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BankPlus and Rays honor retiring Friends of Children’s Hospital executive director

Published on Wednesday, September 1, 2021

By: Annie Oeth,

BankPlus and Bill and Sara Ray honored Tena Payton McKenzie, who retired earlier this year as executive director of Friends of Children’s Hospital, with a $100,000 donation in her name.

McKenzie, who has been a constant supporter of the state’s only children’s hospital, first with the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Public Affairs Office and later with Friends of Children’s Hospital, was honored with a plaque at a family consultation suite and echocardiogram room at the Children’s Heart Center inside the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower.


Tena McKenzie, retired Friends of Children’s Hospital executive director, reacts with surprise after being honored by a $100,000 gift to the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi. Scott Overby, Friends board member, congratulates McKenzie as Sara Ray, a past board chairman of Friends, observes.

“Having worked with Friends for 24 years through her position at UMMC, her wealth of knowledge was invaluable,” said Sara Ray, who chaired the Friends board when McKenzie was hired as executive director of the nonprofit organization. “While I am happy for her as she enters the next chapter of her life, the void she leaves behind will be significant and her contributions will be dearly missed.”

Suzan Thames, who along with Dr. Owen B. “Bev” Evans founded Friends of Children’s Hospital, said the area bearing her name is appropriate, since her efforts throughout nearly 31 years of advocacy and fundraising helped saved lives.

“She has been at the side of sick children and their families since her arrival more than three decades ago,” Thames said. “Friends of Children’s Hospital and Children’s of Mississippi will be forever indebted for the many miracles she made possible.”

During her years as executive director, Friends made its largest commitment, pledging $20 million toward the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, the $100 million philanthropic drive to help fund construction of what is now the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi.

“To have worked alongside such a dedicated group of volunteers and sponsors to build Batson Children’s Hospital and improve health care for Mississippi children has been an incredible gift in my life,” McKenzie said. “I know Friends will continue exceeding expectations and make a wonderful difference in the lives of Children’s of Mississippi patients in the years ahead. My hope is that gifts to Friends of Children’s Hospital will continue to grow to ensure all of our kids receive the care they need in the best environment possible.”