By Sara Hoover
Sonji Wright-Savage left her clerk position at the Memphis Police Department to join
the University of Memphis a decade ago because her daughter said she didn’t want to
go to college.
“My journey to the University of Memphis was set because I was working on getting
ready to send my daughter to college. I thought what better place to get her ready.
I came here because she said she didn’t want to go to college.”
The move worked.
“Four years had passed, she was (college age) and wanted to go. She went to college,
graduated and is completing her first year in graduate school.”
The U of M not only benefited her daughter, but Wright-Savage as well. She was recently
recognized as a Distinguished Employee of the Year this past June.
Wright-Savage (middle) with her family after being honored with a Distinguished Employee
of the Year Award during the June Employee Recognition Day ceremony at Rose Theatre.
(photo by Susan Prater)
Wright-Savage has been the clerical assistant in collection management in the University
Libraries for the past 10 years.
“I love customer service. I try to please people. When you have stressful jobs, you’re
always looking for that smiling face.”
While customer service might be Wright-Savage’s favorite aspect, it was her presidency
of the Library Support Staff Association that got her noticed.
It began when the Memphis native heard a speech from Dr. Shirley Raines in 2007.
“She said, ‘You have to do something in order to keep what we have going here. You
have to become involved.’ A light went off.”
Once elected president, Wright-Savage made it her mission to get library staff motivated.
“There was a lack of morale. My mission was to talk personally with every employee
to see where their minds were. We went from five people coming to the meetings to
Wright-Savage put together the “We Are One” Library Conference, Expo and Concert,
a fundraising event for the library that was held last June. Gospel choirs and a blues
singer performed at the concert, which raised more than $5,000.
“Ms. Wright-Savage designed a program that embodies well the concept of community
engagement that is so important for the success of a metropolitan research university,”
said Dr. Mark Danley, assistant professor and catalogue librarian. “She stepped far
beyond her regular job responsibilities. This accomplishment is especially important
in the current economic situation, when the already strained library-materials budget
suffers even more than usual.”
Another area where Wright-Savage took charge was with the library’s Compass Program,
a job training for youth ages 16 to 24. The group was hard to manage until Wright-Savage’s
“Nobody wanted to deal with these students because some had attitude problems and
were rowdy. I took it over and turned them around. I made them act like young women
and young men.”
Her various accomplishments did not go unnoticed, leading to her nomination and award.
“I was so surprised when they called my name I sat there, and they said it again.
It was very surprising and very rewarding. I was just thankful to become a nominee.”
When she’s not at the library, Wright-Savage can be found singing. She put out a gospel
CD several years ago and is currently working on a new one. She plans to put the $500
award money toward producing it. Wright-Savage hopes to donate a portion of the CD
proceeds to the library.
She carries a motto with her: “A vision is not a vision unless it says yes to some
ideas and no to others, inspires people and is a reason to get out of bed in the morning
and come to work.”