When many people hear the name Patricia Frist, what usually comes to mind is a woman who dedicated her life to helping others through charities and foundations, as well as one who has garnered a number of prestigious awards and whose name is proudly displayed on buildings throughout the region. However, to her family, she was first and foremost a caring mom to her children, Patricia "Trisha” Elcan, Thomas III and William, as well as a supportive and loving wife to Thomas Frist Jr., and a wonderful grandma.
“My mom was my best friend,” says daughter Trisha Elcan. “I talked to her 10 times a day.”
This past January, Patricia Frist passed away at the age of 81. Not only did the world lose a generous and tireless philanthropist, but her family lost their beacon of light.
Dr. Thomas and Patricia Frist were married for 60 years. “My parents dated since the eighth grade, and they had that true love everybody hopes for. And she and my dad were real teammates when it came to helping and doing for others. It’s hard to talk about my mom separate from my dad, because they were such a team.”
The couple was dedicated to making the world a better place, and this is especially evident in the Nashville area. In addition to giving their time and financial support to numerous charities and foundations, they've given endowments to many local arts organizations, including the ballet, the symphony, and the Tennessee Museum for Art.
They were also instrumental in the founding of the Frist Art Museum. “They wanted to make sure the arts were thriving in Nashville,” says Trisha. “She and my father realized that bringing arts to a community was important for two reasons: One is that if you really want to attract other people and businesses who want to help and have the community grow and flourish, arts is an important aspect of that.
“Two, they realized that they weren’t that exposed to art growing up, and as Dad was successful in business and they were able to travel, they saw a whole other world. So they felt it was important for people in Nashville who didn’t have the opportunity to go other places to have that same access.”
That’s one of the reasons why the Frist Art Museum doesn’t have a permanent collection, she explains. A child or senior citizen who has never left Tennessee (every student and every senior can go for free) can see a large rotation of works by world-renowned artists.
“The reason they decided to focus on visual arts is because that was a missing element in Nashville, and my mom put a lot of time and energy into making sure the museum had the necessary financial support, not just from our family, but from others, too. My mom and dad were always very good about bringing in other supporters because they realized that none of this could be done in a lasting way on their own.”
Supporting education was also a passion for Mrs. Frist. “She was a special-ed teacher, and my mom and dad lived in this tiny apartment when I was a baby, and she sometimes spent her salary on buying her students' shoes and other things they needed.”
She also felt strongly about nursing, says Trisha. “My father was a doctor, and my family’s business is hospitals. My mom was a big part of that, and she saw the true value of what nurses bring into health care, which has really been brought to light during COVID.”
Some of the greatest things she did, though, were those no one ever knew about, except the people she helped. One of these fortunate recipients was a former neighbor. Years ago, he was standing in the street on an icy winter night with his dog watching his home burn. Mrs. Frist, upon learning of this, walked down the road to bring him a coat, food and dog food. She even offered him a place to stay, in her own house.
“This story epitomizes who she was her entire life,” says Trisha. “It wasn’t for the glory; she genuinely wanted to make the world a little better.”