Bill Purcell

Bill Purcell has spent more than 30 years in law, public service, and higher education. During his eight-year tenure as Mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (1999-2007) the city saw unprecedented economic expansion, an increase in Metro school funding of more than 50 percent, and the development and preservation of more than 26,000 affordable housing units. He was elected to his second term as mayor by a record-setting 84.8 percent of the vote. Purcell's accomplishments as a civic leader earned him Public Official of the Year honors in 2006 by Governing Magazine. During his tenure Nashville was ranked as the number one city for corporate headquarters and twice ranked as the hottest city in America for expansion and relocation of business.

Following his service as mayor, Purcell was a Harvard University Institute of Politics Fellow in 2007. He then served as Founding and Interim Dean of the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs at Tennessee State University before returning to the Institute of Politics as Director (2008 - 2010), and a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. In December 2009, Purcell was appointed by Harvard University President Drew Faust as co-chair of the Work Team for Allston and served as Special Advisor on Allston. In these roles, he recommended strategies for achieving a cohesive academic and learning campus environment situated in the Allston neighborhood of Boston adjacent to Cambridge. A decade earlier he was founder and director of the Child and Family Policy Center at Vanderbilt University (1996-99), a nationally-recognized center building a bridge between academic research, politics, and best practices to benefit children and their families. He recently served as a Visiting Professor at Meharry Medical College (Summer 2014).  He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at Vanderbilt University (appointed 2012).

Purcell was elected to five terms in the Tennessee House of Representatives (1986-96), serving as Majority Leader (1990-96). During his decade in the General Assembly he sponsored and passed legislation undertaking major reforms in Tennessee's schools, courtrooms, industrial plants and boardrooms, criminal and juvenile justice, hospitals, and voting booths. He served as Chair of the House Rules Committee, Committee on Open Records, and the Select Joint Committee on Children and Youth, and as a member of the Judiciary, General Welfare, Finance Ways and Means, and Ethics Committees. During his service Tennessee was twice ranked the best managed state in America.

Having represented clients in all of the trial courts of Nashville as well as the federal and state appellate courts, Purcell has been an active participant in the work of the bar. He served as a member of the Commission on the Future of the Tennessee Judicial System, the Tennessee IOLTA Grant Review Committee, and the Board of the Nashville Bar Association, and is a Fellow of both the Tennessee and Nashville Bar Foundations. He has been honored by the Nashville Bar Association with the John C. Tune award for outstanding contributions to his community and faithful service as a member of the bar (2006).

He earned his bachelor's degree at Hamilton College and his law degree at Vanderbilt University School of Law, where he was honored as the 2004 Distinguished Alumnus.

Board Membership and Program Development

  • Forum for Youth Investment, Washington, D.C., Board Member, 2011-present
  • CFED, Corporation for Enterprise Development, Washington, D.C., Board Member, 2011-2014
  • Saint Bonaventure University, Board of Trustees, September, 2011-present
  • Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Washington, DC
    Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, Chair, 2013-present
    Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention, Member, 2012-2013
    Committee on an Evidence Framework for Obesity Prevention Decision Making, Member, 2008-2009
    Consensus Report Issued 2010
    Committee on Accelerating Progress on Obesity Prevention, Vice-Chair 2010-2012,
  • Tennessee Governor's Management Fellows Executive Committee, Member, 2013-present
    appointed by Governor Bill Haslam, August 2013
  • Partnership 2010, Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Co-Chair 2000-2007
  • State Legislative Leaders Foundation & Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award Selection Committee, 1996-Present
  • NAACP Life Member
  • Listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Law
  • Eagle Scout

Harvard Kennedy School

  • Executive Session on New Paradigms for Child Protective Services (1993 - 1997) See Report: "Child Protection: Building Community Partnerships." Farrow, Frank, (KSG, 1997).
  • Executive Session on Faith-based and Community Approaches to Urban Revitalization (convened 2002). See Case Study: "Mayor Purcell and the Faith Community Confront Nashville's Housing Needs." X. Briggs, B. Coffin & B. Banks. (KSG, 2003).
  • Seminar on Transition and Leadership for Newly & Elected Mayors. Institute of Politics Panelist 2001 and 2007, Student 1999.

U.S. Conference of Mayors

  • Trustee, 2002 - 2007 Co-Chair
  • Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, 2002 - 2004.
  • Reports available online at

National League of Cities

  • Council on Youth, Education and Families, member, 2001 - 2007; Chair, 2003 - 2004
  • Selected Reports: "Engaging Cities, How Municipal Leaders Can Mobilize Communities to Improve Public Schools." Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2006); "A City Platform for Strengthening Families and Improving Outcomes for Children and Youth." (2005); "Municipal Leadership for America's Children Youth and Families: Five Year Report" (2005).

Policymakers Program

  • The Danforth Foundation in partnership with Education Commission of the States, National Council of State Legislators and National Governors Association
  • Chair, Advisory Board, 1993 - 2002
  • Reports: Overview and Five and Ten Year Reports available online at

National Conference of State Legislators

  • Assembly on State Issues, Chair, 1995
  • Human Services Committee, Chair, 1993

Council of State Governments

  • Toll Fellow, 1988

Vanderbilt Legal Aid Society

  • Executive Director, 1978-1979

Former Boards

  • Tennessee Historical Society
  • Tennessee State Museum Foundation



  • Americans for the Arts, Public Leadership in the Arts Award (2006)
  • Public Official of the Year, Governing Magazine (2006)
  • Civil War Preservation Trust, State Leadership Award (2004)
  • Country Music Association, The Connie B. Gay Founding Presidents Award (2001)
  • International District Energy Association, Leadership Award (2006)


  • Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Welcoming Tennessee Award (2008)
  • Vanderbilt Institute of Public Policy Studies, The Bridge Award (1991)
  • Legislator of the Year:
    Tennessee Counseling Association (1996)
    Tennessee Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics, Tennessee Pediatric Society (1995)
    Tennessee Conservation League (1991)
    Tennessee District Attorneys Association (1989)
  • Tennessee Education Association Friend of Education Award (2006)
  • Tennessee Hospital Association, Community Service Award (1994)


  • Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Distinguished Service Award (2008)
  • Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, Friend of Education Award for Outstanding Support of Public Education (1996)
  • Nashville Downtown Partnership, Vision Award (2007)
  • Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee, Jack C. Massey Leadership Award (2007)
  • Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Honorary Realtor of the Year (2007)
  • Community Nashville, Human Relations Award, 2006
  • Public Relations Society of America Nashville, Apollo Award (2003)
  • John C. Tune Public Service Award, Nashville Bar Association (2006)