By Carrie Sue Casey ’95
On the 175th anniversary of the founding of St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Jean Vaughan McGhee ’86 and Jill Schaeffer Broer ’68 shared how the school has affected their lives, their families, and how St. Mary’s values thrive in the Memphis community and beyond.
Traditions create the fabric of our communities. They mark our beginnings, endings, and hard-won victories. These rituals are our lives’ signposts into which we pour emotion, store memory, and derive meaning. As the oldest independent school in Tennessee, St. Mary’s has used tradition to guide girls to the cusp of adulthood since 1847. These traditions include white dress graduations, Derby Day, and the quotidian tradition of Chapel. St. Mary’s traditions create a far-reaching legacy linking us to those who came before and extending a hand to those who will come after.
For Jean Vaughan McGhee ’86 and Jill Schaeffer Broer ’68, St. Mary’s legacy of 175 years of dedication to girls’ education is also one of service, community, integrity, hard work, and hospitality. These values, bestowed upon them during their time at St. Mary’s, have guided them throughout their careers and were passed along to their daughters and granddaughter, who are alumnae and current Turkeys.
Both McGhee and Broer cited SMS’s legacy of strong academics as motivation for sending their daughters (Ellie McGhee ’18, Carmen McGhee ’27, and Katie Broer Parr ’98) and granddaughter (Eleanor Parr ’30) to the school—and as a critical springboard for their successful careers. Broer, who recently retired after 47 years as CFO of Wolfchase Nissan and Honda, recalled that in the 1960s, “people didn’t talk much to girls” about professional aspirations. However, St. Mary’s was different. It trained its students to “think and write.” She remembered her “legendary” Head of School, Dr. Nathaniel Hughes, setting stringent academic standards, increasing the number of National Merit Finalists from St. Mary’s, and advancing its already stellar academic reputation.
From early on, academic excellence has reigned at St. Mary’s. In 1901, Thomas Gailor, then bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, admired how St. Mary’s did not fall prey to “the mere social veneering which some people ‘call the education of girls.'” St. Mary’s was not a finishing school. The school helps “girls to learn to value their brains,” says McGhee.
McGhee traced a line from how SMS encouraged her to embrace leadership to the collaborative way she leads her team as Co-Owner of Hollywood Feed, the beloved natural and holistic pet specialty retail store with 180 locations. McGhee attributed her commitment to lifting up other women and her leadership mantra of “How can we do this together?” to the lessons she learned at the corner of Walnut Grove and Perkins Extended. St. Mary’s, McGhee explains, is “knit into the fiber” of who she is.
Broer corroborated this line of thought, sharing that her family gladly weathered a commute from Collierville for her daughter and granddaughter, Eleanor Parr ’30, to attend SMS. Broer loves the days when she gets to drop off granddaughter Eleanor at Moss Hall and tells her that she is “62 grades” ahead of her. One of her favorite memories is watching Eleanor sing at the Christmas Pageant in 2019. The hauntingly beautiful annual tradition of the Christmas Pageant is part of the school’s longstanding religious history and an element of educating the “whole girl.”
In addition to being leaders in the Memphis business community, McGhee and Broer have held various roles at St. Mary’s. McGhee served as Class Secretary, and Broer served as Alumnae Board President. This level of engagement is a family tradition. McGhee’s parents, Bill and Carmine Vaughan served as Trustees for the school. Her mother was also a beloved teacher. Her sister, Dr. Leigh Vaughan Jaimes, graduated in ’88. Broer’s brother Joey Schaeffer also served on the Board of Trustees, and some of us may remember when her husband Rick Broerserved on the faculty as a history teacher.
Broer and McGhee are incredibly proud of the generations of St. Mary’s graduates making a difference in the Memphis community and beyond. SMS girls “are not afraid of hard work,” says McGhee. Broer emphasized that her time at St. Mary’s made her feel she “could do anything,” a statement that resonates with many SMS alumnae. Whether we are still Memphians or are far across the globe, we are links in this remarkable chain of women.
Carrie Sue Casey ’95 is the Founder and Principal of OODALOOP, a firm that helps non-profit boards and educational leaders tap into people potential. She also serves as a consultant to the Veterans Affairs Administration through Technical Assent. She spent over 14 years as a civil servant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She earned a Masters in Public Policy and served as an international affairs specialist and, later, an organizational health strategist. Carrie Sue prefers her books in hardback, her linens vintage, and her BBQ from Memphis.