Member Profile: Loretto Telephone

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Loretto Telecom has a long history of serving its customers — and a legacy of women leading the way. That history began when Ralph and Louise Passarella bought the company in 1946.

Ralph Passarella was being discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard after serving during World War II, and Louise had experience as a switchboard operator. Passarella was still in Brooklyn, New York, doing his final discharge from the naval yard when the Loretto exchange came up for sale. “He told her to go ahead and buy it, even before he returned,” says Desda Passarella Hutchins, CEO of Loretto Telecom and the founders’ daughter.

Disaster struck just five months later when an ice storm destroyed the entire system. “Subscribers pitched in to help rebuild so that service could be restored quicker,” Ms. Hutchins says. The company grew, adding exchanges in St. Joseph, Ethridge and Leoma, becoming the first telephone company in the state to offer touch-tone telephone and long-distance dialing.

Raph died in 1968 and Louise became president — in a time when it was unusual for a woman to work in that role. Five years later she remarried, and her new name, Louise Brown, became known all over the state of Tennessee and beyond. Through the years Ms. Brown served as TTA president and served many years on its Board of Directors. In 1990, she was selected as one of the outstanding telecommunications executives in America by Telephony Magazine. She co-authored “Telephones for Tennessee,” a history of telephony in the state.

Ms. Brown has nurtured and cherished the ideals for a better tomorrow. “In order to accomplish this, I believed in first preserving the rich historical treasures of the area, seeing the past as an inspiration to the future,” she said in a recent company newsletter. “Persistent and goal-driven, I have always seen people as individuals, as ‘seeds for the future.’ I have a vision, formed not by cold, hard, calculating facts, but rather by the hope inside of me. My hope is that my legacy will continue, always striving to affect countless tomorrows, touching future lives.”

Building for the future
Desda Passarella Hutchins was recently named president and chief executive officer, following in the footsteps of her mother. Ms. Brown continues to serve as chairman of the board. “My mother has always been a beacon for me, as well as for so many other people,” Ms. Hutchins says. “She’s the epitome of dedication and commitment. She lives to always challenge her family, her employees and all of her associates to ‘create the future.’”

Ms. Hutchins says everyone in the organization is aware of its history and that it drives them to excellence for the future. “There’s just so much history here with all the struggles to bring phone service to our areas,” Ms. Hutchins says. “That’s why it is ingrained in all of us. We’ve never known anything else, and we’re proud to carry on that tradition of service.”

Ms. Hutchins is no stranger to the telecommunications business, having started with the family-owned company as a little girl, recording daily collections into the payment register. After receiving a BBA from Memphis State University, as well as an MBA from the University of North Alabama, Ms Hutchins returned in 1984 as chief financial officer. “I strive to always face my responsibilities to our employees, whose merits we recognize on a daily basis,” Hutchins says.

She says she is committed to the community, like her mother, who served for over 75 years.

Technology plays a big role in the future of Loretto Telecom. Ms. Hutchins says the phrase “fast and furious” comes to mind as the company works to improve services in the ever-changing world of technology. “Our main thrust of energy is focused toward the latest and highly technological products,” Hutchins says. “We’re striving to beef up DSL access for our customers.”

More than 60 percent of Loretto Telecom customers have access to a 10/1 DSL connection, and the company plans to continue to expand the number of customers who have access to faster broadband.

Loretto’s service area encompasses about 400 square miles in Lawrence County, including the Ethridge exchange to the north, and Leoma, Loretto, Five Points, and St. Joseph exchanges to the south. In addition to voice and broadband, Loretto offers F-Secure Internet Security and Med-Alert medical monitoring services. The company has also put an emphasis on streaming TV options for customers.

Ms. Hutchins says it comes down to the company’s long tradition of adapting to meet customer demands. “Customers want faster and faster speeds,” Ms. Hutchins says. “We want to do everything we can to focus on the improvements our customers want, always continuing with Ms. Louise’s long legacy and dreams!”