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Dedicated to making a difference

By Jessica Pasley
August 2013

During a tour 30 years ago of what is now the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, Tom Flood witnessed an extraordinary event.

“What I saw and what I heard that day made a tremendous impression on me. I was so touched by my experience,” Flood said.

What Flood saw from the parent observation room was the impact of early intervention with children who have a variety of communication disorders such as hearing, speech and language problems.

A 2-year-old boy was led into the room that was full of children playing. Flood recalled how the boy’s eyes brightened upon entering the room. The toddler sat and watched another child playing with building blocks and began to mimic her.

“As he was taking the blocks, the little girl said to him ‘that’s mine,’” recalled Flood. “Then the little boy looked up at the little girl and said, ‘mine.’

“It was the first time the boy had spoken. ‘Mine’ was his first word. His parents were standing right next to me at the one-way mirror and they burst into tears. Right then, I knew this was a place I would love to support.”
What began as a visit to learn more about the center for his company’s charitable giving program has grown into a lifelong relationship with Vanderbilt.

Tom and Vickie Flood visit with students of the Mama Lere Hearing School. Photo by Anne Rayner.

Tom and Vickie Flood visit with students of the Mama Lere Hearing School. Photo by Anne Rayner.

Flood, who retired as the chief financial officer for Tractor Supply Company, continues his relationship with the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center today, having joined the advisory board in 1998. He was instrumental in the merger of the Bill Wilkerson Center with Vanderbilt in 1997 and has served as chair since 2002.

He joined the Canby Robinson Society Board to learn more about Vanderbilt’s medical education mission and goals in an effort to better assist in the growth and progress of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, more specifically the Mama Lere Hearing School, which teaches children with hearing loss to listen, read, sing and talk while providing training for hearing and speech graduate students. It is this program that impacted Flood the most.

Flood’s passion for the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center is shared by his wife, Vickie. The Chicago natives moved to Tennessee 1979 and became connected with the center soon after. They have made transformational gifts to the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences to help ensure the center’s progress.

“Giving is such a simple concept,” said Vickie Flood. “And more importantly, we have taught our own children that it is possible to give without recognition. It’s really all about the joy in doing it and seeing the end result.

“That is the legacy we want to leave—instilling the gift of involvement and the importance of making a difference.”

Tom Flood agrees.

“It’s not just about the bricks and mortar,” he said. “It’s about the people and making an impact. It’s about what is going on inside the building.”


Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center Quick Facts

  • In 1949, Wesley Wilkerson, M.D., an ear, nose and throat physician in Nashville, created the Tennessee Hearing and Speech Foundation where children with hearing loss could learn to speak and communicate.
  • In 1951, the Foundation opened a clinic named after Wilkerson’s son, Bill, as a memorial and tribute to the Wilkerson family.
  • In 1966, the Bill Wilkerson Center launched an early intervention program for children with hearing loss. The program’s success as a parent-teaching model prompted plans for a permanent facility.
  • In 1972, a model home training program for teaching parents how to work with their children who had hearing loss was established. Funded by the Justin and Valere Potter Foundation, the facility was named the Mama Lere Home after the affectionate term used for Valere Potter by her children and grandchildren.
  • Upon moving into its new facility in Medical Center East in 2005, the Mama Lere Hearing School was established.
  • In 1997, the Bill Wilkerson Center merged with VUMC. Known as the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences, the center was designed to enable medical practitioners, speech-language pathologists, teachers of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, audiologists, and rehabilitation therapists to work side by side to meet the needs of the community it serves.
  • The center, led by Roland Eavey, M.D., and Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D., is internationally known for its graduate programs in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology and is ranked No.1 and No. 3, respectively, by the 2013 U.S. News and World Report.
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