Nashville businessman and philanthropist Ben R. Rechter, whose behind-the-scenes efforts involving civil rights, education, nonprofits, public media, and the arts were integral in making the Middle Tennessee region a national model the past 50 years, passed away on May 7. He was 83.
Rechter was president of Rogers Group Investments, Inc. and was a founder and the second-ever board chair at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT), where he remained an active member of its Board of Trustees.
CFMT honored him and other founders with the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award in 2001. In 2016, he shared the initial Bridge to Equality Award along with his close friend, the late Francis Guess, for their tireless efforts to create equal opportunity in Nashville.
“It is hard to imagine how many lives he has touched,” said Ellen Lehman, CFMT president and one its founders, “and certainly all of us involved with The Community Foundation are on that list.”
Rechter was a past recipient of the NAACP’s Legacy Award for individuals who created positive, impactful change and a measurable difference with the Greater Nashville community. He was appointed to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission by President Ronald Reagan and served 30 years on the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights.
“Ben was a person who tried to bring about equity and make this community a better place,” recalled Dr. Henry Foster, professor emeritus and former dean of the School of Medicine at Meharry Medical College, in a 2016 tribute video produced by The Community Foundation. “That was really what he was all about.”
Among his long list of community service, Rechter was a benefactor and served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nashville Public Television and served on several boards of directors, including the Metropolitan Nashville Public Education Foundation, American Learning Solutions, and the recently opened National Museum of African American Music, on which he was Chair of the Finance Committee.
He has also served as Chairman of the Board for Fisk University, United Way of Greater Nashville, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, WPLN Education Foundation, Cumberland Museum & Science Center, the Nashville Institute of Arts, and the Nashville Symphony Association, and has served as a commissioner of the Metro Development and Housing Authority.
Rechter also was a founding member of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center where, working side by side with business leader and arts philanthropist and activist Martha Ingram, was integral in its formation and opening in 1980.
“When Ben says he’s going to do something, he does it. You don’t have to ask him twice,” Martha Ingram said in the CFMT tribute video. “I believe Ben was the first chairman of the TPAC board, and for a time Ben wrote payroll from his own personal checkbook.
“Talk about generous, but talk about brave,” she continued. “It’s something we should always be grateful for. Because that was a big deal.”
His other board work included St. Thomas Health Services, Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Council, Nashville Symphony Association, Urban League of Middle Tennessee, Leonard Bernstein Center for Education, St. Thomas Health Services, and the Jack C. Massey Graduate School of Business at Belmont University.
Most recently, Rechter passionately dedicated his time and energy to the “We Are Nashville” project that currently is being revealed across the city.
“I don’t think anyone has loved Nashville as intensely as Ben Rechter did,” said Kerry Graham, Nashville advertising and marketing executive and fellow CFMT board member. “He was proud of its growth, but he also had this intensely urgent sense that we were outgrowing the things that had made this city great in the first place — that the Nashville we fell in love with will disappear unless we protect and preserve its special character: Our kindness, our generosity, our willingness to help those who live around us.”