In 2017, when Nashville’s Family and Children’s Service named its new home “The Honey Alexander Center,” the organization said that “Honey Alexander has dedicated her life to the service of others.”
Leslee Kathryn Buhler Alexander or “Honey,” as everyone calls her, was perfectly nicknamed by her older brother when she was a baby. She was born October 12, 1945, in Los Angeles, California, the second of five children of Frank and Bette Jo Simpson Buhler. When she was two years old, her family moved to Victoria, Texas. She graduated in 1963 from St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas. After majoring in American Studies at Smith College, she graduated in 1967 and joined the Washington, D.C., staff of Texas U.S. Senator John G. Tower. That summer, during a softball game between the Tower staff and the staff of Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, Jr., she met Baker staffer Lamar Alexander. He says that she slid into third base. She said he imagined that. Nevertheless, eighteen months later, on January 4, 1969, they were married in Victoria and lived in Washington, D.C., while her husband worked at the White House for President Richard M. Nixon.
In August of 1970, Honey Alexander moved to Nashville with her husband and eleven month old son, Drew, where she soon focused her time and attention on efforts relating to the health and well-being of families and children, including her own growing family. “I’ve always been involved with programs and institutions serving families and children,” she has said. “Strong families make strong children.” As Tennessee’s First Lady from 1979 to 1987, she led the statewide Healthy Children Initiative with the goal of providing pre-natal health care for every child. She was a member of the 1985-1986 Southern Regional Task Force on Infant Mortality, the Governor’s Task Forces on Day Care and on Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and the U.S. Health Secretary’s Council on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
She has served in numerous other civic activities. In 1976, she co-founded Leadership Nashville. Over the last four decades, she served Family & Children’s Service as president of its board and chaired multiple events. She served on numerous other Nashville non-profit boards, including the Adventure Science Center, Vanderbilt’s Kennedy Center, the Junior League of Nashville, the Dede Wallace Center and the Hermitage. Nationally, she has been vice-chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a board member of Family Service America and the National Archives Foundation.
During the opening of the Honey Alexander Center in 2019, she said, “It is not what I have given over the years, but what I’ve gained. Interaction with these programs and services have left me inspired by and grateful for the extraordinary people who, day in and day out, work hands on to help those who need assistance—those physicians who provided free prenatal care to poor expectant mothers through the Healthy Children Initiative, those who treat people struggling with mental health issues and those who help hopeful couples become adoptive parents. It has been a blessing to work with these inspirational people, and if I’ve had even a small impact, I’m grateful.”
In 1976, she and her husband and the Beall family of Knoxville bought Blackberry Farm outside Maryville. In 1993, the Alexanders swapped their interest in the farm for adjacent property, which is now their residence. In 1987, she and her husband along with Marguerite Sallee, Brad Martin and Bob Keeshan—television’s Captain “Kangaroo”—founded Corporate Child Care Management, Inc., which in 1997 merged with Bright Horizons, Inc., to become the world’s largest provider of employer-sponsored day care.
Along with her own family and civic endeavors and responsibilities, she has found time to be an unselfish partner as well as a popular advocate supporting her husband’s role in politics, government and university work campaigning across Tennessee during his six races for governor and U.S. Senator, serving for eight years as First Lady of Tennessee, moving to Knoxville when he was president of the University of Tennessee and then to Washington, D.C., when he was Education Secretary and senator. During 1994-1996, she traveled on her own to 80 different Iowa communities to campaign for him for president.
After the family’s eight years in the “fishbowl of the governor’s residence,” Honey insisted they “get away from it all,” and in 1987, the Alexanders—then including three teenagers and a seven year old -- moved to Sydney, Australia, where they lived for six months to “try to get our feet back on the ground.”
She has been a generous and long-time member of Christ (Episcopal) Church Cathedral in Nashville.