This website uses cookies.  Find out more in our Privacy Policy.


Erica Stiff-Coopwood '98


headshot of Erica Stiff Coopwood

Erica Stiff-Coopwood ’98

A small-town girl from Yazoo, Mississippi, Erica Stiff-Coopwood ’98 did not plan on going to a women’s college. But when she discovered Agnes Scott College during a college visit to Atlanta, she knew it was the place for her. Her valuable college experience set her on a path that includes becoming a defense lawyer, a dedicated mom and most recently, the president of the Junior League of Memphis in Tennessee.

“Agnes Scott just had that welcoming feeling, and that made all the difference. I found instantaneous friendships that have lasted through the years. There is a real community of people who are there to be better for themselves and lend their experiences to help others achieve their dreams and do well in school,” says Stiff-Coopwood.

“My experience impacted my educational choices for my two daughters who are both at an all-girls’ school in Memphis.” After considering majoring in pre-med and political science during her first year at Agnes Scott, Stiff-Coopwood landed on a major that stuck: psychology.

“I enjoyed every class that I took. Psychology was something I knew I would be able to use in my career and home life in terms of getting along with people and having confidence engaging with people,” Stiff-Coopwood explains.

While her degree certainly gave her a leg up in her professional life following college, the diverse community of women at Agnes Scott as a whole had just as much impact.

“It’s always good to have diversity in the room—it opens up another part of the essence of who you are. It taught me to be OK in any room. I belonged there. No one was better than me, and I was no better than anyone else,” she says.

Post-graduation, Stiff-Coopwood worked at several different jobs in Atlanta for a couple of years, including being a tax analyst assistant. Next, she moved home to Mississippi and took on the role as a human resources administrator for a college, putting her background and instinct for people and counseling to work.

Stiff-Coopwood then decided to go to law school, choosing Vanderbilt College in Nashville, where she studied law and business in order to have a good understanding of her future clients’ business needs.

“My business certificate served to help me in my years as an attorney. It was all about understanding my clients’ perspectives, and it was always opportune to walk in with a solution to help them get done what they wanted to get done,” she recalls.

While in law school, Stiff-Coopwood met her husband, Reginald, a surgeon and widower with three sons. After they married, she became pregnant with their first daughter and practiced employment defense law at the Nashville firm Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP. After a year at the firm, Stiff-Coopwood won a year of clerkship for the Tennessee Supreme Court by submitting a sample brief showing her writing acumen to the judge.

“You have to be a great writer to be a law clerk for the state Supreme Court. It is one of the most powerful positions to have as a lawyer. You are in your judge’s ear and picking their thoughts apart and writing briefs based on your interpretation of what they’re thinking,”she says.

Following her clerkship, she returned to employment defense law, going back to the first firm where she worked before moving on to Bone McAllester and Norton PLLC in Nashville. After giving birth to a second daughter, Stiff-Coopwood made the decision to take time from practicing law to focus on her family.

In 2010, when her husband got the call to be president and CEO of Regional One Health in Memphis, the family moved to the city. Recognizing there was a need, Stiff-Coopwood began serving the community through the Junior League of Memphis.

“When you are home and taking care of children and interacting with people in the community, you have the chance to see a lot of opportunity for things to be better. Having that perspective and the time to take it in and process it, I thought I can either be part of complaining about the problem or part of the solution,” she explains.

Stiff-Coopwood enjoys the very intentional direct-impact voluntarism at the Junior League
of Memphis, which was established in 1922.

“We have 292 chapters worldwide with the same mission: promoting voluntarism. What differentiates us from every other nonprofit organization in the world is that all of our chapters are member-run,” she says.

In June of 2018, Stiff-Coopwood accepted a two-year role as president of the Junior League of Memphis. She is the first African-American woman to hold this position at the Memphis chapter.

“What I really love about my role is the fact that as a leader, I have the opportunity to encourage others to lead as well through work in the community. A lot of focus at the Junior League is on the development of the women members themselves,” notes Stiff Coopwood.

As the public face and chief communicator of the organization, her presidential duties include being the spokesperson. Stiff-Coopwood also ensures the effective governance of the Junior League through the board of directors, and, along with the executive vice president, the effective operations of the Junior League of Memphis’ programs and activities.

“I also do everything that nobody else wants to do,” she quips. When her time in office is over next year, Stiff-Coopwood plans to take a much-needed break to “breath, pray, eat, think and reconnect with family.” But for this leader-in-chief, her future path is clear.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in Memphis and this world, and it is important not to just sit on the fact that direct-impact voluntarism can effect change. I will continue leading,” she says.

Back to top