Symphony at Sunset is about music, friends, and enjoying the neighborhood. But it’s also a chance to honor someone meaningful in the Fondren community. This year, that honor was bestowed upon Foundation associate director Mary Jo McAnally. She was presented the designation before a packed Cedars crowd last night by her friend Sara Nelson and Foundation Executive Director Jim Wilkirson. (Photos from last night’s event on our Facebook page)

“I’m speechless,” she said, having found out about the award only moments before its presentation. “Two things I can say: one, I’m going to get all of you tomorrow.” McAnally had been left clueless all week to the annual custom of the award. “Two, I would have fluffed my hair and thought of a few things to say.” Roars of laughter came from the crowd as she went on.

“It has been my pleasure to watch this (Fondren) grow,” she said. “You have made this possible. Thanks for letting me be a part of it. What a huge surprise.”

In giving McAnally an Elizabeth Robinson and Kaye Holloway created glass plaque, Wilkirson called her smart and said she has seen it from the start. “Mary Jo continues to see vision, leadership and strength with it everyday,” he told the crowd.

Longtime McAnally friend Sara Jones Nelson honored her as well. “I met Mary Jo 40 years ago, “ Nelson said. “She’s smart, loyal, diligent and funny and certainly, a great friend. Someone this week called her a visionary. And that she is.”

In Fondren’s revitalization efforts, Nelson called McAnally instrumental. “I learned early on,” Nelson said, “you don’t do a project without Mary Jo.” Nelson went on to explain. “In the early years when Sister Dorothea (Sondgeroth of St. Dominic’s) and Mayor Harvey Johnson (in his first term) caught the vision, we decided to go through (Mississippi) Main Street. They needed money right away and I told Mary Jo ‘we tried,’ thinking we could never raise the money that quickly. Within two hours, Mary Jo had come up with $25,000. How lucky we are to have he on our team. I am thankful for Mary Jo.”

As a realtor with 30 years experience, McAnally asked her fellow realtors to use the name Fondren when advertising or speaking of any property west of I-55 between Northside Drive and Woodrow Wilson. With a lot of help from her fellow agents, this large area became one neighborhood that today we call the Fondren historic district.

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