Home » Five Minutes WithSpring 2009

Five Minutes With … Malah Tidwell

by Nelson Bryan, BA’73 No Comment

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Nashville and Vanderbilt benefitted when Malah Tidwell returned to her hometown nine years ago. An administrative assistant with the College of Arts and Science’s development and alumni relations office, she takes care of alumni, students and colleagues with a loving hand. “Malah is the heart and soul of the Arts and Science development team,” says Jonathan Petty, associate dean for development and alumni relations. “She always goes above and beyond in her work … no job is too big for her. She is a go-to and get-it-done-right person.”

Meggie Butzow, BA’06, who interned for four years under Tidwell’s guidance, fondly recalls their relationship. “She presented me with all kinds of projects that helped me learn about and understand the general purpose of development. She was never anything but supportive, kind and understanding through it all,” Butzow says. “She understood the constraints that school and classwork sometime put on me, and always made it clear that school was the priority. She really became a second mom to me.”

You’re a native Nashvillian?

I was born and raised in Nashville, and went to Antioch High School. We moved out there in ’56. My mother still lives in the same house. 

My husband, Leon, and I left on our honeymoon and moved to Worcester, Mass., outside of Boston. We stayed a year and a half and decided the weather was not for us. 

We moved back to Nashville, lived in Dickson for a while, and then moved to Montgomery, Ala., where we lived for about 14 years. We had always thought that we’d like to live further south. We knew some people in Montgomery, visited, and we thought we’d try it. And we loved it. Loved it. It was quite an adventure. I remember going through Hurricane Opal, which came up as far as Montgomery. The reason I came back to Nashville was because my husband passed away, my parents were aging, both my children were married, and I felt it was just time to come home. I’ve been back now nine years.

How long have you worked at Vanderbilt?

I have worked here a little over eight years. After my husband passed away, I moved back to Nashville and worked for J.C. Bradford. Then it was sold and I came to work at Vanderbilt in student accounts. I worked there for a year, and then was hired in development and alumni relations for the College of Arts and Science. 

What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

I once took belly dancing. That would surprise people. When my husband was alive, we had a sailboat that we called “Coupon Annie” because I was always clipping coupons; my brother-in-law wanted to know if that was how we bought it.

Other than that, I’m a pretty open book. I enjoy plays and reading. My sister and I like to go the movies and theater, and just out.

We saw The Country Wife at Vanderbilt and have tickets already for Always, Patsy Cline at the Ryman. I’ve seen it twice. We saw it in Nashville when it was here and then we went to Roanoke, Va., to visit my brother and it was playing there. We are big fans of Mandy Barnett. We saw her when she did it a few years ago and that’s when we just fell in love with her. She becomes Patsy. 

My sister, Wanda, and I do a little bit of traveling together. Last spring Wanda and I took our parents to Natchez, Miss., for a few days, and as we were driving on the Natchez Trace close to Tupelo, we went through a tornado. 

“Malah is the heart and soul of the Arts and Science development team.”

–Jonathan Petty

What else do you do in your spare time?

Most of my time is spent with my four grandchildren. My son, Barry, has three children and my daughter, Margaret, has one child. The oldest is 7 and the youngest is a year. They light up my life. The older three will come and stay with me over the weekend, and we enjoy going to the park and zoo. They’re the most special things in my life. They keep me going and keep me busy. 

Do you have a favorite alumni event?

The last two years, I’ve worked with the Reunion office in the hospitality tent. It’s always nice to see the people and help them in any way we can. It’s excitement. Old friends will see each other and stop right where they are and congregate, saying “Do you remember this? Have you seen so-and-so? Is so-and-so coming?” Things like that.

Do you find you become close to alumni?

Yes, I do. I talk to them often. I assist with the Board of Visitors that we have for Arts and Science. We have been having two meetings a year and it is always a joy to work with them. We’ll have dinner the night before and then meetings the next day. The people really seem to appreciate it and are excited to find out what’s going on at Vanderbilt.

How much interaction do you have with students?

I usually have work-study students in the office. It’s something they need as well as something we need, so it’s a nice combination. I’m on the third year with the one I have now. I like to get freshmen and keep them four years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have ones that have been very serious about their studies and about their futures.

We’ve heard you like to cook. Do you have a specialty?

I like comfort food. I have a soup they ask me to bring every time we have a potluck lunch at work—lemon chicken artichoke soup. Everyone seems to like that. At Christmas, I make Oreo balls, and they like those too.

photo credit: John Russell

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