For release: April 7, 2010
For press information, contact Gabrielle Maxey, 901/678-2843
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 will bestow its highest honors on five people at a black-tie gala Friday,
April 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Memphis Zoo. The dinner and program will be held outdoors
in Cat Country.
Ron Hart and Theopolis Holeman will be honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award;
Tre Hargett will be named Outstanding Young Alumnus; Rita Sparks will be recognized
as the Distinguished Friend of the University; and Bobby Wharton will receive the
J. Millard Smith Illustrious Service to the Association Award.
Hart (BBA ’81, MBA ’83), a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, based in Atlanta, has been
named one of the nation’s top financial advisors 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’snamed Hart the 54thtop 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 one 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 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.
He 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 Enterprisemagazine.
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 Tennessee secretary of state. He was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives
from 1996 to 2008, and he served as the Republican leader of the Tennessee House from
2003 to 2005. 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 be 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
in that role from February 2008 through January 2009.
Sparkshas 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 University of Memphis Board of Visitors and the U of M Foundation
Board of Trustees, and she is an ambassador for the U of M’s Athletics Department.
She also serves on the board of Metropolitan Bank and the Tennessee Sports Hall of
She is involved in a variety of community projects, having 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
Sparks received the 2010 Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor’s Award 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
annually for an outstanding professor in that field. 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 awarded annually by the Alumni Association to those who have made significant
contributions to creating and continuing the traditions of the U of M.
His commitment to the University’s Athletics Department is equally impressive. Wharton
was the “godfather” and care provider for mascot TOM II, and he served as president
of the Highland Hundred. 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.
Reservations may be made online at www.memphis.edu/alumni or by calling 901-678-2333.