Acts of Service Program Honors a Life and Inspires Others to #LiveLikeLeeAnn
The Junior League of Birmingham (JLB) dedicated their first 100 Acts of Service program to longtime member and leader Lee Ann Petty ’01 with the hashtag, #LiveLikeLeeAnn.
The project aimed to get Birmingham residents involved in projects that help families experiencing hunger and homelessness. Their goal—to offer critical, timely assistance to those in need while inspiring people to live selfless, community-driven lives—was inspired by Lee Ann, who passed away from cancer in December 2020.
Petty served as the league’s vice president for community, leading 40 projects with 32 community partners.
“She inspired every member of the league and everyone she worked alongside in our community,” JLB president Toni Leech said. “I have known and loved Lee Ann for a very long time, starting with our young singles Sunday school class at church, and I will carry a piece of her with me always.”
It is who she was—a person who would roll up her sleeves and serve the community.
League leaders discussed many options to honor Petty’s life and contributions, such as naming a scholarship or award after her. Dedicating the pilot run of the 100 Acts of Service project to her posthumously seemed the most fitting.
“Lee Ann was humble, and I believe of all the things we could have done, this may be the only one she would have said ‘ok, I’ll let you do that,’” Leech said. “She was so excited about this project, which was created to honor our centennial coming up in 2022. It is who she was—a person who would roll up her sleeves and serve the community.”
Petty’s Davidson College class will soon gather virtually to celebrate their 20th reunion. Many remember her for her service on the Honor Council, her friendship, contagious joy and passion for service. While classmates and friends will miss seeing her face on the Zoom screen, they will celebrate all she brought to their lives at Davidson and after.
“Lee Ann was the most consistent person in my college story and, as it turns out, one of the most consistent people I ever knew—consistent in her belief system, consistent with other people and consistent in the missions she served,” said Amanda Britt ’01, who was matched with Petty as a first year Davidson student. The two became a four-year roommate success story.
“I didn’t know it then but realized later that she gave me this wonderful pillar to be myself and to be free around,” Britt said. “It was nothing we ever talked about, but she was that presence for me. I think she was that presence for a lot of people.”
Petty took her Honor Council work seriously, never discussing it with friends. She tutored at the local Ada Jenkins Center. The political science and Spanish double major spent a semester abroad in Spain and lived with a host family, with whom she remained close for years to come.
Though she took life seriously, Petty made time for fun. Belk hallmates remember throwing laundry out of their fourth-floor windows so they didn’t have to carry it down the stairs. As alums, they got together and visited a winery (the wine was awful), and while everyone else was in stitches about the wine, Petty focused on being gracious to the staff. One staff member invited her to come back for their annual poultry festival; he thought she would make a wonderful Poultry Queen.
“Lee Ann always wanted to make sure everyone around her was feeling good and was well taken care of,” said Carrie Arthur Hanger ’01. “Sometimes it’s hard to stay connected after college, but she never let us lose touch. She remembered every birthday, our children’s birthdays—a card would show up in the mail at just the right moment. That kind of thing mattered so much to her, and it meant more to others than she probably ever knew.”
The selflessness lasted through her final days.
One of Petty’s closest classmates and friends, John Kenyon ’01, talked regularly with Petty. She never mentioned her illness through all their phone calls, until the week before she died.
“Lee Ann probably knew that if she told me well ahead of time, I would have relocated to Birmingham,” Kenyon said. “She never wanted to disrupt anyone’s life, and even though I never would have thought of it that way, she did not want to be a burden.”
Kenyon met Petty freshman year in a political science course taught by Professor Emeritus Lou Ortmeyer. The class was separated into groups, and each represented different nation states around the world. Petty was a very vocal member of her group, and thoughtful in her convictions; that experience formed the bedrock of their lifelong friendship.
The classmates-turned-friends spoke at least once a month, often more, for the next 20 years.
“She was so happy when I started plugging in more to my community,” Kenyon said. “She moved me to a life of service and was a fierce example of living a Christ-centered life. It’s wonderful to see people rallying around her name.”
Petty gave her all to Birmingham. In addition to the Junior League, she worked with and/or served on the boards of the United Way, Junior Achievement, the Firehouse Shelter, the Cahaba Foundation and the Alabama Governor’s School. She was a longtime active member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church. Fittingly, in her professional life, she worked as vice president and volunteer service coordinator at Regions Bank.
Petty invested in the people and the communities around her, wherever she was. She stayed present, never focusing on the next job or the next place.
“Lee Ann bloomed where she was planted,” Britt said. “I think that is very often an underestimated and misunderstood mark of greatness. There are people you know because of what they’ve achieved, and there are others you come to know because of what they help others become. She was the latter.”