Dot Jones Hammons '76: A Lifetime Devoted to Service

On Christmas morning of December 2021, Dot Jones Hammons ’76 noticed there was one last gift under the Christmas tree. It changed her life.
“It was beautifully wrapped. My sister is an artist, so I could tell my husband, John, had asked her to wrap it,” Hammons recalled. “The present was lightweight. I opened it and there was a little piece of paper with a picture of popcorn and a drink. It said, ‘Let’s go watch a movie!’ ” 

Dot’s daughter, Rachel, had given her some tickets to a show, so Dot thought the “movie” might somehow be related to that gift. She followed her husband and family to the TV room. When they turned the TV on, Dr. Kristen Ring, Hutchison’s head of school, was on the screen saying, “Hello, Dot!”

My first thought was, ‘Why is Kristen Ring on my TV?’ ” Dot recalled with amusement. 

Dr. Ring’s videotaped message was short, but it revealed how John and the Hammons family had decided to create an award in Dot’s honor at Hutchison. “We know that Hutchison’s responsibility is to prepare amazing young women to positively impact the world, much as you have, and we take that very seriously,” Dr. Ring explained. 

It took a few minutes for Dot to understand what was going on, she admitted. It was unexpected. “I was touched and got a little emotional because I was overwhelmed,” she explained.

Just Keeping at It

“Dot’s life is defined by her servant leadership," John Hammons Jr. said, explaining how he came up with the idea to honor his wife by endowing a student leadership award at Hutchison. “Dot doesn’t have a selfish goal or a self-promoting reason to do what she does. She just does it. It comes from a good place of faith, integrity, character, and trying to help those with whom she comes in contact. She does it easily and naturally.” 

After graduating from Hutchison in 1976, Dot attended Vanderbilt University and then decided she wanted to teach in the Memphis City Schools. She was assigned to teach at Whitehaven Elementary School, which she knew had fewer resources and might be challenging for a new teacher. 

She admits that even after receiving an excellent education at Hutchison and Vanderbilt, she wasn’t sure what she could accomplish in that first year. Nevertheless, she taught at Whitehaven for nine and a half years. What she took from that time teaching is something that she’s been able to use in all her life’s work.

“In underresourced situations, I learned that you can’t fix the socioeconomic problems and you probably can’t fix the missing resources,” she explained. “You can go in every day and use your skills and your talents, such as helping students read better than they could without you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher or a leader because I’ve done both. Sometimes you see the fruit, and sometimes you don’t, but you just keep at it. It’s satisfying and rewarding to try your best to help someone who doesn’t have the same opportunities you’ve had. I had a desire to help those children in any capacity that I could.”

“I loved teaching at Whitehaven. It was transformative and helped shape me,” she added.

After almost 10 years of teaching, Dot decided to devote time to her young children at home. In 2003, she began volunteering as the teaching director for the Memphis metro area branch of Community Bible Study, a national nonprofit organization that offers Bible study classes around the world. Her focus in Memphis was helping women and children, and she managed 60 leaders and classes of more than 200 women. The structure was non-denominational, and there were women from many different churches involved, as well as some who were not active in a church.

“We had a children’s program for babies through preschool, and then we had a homeschool element,” she said. “I managed the leaders for the class and gave the Bible lecture.” For nine years, Dot’s leadership impacted thousands of women and their children. As her parents got older, Dot took time off to spend with them. She is the second of four generations who have attended Hutchison. Her mother, Carol Lewis Jones, Class of 1950, was an active member of the Memphis and Hutchison alumnae communities for decades until her passing in May 2020. Dot’s sister, Caroline Jones Winters, graduated in 1974, and Dot’s daughter, Rachel Hammons Parks, graduated in 2010. 

Dot currently has two granddaughters at Hutchison— kindergartener Elizabeth Hammons ’35 and pre-kindergartener Pearson Hammons ’37, daughters of her son, John Hammons III. She also has a grandson, William Parks (1-1/2).

Helping Women Around the World

Beginning in 2007, Dot began to participate in overseas missions trips sponsored by her church, Second Presbyterian. Her first trip was to Ukraine, where she helped with a women’s conference. She also has served on mission trips to Kazakhstan, one of the former Soviet republics, as well as twice to both India and Kenya. 

She noted that mission trip participants are well versed before heading to a particular country. “We have months of preparation,” she said. “We read about the culture and the cultural dos and don’ts to try to be more effective. We prepare our subject matter and there’s a lot of prayer. We don’t go in blindly.” 

The work they do depends on the needs of a particular location. “The church partners with locals who are already doing things in a community,” she explained. “We come alongside to help and encourage because they’re already doing it. We work together with the local leaders, preparing the agenda and the topic. Then we come in to teach and assist.”

LEFT: One of Dot’s mission trips took her to Kenya, where she worked alongside women in a sewing class.
RIGHT: Children in Kenya working on a biblical craft with Dot.

Many of the places she’s traveled to are in underresourced areas, and she admitted it can feel overwhelming. She carries with her what she learned in her early teaching career, that she can’t always fix the circumstances. “Often, I feel absolutely unqualified to even attempt to help since I’m not in their shoes. However, I can show them care, concern, dignity, worth as an individual, and love, and I can pray for them.”

Additionally, traveling overseas to different countries, experiencing different cultures, and being faced with difficult conditions was challenging at times, Dot admits. She wasn’t always sure she wanted to go, but her faith has been her strength. “If I’m teaching or helping, it’s a task where I feel the Lord wants me to serve. I’m trying to be a good steward of what He’s given me and use the talents or skills that He’s given me,” she said. “If it’s up to me, if I’m just trying to help, I might quit. Yes, it’s satisfying to a point, because you’re doing good, but it’s different for me because I’m serving Him. That’s the motivation. It’s gratitude too. I’m grateful for so much.”

“I would encourage any young woman to engage in cross-cultural experiences,” Dot added. “These experiences help open our eyes and hearts to people different from us while learning that we usually have many things in common.”

Where Did Her Passion Come From?

Dot Hammons attributes her commitment and skill as a servant leader to the example set by her parents and to her experiences at Hutchison. “My parents were strong, godly servant leaders, and they were leaders their whole lives. They set examples before me daily, and Hutchison gave me the opportunities to be involved and to be a leader.”

She said that after her mother passed, she happened upon a handwritten note that fell from her mother’s mirror. Dot hadn’t noticed it before. The note read: ‘If serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you.’

“It epitomized their lives,” Dot said. “We tend to think of serving as lowly sometimes, and it’s not.”

She believes Hutchison had an impact on her as well. “I feel strongly that a single-gender school helped me personally. I was able to do more things than I would have if I had been in a co-ed school. I might have held back some or not been as eager to participate or lead.”

Dot explained that when she was in high school, another student, Blanche Butler Montesi ’71, invited her, along with several classmates, to a Bible study in her home. That devotional time became a habit, and as an adult, Dot makes sure to spend time each morning with the Bible and in prayer. “This is my foundation and motivation for all I do the rest of the day.”

On her mission trip to northern India, Dot helped women during a conference with teaching and support.

Supporting a Love for Service

In the spring of 2022, Hutchison launched the Institute for Responsible Citizenship. It offers upper school girls opportunities to explore the intersection of civic engagement, compassionate leadership, and ethical decision-making in responsible citizenship. By offering girls a number of options for how they pursue service and leadership opportunities, the hope is to harness the energy of youthful idealism and shape it into the promise of a better future for communities near and far. The Dot Jones Hammons Award for Responsible Citizenship aligns well with the strategic goals of the Institute. The award will recognize an outstanding student in the late fall of her sophomore year. This student will have exhibited the extraordinary characteristics that the award’s namesake, Dot Jones Hammons, has demonstrated throughout her life: intellectually curious, steadfast and loyal, kind and compassionate. Additionally, the recipient will be an academically strong student who improves her school community as she prepares to leave her positive mark on the world. As part of the award, the student will receive a stipend covering a travel experience connected to work in the Institute for Responsible Citizenship. Each recipient will have the opportunity to leverage this prestigious award in the college search process. This award will be presented annually, and the Hammons family will be invited to attend the senior capstone presentation of each award winner. Selection will be determined by a committee comprising the Director of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship, the Upper School Director, the Upper School Head, the Director of College Counseling, and the Head of School.

Hutchison helped shape me and laid a foundation for my life,” Dot said. “I am glad to be able to give back and help some young women in a tiny little way. I hope it helps spur them onward to whatever trajectory … anywhere they can imagine.

When she began to understand the gift that her husband, John, and her family had given her, Dot said she felt unworthy. Numerous people have tried to dissuade her of that feeling. Fellow 1976 classmates Meg Bryce Robertson and Cathy McClure Leslie have both known Dot since they were about four years old. Meg Robertson described Dot as having “a special sense of honesty and integrity and a servant’s heart. She makes those around her better with her encouraging spirit and deep faith in God.”

Cathy Leslie expanded upon this, saying, “Dot puts so much thought, attention to detail, and love into her relationships. She remembers what is important to me, offers to help, prays, follows up, and does this with so many. She is a person of deep commitments and integrity with a great laugh and is so easy to love.”

It was the recognition of Dot’s steadfast life of service that John said spurred him to endow the award named after Dot. The goal is to inspire future generations of Hutchison girls to serve and lead similarly.

“A lot of people can lead,” John explained, “but then there’s leading with humility and leading with service and getting your hands dirty at a base level. That’s not everybody. There’s a lot of sacrifice. I think you truly have to love and respect people for who they are and realize you can contribute by moving the needle even a tiny bit for them. I think that is where Dot comes from. She just wants to be a piece of the answer to a community. It’s a natural outpouring for her. She’s more about others, and I really respect that.”

When asked about Dot’s life of service to others, Sandy Willson, Pastor Emeritus of Second Presbyterian Church said, “Dot is an outstanding Hutchison alumna who has faithfully served her family, her church, her city, and her world. As a gifted leader and teacher, she has given her time, her skills, and her heart to bless thousands of people through the years.”

Four generations of Hutchison girls: Dot’s daughter, Rachel Hammons Parks ’10, Dot Jones Hammons ’76, granddaughter Elizabeth Hammons ’35, Dot’s mother, Carol Lewis Jones ’50, and Dot’s sister, Caroline Jones Winters ’74.

Following Her Example

Although service and leadership can be altruistic, it does require confidence, skill, and often the ability to step outside of one’s comfort zone.

What are the characteristics of a student nominated for the Dot Jones Hammons Award for Responsible Citizenship? Rachel Hammons Parks ’10, Dot’s daughter, said, “Some of the characteristics that come to mind for me in a nominee would be a girl who is genuine, honest, humble, caring in nature, empathetic, and curious. Authenticity is important. A lot of people perform community service for their resumes. The girls who receive this award will be doing service because it is genuine to who they are. I also feel like this girl is going to have a curious mindset on how she can effect change in the world.”

To that list, Dot would add kindness, integrity, compassion, and hard work. She also believes that a girl may not always feel equipped to do what she’s called to do. “I say, go ahead and plunge in. Take a chance and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. You might end up enjoying and even having a passion for something you didn’t know.”

She gave an example: “For one of my mission trip locations, I was apprehensive. I didn’t want to go, because I knew that particular trip was extra challenging in every way. After many hints from the Lord that I was supposed to go, I finally said yes to going. I ended up absolutely loving the incredible women in that beautiful culture, so much so that I went back again to serve there. If I hadn’t gone, I would have missed experiencing and learning to love a different, amazing culture and connecting with remarkable women there.” Perhaps most important, Dot recognized that it took a long time for her to understand much of this. “You don’t start out as a servant leader. You have to grow into it. Just as you grow in your faith and as you grow in life and situations. It’s important for young women to know that whatever their interests are, whatever their skills or talents are, they can be used in very individual ways to affect their communities and to help others.

“Start with your family and then outward from your family to your neighborhood, your city, and then globally. You can have a ripple effect. You can do that with just a regular old ordinary life.”
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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.