of North America’s leading natural gas infrastructure companies serving
three key links in the natural gas value chain: gathering and processing, transmission
and storage, and distribution. Holeman formerly served as senior vice president of
power delivery for Duke Energy, one of the largest electrical power companies in the
country. Holeman has also been recognized as one of the “Top 75 Most Powerful Black
Executives in the U.S.” by Black Enterprise magazine. He earned a bachelor’s degree in construction technology from the U of
M in 1971 and later a master’s degree in business administration from the University
of Houston. He has also completed the Stanford Executive Program.
Hargett (BBA ’91, MBA ’92) is secretary of state of Tennessee. He was a member of
the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1996- 2008. Hargett served as the Republican
leader of the Tennessee House from 2003- 05. During his tenure in the House, Hargett
co-sponsored a constitutional amendment designed to facilitate property tax relief
for senior citizens. The amendment was approved by 83 percent of Tennessee voters.
In 2007, he was nominated to the position of director of the Tennessee Regulatory
Authority, which sets the rates and service standards of privately owned telephone,
natural gas, electric and water utilities. He served from February 2008 through January
Sparks has been a licensed commodity broker since 1980. In 1977, she and her late
husband, Willard, formed Sparks Companies Inc., an agricultural research information
and consulting firm. After Willard’s death in 2005, she formed her own investment
company, Sparks Enterprises Inc. Sparks has also held several key accounting positions
in the retail business and in the commodities field. She serves on the board of Metropolitan
Bank, the University of Memphis Board of Visitors, the U of M Foundation Board of
Trustees, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and is an ambassador for the U of M’s
Athletic Department. Sparks is involved in a variety of community projects. She has
served on the boards of the Memphis Development Foundation, the Baddour Center, the
Memphis Redbirds Foundation and the Campbell Foundation. She is a past president of
the Ronald McDonald House and was instrumental in securing the funds to build the
first Ronald McDonald House in Memphis.
Sparks received the 2010 Tennessee Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy
for her support of higher education. She was the Memphis recipient of the 1999 Outstanding
Volunteer Fund Raiser from the National Society for Fund Raising Executives and a
member of the 1996 Leadership Memphis class.
Wharton (BSET ’75), president and owner of G & W Diesel Inc. and co-owner of Pro-Fire
Equipment, defines what it means to be a True Blue Tiger. He has donated to professorships
in the Herff College of Engineering for almost 10 years. His generosity provides critical
support for an outstanding professor annually. Wharton is a past president of the
University of Memphis National Alumni Association and currently serves on the Herff
College’s Alumni Board. In 2006, he received the True Blue Tradition Award, which
is given annually by the Alumni Association to those who have made significant contributions
to creating and continuing traditions at the U of M.
His commitment to the University’s Athletic Department is equally impressive. Wharton
was the “godfather” and care provider for mascot TOM II, he served as president of
the Highland Hundred and he can be seen at every football game driving the Tiger football
helmet. When asked why he does so much for the University of Memphis, Wharton’s response
is, “I would not be where I am today without my University education and for that
I owe it a debt of gratitude.”
All five recipients are Life Members of the Alumni Association.