In a year that focused unprecedented attention on the city, its citizens and its culture, Nashvillians felt even more acutely the sting of loss. In this issue, the Scene commemorates irreplaceable figures, public and private, whose deaths leave holes in the local fabric. Enclosed are stories of epochal artists who changed the world and beloved fixtures who left an indelible mark on the city's club scene; of tycoons who built fortunes and wealthy scions who quietly aided others; of a gentle giant whose last act saved his brother's life as it ended his own. Read, and remember.
Singer; Country Music Hall of Fame member
By Randy Fox
After Hank Williams' death in 1953, Ray Price "inherited" the legacy of his friend and mentor. Price scored several Top 10 country hits in Williams' style, and he was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, but it wasn't enough. In 1956, he followed a hunch and introduced a "shuffle beat" to his tales of hard living and heartbreak, starting with an odd song called "Crazy Arms." It became his first No. 1 hit.
By 1963, the "Ray Price beat" had revitalized honky-tonk music, and Price befriended several younger songwriters who had a very different take on country music. Among them was Willie Nelson, a fellow Texan who wrote country songs more suited for the vocal stylings of Frank (Sinatra, that is) than Hank. Night Life, Price's next album, was a concept record built around the sophisticated pop stylings of Nelson's title tune. Honky-tonk had moved uptown.
In 1970, the stylistic innovations that began with Night Life continued, and Price's music evolved into smooth, urbane pop, channeled through the heartbreak sentiments of honky-tonk. He continued to befriend the new breed of Nashville songwriters and recorded Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times." The song became a No. 1 country hit and a No. 11 pop hit. A rumination on joyous times and the inevitability of loss, the record became a personal favorite of Price's.
In 2013, Ray Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but that didn't dampen his enthusiasm for music nor stop him from recording a new album. Just weeks before his death, he told Rolling Stone, "I think it's one of the greatest things I've ever recorded. ... Everyone claims you can't stop listening to it." It's a quote that could easily apply to almost every record from Ray Price's amazing career.
By Jonathan Marx
When I met Marc Trovillion in the summer of 1990, I never imagined that we'd wind up playing in a band together and touring the great concert halls of Europe. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't even sure that I had any desire to stick around Nashville. But one night, with nothing better to do, I stumbled into Springwater Supper Club & Lounge and happened to catch a set by a band called Posterchild. Marc was the bass player. In a matter of minutes, Posterchild became my new favorite band, in a matter of weeks they became fast friends, and in a matter of months they became my bandmates.
Sometime after that — thanks to the lawyer for a band called Poster Children that no one even remembers anymore — we changed our name to Lambchop. If I recall correctly, the name was one of a torrent of ideas that Marc threw out there for consideration. True to Marc's love of eating, a lot of his band-name suggestions had to do with food. (I was partial to his suggestion that we call ourselves Pinnacles of Cream.)
In just a few years, Lambchop swelled to more than a dozen members, and we managed to make our way from hanging out at Springwater to tagging along on the Lollapalooza tour to playing the Royal Albert Hall in London. It all seemed completely improbable — especially considering that the band originated as a trio in Marc's bedroom, practicing with only a Casio keyboard, an amp and a mic strapped to the bedpost. He liked to boast only half-seriously that he was an "architect of the Lambchop sound."
Wherever we were, whether traveling up the East Coast packed into a 15-passenger van or gliding along the autobahn in a monstrous tour bus, Marc often served as glue that kept us together. Life on the road with a crew of hard-drinking, chain-smoking musicians can be trying, but Marc's freewheeling spirit, gentle nature and canny sense of humor always kept it fun. Jokes poured out of him — the one that has always stuck with me was his made-up jingle for Taco Bell's Burrito Supreme, sung to the tune of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."
Marc and I both stopped playing regularly with Lambchop nearly a decade ago, as family and work responsibilities started to take over. He moved to Chattanooga to raise his son, but he never stopped being a part of the band. They'd be out on tour, in some unlikely location, and a text would come through from Marc, who knew exactly where they were and, regardless of the time difference, had timed his communiqué to reach them right about the time they'd be ready to go onstage.
Marc's death from a heart attack on Oct. 10 was a shock to all who knew and loved him. Friends and family celebrated his life at a series of gatherings that included all the things he loved: food, beer, music, hiking outdoors, and people. Marc was always an easygoing guy, and yet I can't help but think he was a little pissed off that he wasn't there to join us.
COWBOY JACK CLEMENT
Producer; songwriter; singer
By Edd Hurt
A Memphian by birth and temperament, Jack Clement brought the unbridled spirit of the Bluff City to Nashville's country music scene at a time when Nashville needed it most. For decades a legendary figure among the intelligentsia, Clement in recent years began to receive the broader attention he had always deserved. He was inducted this year into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and a Nashville tribute show in January featured many of the artists he had worked with during his career.
Clement made history in Memphis as a producer and songwriter. Working with Sam Phillips at Sun Records, Clement recorded rock standards by Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Justis, and wrote "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" and "Guess Things Happen That Way," both hit singles for Johnny Cash.
Jack Henderson Clement came to Sun uniquely equipped to immortalize the efforts of Lewis and Justis. Having joined the Marines in 1948, Clement had already played bluegrass in the Washington, D.C., area with Ernest "Pop" Stoneman and his son, Scott Stoneman. After his discharge, Clement returned to Memphis, where he began recording future rockabilly star Billy Lee Riley. He took a tape of Riley to Phillips at Sun, and worked with Phillips until 1959.
Clement had also met fellow Memphis songwriters Allen Reynolds and Dickey Lee, who became lifelong friends and collaborators. Working at Echo Studio on Manassas Street, the trio made a recording in which they called each other "cowboy." The recording was forgotten, but Clement's nickname stuck.
Looking ahead, Cowboy Jack opened a recording studio in Beaumont, Texas, in 1961. In Beaumont, he cut the teenage anthem "Patches" with Lee, and pitched a Lee-composed tune titled "She Thinks I Still Care" to George Jones. He moved to Nashville in 1965, where he began producing and writing for Charley Pride, the Mississippi-born singer who became country's first African-American star.
A producer who delighted in adding seemingly incongruous but commercial touches, Clement put mariachi horns on Cash's chart-topping 1963 "Ring of Fire" and cut successful records for Tompall and the Glaser Brothers and The Stonemans. His wisdom and whimsicality endeared him to such aspiring Nashville songwriters as Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. He produced Waylon Jennings' 1975 Dreaming My Dreams, and released an idiosyncratic 1978 solo album.
In later years, he became a symbol of the musical freedom Nashville has often denied its artists. Holding court at his house, which he dubbed The Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa, Clement was an insouciant conceptualist, as the 2005 documentary film Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan illustrates. His final solo collection, Guess Things Happen That Way, appeared in 2004.
After a 2011 fire destroyed master tapes and memorabilia, he rebuilt the studio, only to be diagnosed with liver cancer late last year. To the end, though, he enjoyed the devotion of fans and friends, as students of American music began to appreciate his art.
By Jewly Hight
From pill-popping to DUI charges, multiple suicide attempts to MTV's Celebrity Rehab, the entire world watched Mindy McCready self-destruct over the past decade. Before all that, the country music world had gotten to see the Florida-bred singer at her saucy, spirited, sensitive best in upbeat, equality-on-the-home-front tunes (like her lone No. 1, "Guys Do It All the Time") and burnished, bruised-heart ballads. She bared her midriff plenty in the early years, but was no dummy when it came to interpreting a song with a down-home catch in her voice.
McCready had one of those epic, big-dreamer backstories. At 18, she got her mom's permission to move to Nashville and chase country stardom for one year, and one year only. Just before time was up, she landed a record deal. She put out three albums on BNA during the late '90s and one on Capitol in the new millennium.
After that, sadly, the wheels completely came off. McCready had developed a rep for being volatile — as sometimes happens to women who speak their minds — but that was nothing compared to the romantic, familial and legal storms that characterized her life from there on out. There was one final album, the stripped-down survivor's confession I'm Still Here, on the heels of her inevitable reality-show stint. After she took her life on the same Arkansas porch where her boyfriend died weeks before, that collection of songs became tragic testimony.
Singer; legend; Possum
By Randy Fox
More than any other singer in the last half of the 20th century, George Jones was the living embodiment of country music. His voice, his uncanny ability and his hellacious lifestyle were ample qualifications for a country music legend. But beyond all those was the secret "Possum Factor" that enabled him to transform any song into stone country, simply by singing it.
Beginning his career at the close of the Golden Age of Hillbilly Music and the dawn of the Rock 'n' Roll Era, Jones built his career one hit at a time. Unlike his heroes, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, he didn't score a massive, defining hit early in his career, and it allowed him to ride the winds of change that swept across country music in the late '50s and early '60s. Before the upheaval brought on by rock 'n' roll, the definition of country music was pretty much "music that country people listen to," whether it was mountain-based string bands, slick Western swing or heartbreak honky-tonk. After the transformation of American pop music in the '50s, country music needed a more precise model for its identity. George Jones' maturation as an artist not only coincided with country's identity crisis, it provided the blueprints for a new definition.
No matter what new elements crept into country music — the rock 'n' roll beat, the strings and vocal choruses of the "Nashville Sound," the lush production of countrypolitan — Jones seemed to absorb it and make it his own. A "George Jones Record" became an entity unto itself, with any other stylistic concerns taking second place. Sure Johnny, Merle, Buck and Porter were all great country singers who brought their unique styles to the table — but the Possum was country music.
It wasn't just his singing. Jones effortlessly embodied the yin-yang of country music — sin and salvation, self-destruction and deliverance. Each time he pushed himself to death's door no one was surprised, and yet his hair-breadth escapes from the Grim Reaper brought no astonishment. For Jones it only seemed right that there would always be one more verse, another repeat of the chorus. Eight months after his passing, it's still difficult to realize that we live in a world without George Jones.
Producer; music executive
By Kay West
When Jim Foglesong came to Nashville in 1970 to head the A&R department of Dot Records' country division, there was some speculation as to whether this classically trained, formally educated college graduate would fit into the wild and woolly ways of an emerging Music Row. By then a father of four, Foglesong quipped about it himself. "When I first got here and was worried about fitting in," a friend recalls Foglesong saying, "I thought maybe I should divorce Toni, remarry her and introduce her to everyone as my second wife."
Not only did Foglesong fit in, he went on to become one of the most successful, honored, respected and beloved members of the country music industry. He signed some of the biggest milestone-marker names in country music — Don Williams, The Oak Ridge Boys, Barbara Mandrell, George Strait and Reba McEntire.
After multiple mergers and a mass-firing, Foglesong ended up at Capitol Records, where he signed a young singer from Oklahoma named Garth Brooks. When he left the record business in 1989, Foglesong became an adjunct professor at the Blair School of Music, where future Capitol Records star Dierks Bentley was among the students in his Music Business 101 class. Foglesong founded Trevecca Nazarene University's music business program, and was awarded distinguished professor status, an honor that meant as much to him as the Nashville Entertainment Association's Master Award, the CMA's Founding President's Award, Leadership Music's Dale Franklin Award (with Garth Brooks and Allen Reynolds) and his induction in 2004 into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
As a backup singer, as a skilled first baseman for countless softball teams (he played into his 60s), as a choir member at Vine Street Christian Church, as a producer, Jim Foglesong spent a career making other people look good while constantly deferring the spotlight. He is remembered as much for his character — a gentleman, sincere, kind, generous and genuine — as his achievements, and for his favorite role as father, grandfather and devoted husband of 62 years. Foglesong died July 9, about two weeks shy of his 91st birthday.
By Edd Hurt
Born in Spalding, Neb., Thomas Paul Glaser grew up the oldest of five brothers and a sister on a 1,200-acre corn and cattle farm, enduring tough times during the Depression years. Glaser helped expand the horizons of country music in the '60s and '70s, at a time when country had reached the limit of its original conservative impulses.
Singing with his brothers Chuck and Jim, Tompall made significant advances as a singer, studio owner, songwriter and colorful, exuberant personality. A born entertainer, Tompall was the leader of the group, and they got their break in 1957 when country star Marty Robbins took the young performers under his wing. The Glasers came to Nashville that year to record for the newly created Robbins Records label while also writing songs for Robbins and contributing background vocals to many of his recordings during this period.
With Tompall usually singing lead, the Glasers recorded a series of fascinating full-lengths with producer Jack Clement in the '60s, hitting with 1969's "California Girl (And the Tennessee Square)" and a version of Clement's "Gone, On the Other Hand." In later years, Tompall embarked on a solo career. The Glasers also became businessmen, publishing John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" and operating the famed Hillbilly Central recording studio on 19th Avenue South in Nashville.
Singer; drummer; Grand Ole Opry member
By Randy Fox
Jack Greene rose to fame as the drummer for Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours, laying down a solid backbeat for one of the all-time best honky tonk bands. The ability to stand on a firm foundation followed him throughout his life — as a sideman, a star and as a pillar of traditional country music.
Beginning his singing career on radio station WGAP in his home town of Maryville, Tenn., Greene spent several years as a singer, bass player and drummer in various bands. In 1962, he joined the Texas Troubadours, becoming the "big-eared singing drummer" in what is now considered the most classic lineup of Tubb's band.
In 1964, Greene's rendition of "The Last Letter" was featured on the Ernest Tubb Presents the Texas Troubadours LP, and its popularity led to a solo contract with Decca Records. He scored a No. 1 country hit in 1966 with the Dallas Frazier song "There Goes My Everything." At the first CMA awards, the song won Single of the Year, and Greene was named Male Vocalist of the Year.
With encouragement from Tubb, Greene left the Texas Troubadours to focus on his solo career and continued to rack up Top 10 hits from 1967 to 1969. As the '70s dawned, his career cooled, but he continued to score minor hits through the mid-'80s, along with becoming a beloved mainstay on the Grand Ole Opry.
His time atop the charts was brief, but Greene's life was a testament to a time when talent, perseverance and a sense of country tradition built careers that lasted a lifetime.
By Jewly Hight
Pop-song dog noises aren't what they were in Patti Page's day. The "arfs" that arrived on cue throughout her 1952 hit "(How Much Is) That Doggie In the Window" had every man, woman and child picturing a frisky lap dog, while the barrel-chested barking that the Baha Men and DMX have been known to slap on their tracks are there to signal sensibilities that are anything but cuddly and domesticated.
Beneath the graceful composure of Page's performances was an elusive sensuality and a resonant, womanly alto that often lingered and luxuriated on notes rather than flitting through a song. That's how she sang her 10 million-selling 1950 chart-topper "Tennessee Waltz," with just a hint of Oklahoma drawl evident in her curled pronunciation of "darlin' " in the opening line. It's worth noting that the charts it topped number three: pop, country and rhythm & blues.
Born Clara Ann Fowler, Page took her stage name from a Tulsa radio show sponsored by Page Milk and emerged on the national scene just as big-band jazz was fading and before rock 'n' roll exploded. Besides ruling in the pre-rock pop realm, she also recorded entire albums of country songs, covering Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash, hosted television variety shows and acted in films, one of them based on a Sinclair Lewis novel and another on a comic strip. She died on New Year's Day.
Musician; bandleader; instructor
By Jim Ridley
In October 2012, mourners sat solemnly in a small Murfreesboro memorial chapel. The room was deathly silent as a slender man in an immaculate suit seated himself at the piano at the front of the room. With a deadpan expression, he adjusted, flexed his long fingers — and began playing the chugging boogie bass line of Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000." The room broke up — exactly as the fun-lover being celebrated would have wished.
William Richardson played countless such occasions in his too-short life, both private and public. As a boy, he'd started out playing trumpet; in middle school, he'd walk after class to Katherine Franklin's home on State Street in Murfreesboro for piano lessons. His grandmother paid for them, Ralph Vaughn wrote in a 2012 Daily News Journal profile, and at night he'd accompany his grandfather to his custodian job at the nearby Campus School to practice on its piano.
Richardson toured with The Imperials gospel quartet and served for a time as music director for the long-running Nashville Gospel Show on WSMV-Channel 4. Since 1984, he'd performed at Murfreesboro's World Outreach Church, which he watched grow from a 75-member congregation to more than 10,000. He also fronted a jazz combo at Murfreesboro's annual jazz festival.
But it was in smaller, private audiences that the gentle, dreamy man with the effortless reach might have made the largest impact: encouraging his own piano students, slipping from fakebook to hymnal on endless appointments at local churches and retirement centers, or stopping by a home on Christmas Eve, en route to his own family, to play a few well-chosen carols — sometimes slipping in a rolling New Orleans flourish or glissando that hinted at the scope of his talent. The saddest thing about William Richardson's funeral was that he should've been there to play it.
Redhead; friend; wife; mother; muse; love activator
By Steve Allen
My lovely wife Linda wasn't a musician, per se, but she always rocked the beat. To the very end. She was a dancing machine, and music was deep in her soul.
Linda and I met in when we were students at Oklahoma State University in the mid-1970s. We moved to Los Angeles in 1977. I was in a band called 20/20, on Sony Records. Linda was a manager at Warner Bros. Records, working with Prince, George Harrison, Madonna, ZZ Top, Dire Straits and many others.
In 1987, three weeks after our son Gus was born, Linda had a major seizure. Doctors found a cancerous tumor in her brain.
Linda wanted it gone. "I've got a husband that I love, a baby that I love, and a job and friends that I love," she would say. "I'm not going anywhere."
In 1989, doctors removed most of the tumor in an 11-hour operation, and we followed it with radiation. Linda lost some of her hair and weight. After the operation, three small bits of the tumor remained. Linda began practicing creative visualization. She always had a strong spiritual life, and believed that she could create her own reality.
Three months later we went back for an MRI. Her doctor was shocked. The three bits of tumor were gone.
"This just doesn't happen," the doctor said.
We all just looked at each other, speechless. Linda broke the ice, laughing, then loudly proclaimed, "That's because I made them go away!" We went out and celebrated with lunchtime martinis.
We relocated to Nashville in 1992, where Linda worked at the Nashville Warner Bros. office. She was always warm and outgoing, but something changed after the operation. We made friends everywhere we went. She felt free to hug anyone, to say and do whatever she felt at the moment, no matter how outrageous.
I've wondered myself if her magical energy and lack of inhibition was the result of her close brush with death or changes in her brain. I think it was a combination — but the main ingredient was her strong will and her deep love for life. She knew all that really matters is the moment we are experiencing right now.
She became the unofficial muse for the Long Players, a band I play in that re-creates classic albums in their entirety. She was always getting people off their asses to dance and let loose. She was a rocker with "M-O-M" emblazoned on the back of her motorcycle jacket.
Toward the end of 2011, we knew something was wrong. An MRI showed the cancer was back; the tumor had mutated and was inoperable. Linda had a long, graceful descent, and she accepted it with love, patience and understanding.
Linda lived 58-and-a-half glorious years — 25 of them after doctors had said she had only a few left. We both knew we had gotten bonus time to enjoy each other, and to raise Gus.
Through it all, Linda never lost the beat — even when she could move only her hands. Music is powerful. It spilled out from her soul. Linda knew how to dance in the rain, and taught many others. I'm still learning so much from her example.
Musician; blogger, aka Forever Young; promoter
By Whit Smith
The following was read aloud during a memorial service at St. Edward's Catholic Church on Feb. 15.
Hello. My name is Whit Smith, and I was a good friend of Ben Todd's, as were a great number of you, and it is with great sadness and frustration that I address you today. We're gathered here to celebrate and reflect upon the life of Benjamin David Todd, who was surely a gift from God to you, me, Nashville, Tenn., the United States of America and the world.
Some of you have known Ben since before he was born, some of you only in recent years, months, or days. Some of you may have never met Ben, but were compelled to memorialize him because you knew his magnanimity, his larger-than-life persona, and were moved by the zeitgeist he helped to conjure and sustain. Among the bristling creation of God, a great many are bound by locality, while some others are freed by the history and heritage of a place, and are then able to help others unbind themselves. Ben Todd was among the latter, a great emancipator of sorts. He welcomed and encouraged all: freaks, outcasts, punks, hippies, weirdos, kids, junkies, the hopeful, the hopeless, artists, shams, posers, winners and losers. And he chose his hometown as his home base, at times opened his home to these friends and strangers and actualized a movement and environment that fostered the arts for all. And how Christ-like of him. And I don't mean in a Ginsberg sort of way.
Really, but with whom did Christ consort? Christ stuck around the general vicinity of his tiny portion of the Roman Empire and surrounded himself with and loved the despised, the halfway-there, the unclean, the confused, the weirdos, the punks, the freaks, the thieves, the prostitutes, the murderers, and the down-and-out. And like Christ, Ben started a movement and recognized that like himself, the freaks of the world are the most capable of good. Y'all know that now-cliché Kerouac quote about the insatiable ones? Well, that was him. And that is us: insatiable. And he knew it. Ben had a transformative power. He could turn a frown upside down. He could turn a mood inside out. He could literally turn a venue inside out. He could smite the weak-talk and bolster the courage. He could prod a band to greatness, splash water in the face of a sleeping community and make magic happen.
Christ said, "Let the children come to me." Ben did too. How many all-ages events did Ben create? And how rare is it in an age of pretense that a man should open up "serious art" to kiddos? Ben luv the keeds. I have so many stories that illustrate the person who Ben was, but that's for later.
Ben was a rare bird in this freaky world. I am forever grateful that I have known Ben Todd, been a part of the special world of Ben, and to have made so many friends through Ben. I'm saddened that he's gone, and I'm more saddened that he chose to leave. I don't understand or condone his decision, but I do understand that God is good, and brings good from the darkest of times. So, pray, meditate, bang your head, and carry on the tradition that Ben so firmly planted; that of a father of a movement, of a natural son of the world, and of a spirit of the community. May we champion the freaky-deaky, champion the fun, champion the good. Goodbye Ben; we'll always miss you, and we pray that we stay forever young.
Wayne Mills, 44, was lead singer of outlaw-country act the Wayne Mills Band. After a late-night altercation the night of the George Jones memorial concert in November, Mills was shot in the the head at downtown nightspot the Pit and Barrel. The club's owner, Chris Ferrell, is charged with second-degree murder. He maintains he shot in self-defense.
Slim Whitman, 90, the "Yodeling King" whose three-octave voice sold an estimated 120 million records (and defended the world from extraterrestrial harm in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!).
Tim Hensley, 50, a featured member of Kenny Chesney's band and stellar multi-instrumentalist who'd performed stints backing Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless; with Chesney as co-producer, recorded the well-received 2008 solo LP Long Monday.
By John Seigenthaler
The first time John Egerton and I connected was in 1974 when I interviewed him for A Word on Words, the Nashville Public Television program I host for authors. His book, The Americanization of Dixie, had just been published, and our conversation about his view of the South didn't end when, after 30 minutes, the camera went blank and the studio lights went out.
We sat there for an hour in the darkened studio talking about the changes that had taken hold of our home region — some for the better, some no — and how Nashville, my native and his adopted city, had been affected by all that change. He understood, as many do not, that "being Southern" is not some mystical or mythical concept but a way of life to which we are born and escape only through denial, if then.
While John held strong opinions and did not hesitate to air them, he also was a good listener — a gift ordained to make a friend of a big talker, like me. He came back, from time to time, to appear on A Word on Words as his subsequent books were released, and inevitably our on-air program was followed by an on-set, off-camera conversation that gave us a chance to catch up on gossip — in the best Southern tradition.
John was, then, a Southern writer and made no apology for it. Our music, our food, our politics, our literature, our love of storytelling, our cowardice and our courage as it relates to racial history, all were subjects he thought about, read about, talked about, knew about, and, importantly, wrote about.
"The South is a history without a country," he once told me. And without a vital voice, now that we have lost his.
Reprinted with permission from Chapter16.org.
THE REV. WILL D. CAMPBELL
Author; minister; civil rights activist; advocate for the least among us
By John Egerton
Campbell, the Baptist minister who defied death threats and entrenched institutional injustice on behalf of causes ranging from civil rights to opposition to the death penalty, became one of the South's most revered literary figures with the publication of his autobiographical 1978 book Brother to a Dragonfly. A maverick who spoke truth to power and had no patience for liberal orthodoxy, he was eulogized memorably this past June by his longtime friend and fellow literary hero John Egerton — upon whose own recent death, many noted that the words he spoke for Campbell applied to him as well. This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Chapter16.org.
He was different, but familiar: a Southern character, a tangle of contradictions. He was a believer and a doubter. He saw through a glass, darkly, and wept for the victims and perpetrators of inhumanity. He heard the Jesus question in the Gospel of Matthew something like this: If you only love the ones who love you, what have you accomplished? Even the bankers and barkeeps do that much. No, that's not enough. If you love one, you've got to love them all.
The new Will, like the old, knew in his heart that no matter what he did or how well he did it, it would never be enough. He was no saint. It wasn't quite true that he loved everybody. He sometimes showed a vengeful impulse — a meekly devious, passive-aggressive tic. He boasted that he never voted for "the minions of Mr. Caesar," but he lied — I saw him in line at his polling place, waiting for a ballot. His family was paramount — but not always primary. He was pretty much like the rest of us — maybe better at it, but still, he was just Will being Will.
What set him apart was this: he had an uncanny knack for reaching into people's hearts, for making them feel they were important to him, they mattered. The poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the untouchables felt that he cared about them. He earned the trust and respect of African-American leaders in the South and nation at a time when trust was at a premium for anyone, anywhere. He was an ally of the working class — farmers, laborers, the service industry on whose shoulders all of us now rest. A host of religious people and non-believers, in and out of the steeples, drew inspiration from Brother Will. The music people embraced him, and he returned their love tenfold. The scholars, lawyers, doctors — likewise. The word-and-picture people, we of the ink-and-paper trades, considered him a fellow addict. He belonged to us all, and we to him.
Arts journalist; theater critic, The Tennessean
By Evans Donnell
After the former Tennessean arts journalist Clara Hieronymus died Nov. 30 at age 100, accolades came pouring in from colleagues and subjects of her pinpoint prose. "Clara was a fine critic and a really great lady, a model to us all in the American Theatre Critics Association that she helped found and then direct for so many years," said Christopher Rawson, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic and two-time chair of that organization. Nashville theater fixture Danny Proctor wrote that she was "[a] rare breed. We rolled our eyes and said, 'Who cares if she didn't like us?' But we rejoiced when she did."
Many — myself included — knew what it was like to receive a tough-but-fair notice from Hieronymus, who wrote opinions on theater for The Tennessean from 1956 to 1997, with all but seven of those years spent as a full-time staffer. But her involvement in Nashville's cultural conversation extended well beyond the stage. She won multiple awards for home furnishings stories, and her discerning coverage of the design scene was such that O'More College of Design in Franklin has a lecture hall named for her.
Beyond her influential career, this well-mannered, warm and charming woman was happily married to S.C. "Hi" Hieronymus for 58 years until his death in March 1995, the mother of two children and a doting grandmother and great-grandmother as well. That family topped a long list of accomplishments for the Mississippi Delta native.
By Paul Burch
Chet Flippo was the first person in the music business to support me in Nashville. I remember putting my photo under his office door after hours, in complete disbelief that he had asked for it. Though my album was made for $1,000, for a French label, and had virtually no availability anywhere in the world, for Chet that was all the more reason it should be included in a story about roughneck kids who loudly talked trash about modern country music and were willing to back it up, regardless of the consequences.
In my youth, I held Music Row's label heads in contempt for what seemed to be their reckless disregard for the subtleties of their own culture and their history, and a barely concealed contempt for their audience and the musicians they employed. Whether Chet agreed with me or the other Lower Broadway performers didn't matter. He made it news and made us, by his chronicle, musicians: contributors to the culture, and entertainers — high or low — to be regarded and considered.
Chet made Americana a national name. He was the first to step forward and offer kindling that we could put our matches to. He codified it. As for his writing, Chet brought to Rolling Stone, Billboard, and CMT what Gay Talese brought to Esquire — a sense of involvement, connection and dedication to the moment, and the promise that his byline alone signified a belief in the humanity to be found therein.
And Waylon gave Chet his motorcycle — which Buddy Holly gave to him. Now ain't that a hoss?
ERNEST Q. CAMPBELL
Academic sociologist; former graduate dean at Vanderbilt
By Bruce Barry
Armed with a doctorate from Vanderbilt in the mid-1950s, rural Georgia native Ernest Campbell built a distinguished academic career as a sociologist of race relations and desegregation at a time when the country was trying to figure these things out. Campbell's dissertation on desegregation in Oak Ridge bridged into post-doctoral work at Harvard, leading to his 1959 book Christians in Racial Crisis, which cast a critical scholarly eye on the underwhelming role of religious leaders in Little Rock's desegregation movement. He grew deeply involved in policy-relevant research, co-authoring the federal government's landmark Coleman Report on equal opportunity in education arising from the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Arriving back at Vanderbilt in the 1960s as chair of sociology, Campbell rebuilt the department with aplomb, "putting Vanderbilt on the map in sociology for the next 50 years," in the words of current chair Katharine Donato.
But it was during a decade-long run as dean of Vanderbilt's Graduate School starting in 1973 that Campbell really made his mark on the university's future. At the time, Vandy was trying to find its identity as a serious research university. It was Campbell, as dean, who pressed the case forcefully for a significant commitment to graduate education, because as he recalled in an interview many years later, "There's no other way to be a good university."
For many academics, community building revolves around their professional disciplines and institutions. But that wasn't so for Campbell, who gave of himself to Nashville, not just to Vanderbilt. An urban pioneer and preservationist, he and his wife Burdelle had a serious hand in the revival of historic Germantown. Vanderbilt is a better place because Ernest Campbell worked there, and Nashville is a better place because Ernest Campbell lived here.
By Jim Ridley
There was scarcely a stage in Nashville Joe Keenan hadn't crossed by the time he made his last appearance, at Tennessee Rep in Michael Frayn's clockwork farce Noises Off in 2007. He'd been persecuted by Salem witchfinders and berated by Clarence Darrow at the Darkhorse, enchanted by Puck at the Centennial Park bandshell, and swept along by Cole Porter's melodies at Chaffin's Barn. Onstage, he could look ravaged or livid. Offstage, a lover of music and storytelling, he could seem more like the mischievous proprietor of a toy shop.
A Mississippi native who served for four years in Army aviation during the Korean War, he moved to Middle Tennessee in 1972 with his wife Nan to set up a speech pathology clinic at the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Murfreesboro. They quickly became mainstays of the Murfreesboro Little Theatre, with Nan, an accomplished actor herself, directing him in productions of Man of La Mancha, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Fiddler on the Roof. When they moved to Franklin in 1992, they went professional and shifted to Nashville theater, performing with the Rep, ACT I, Nashville Shakespeare Company and other troupes. They were married for 57 years.
As a kid one summer, I worked on a Murfreesboro Little Theatre revue highlighting its first 20 years. On days everyone had to push brooms around the playing area, he'd make the time pass by warbling "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" or declaiming actual Shakespeare, tempting fate by calling down Macbeth's hurlyburly. Every night in performance, when it came time for Keenan to reprise his big "Man of La Mancha" number as Don Quixote, all the kids from high school drama would stand in the wings and pantomime, pretending that force of emotion was coming from our own puny throats. He managed to give one last command performance — delivering one of his story-songs via tape at his own funeral. Actors that good don't leave the stage without a fight.
BROTHER MEL MEYER
Marianist monk; artist
By Joe Nolan
Though he lived in Missouri, Brother Mel Meyer was practically synonymous with The Arts Company. The pioneering Fifth Avenue gallery hosted annual birthday parties for Meyer, which doubled as exhibitions of his artwork.
Meyer was a Marianist monk who created an estimated 10,000 pieces of art during his career. His work includes metal sculptures, watercolors, stained glass, frescoes and acrylic paintings on canvas. He also worked in handmade paper and textiles. Although most Marianists are teachers, some of the priests and brothers in the order use their God-given talents in a variety of ways to express their faith, and the order includes a number of full-time artists.
It's nearly impossible to sum up the work of such a long-lived, prolific artist — Anne Brown, The Arts Company's owner, filled a whole coffee-table book when she published Brother Mel: A Lifetime of Making Art in 2009. Though he worked in a wide range of media, a current of joy runs through it all. In his abstract work, Mel's shapes and colors evoke a sense of whimsy and delight, and even his figurative pieces have a magical quality.
"Art is an outgrowth of what the person is," Meyer once said. "I'm a happy person. The feeling of being happy finds its way into the art."
In recent years, Meyer was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from St. Louis University, and the university's art museum held a retrospective of the artist's work this past spring. A sculpture garden devoted exclusively to his work was erected in downtown St. Louis, and Meyer even had one of his large sculptures stolen in a daring art heist. Hearing about the theft, Meyer said he felt he'd finally "arrived as an artist."
Brother Mel Meyer died on Oct. 12 at the Marianist community residence on the campus of St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood, Mo., of complications from heart disease. He was 85.
By J.R. Lind
Huell Howser may have been best known for hosting public television staple California Gold, but he was pure Tennessee honey.
The drawling Howser, a Gallatin native, died from prostate cancer in January at his California home. He was beloved in the Golden State, in large part because he brought his folksy Volunteer State charm to his presentation, punctuating visits to, say, Pasadena's Bunny Museum with oh-my-goshes and a perpetual sense of aw-shucks wonder.
So ebullient was his enthusiasm that it was often seen as a put-on by the jaded and tanned denizens of his adopted home. He was mocked (lovingly) by comedians and even made a few appearances — lampooning himself — on The Simpsons.
Before he headed west and became the tour guide for generations of Californians, Howser lived a life that was pure Tennessee. He attended UT and served as student body president; he served in the Marines, then worked on the staff of U.S. Sen. Howard Baker before starting his TV career at Channel 4, then WSM-TV, where he cut his chops doing human interest stories, the legacy of which is continued on Terry Bulger's Backroads and on Tennessee Crossroads.
Howser's sense of wonder was never an act. A cynical world could use a few more like him — a few more good men who are always amazed, and always amazing.
Artist; former deputy mayor
By Kay West
When Tory Sally Fitzgibbon and her younger brother Chris Sally were growing up in Rolla, Mo., their mother told them she had been Wonder Woman, but when she married their dad, she passed the belt and superpowers on to Lynda Carter. "We believed her," Fitzgibbon says. "Then our older cousins came to visit and told us our mom was lying."
For the rest of her spectacular, singularly self-made life, the brave, brassy, beautiful blond force of nature that was Irene Ritter would prove those cousins wrong.
She escaped rural life in Iowa to attend college in St. Louis, graduating Washington University with a degree in English that she put to brief use in journalism before moving to Rolla with her new husband, a developer and state senator. Ill-suited for small-town life or that marriage, she left both, taking her then 11- and 9-year-old children to Cincinnati. Five years later, she moved to Nashville and got her first paying job as an account executive with the city magazine Nashville. Undaunted by knowing nothing about the town itself, she was soon running the magazine, first as editor, then publisher.
From there, Ritter vaulted down to the Metro Courthouse, becoming deputy mayor in Bill Boner's tempestuous one-term administration. "I'm not exactly sure what a deputy mayor is supposed to do," Fitzgibbon says with a laugh. "But Irene created her own role.
"She made everything an adventure, there was never any anxiety about doing something new. She had supreme confidence and told my brother and me, 'Always vote for yourself.' "
In her 50s, Ritter placed a vote of confidence in herself. She took a leap of faith to pursue the path of the artist, something she had been discouraged from doing as an 18-year-old in Missouri (perhaps the first and only time she ever took no for an answer). She enrolled in stone-carving classes at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. "Since she was a little girl, she loved the enduring qualities of rock, and so was drawn to the reductive nature of stone carving — revealing something within."
She came home with one piece — Roary — and for nearly 20 years after was in her backyard studio almost every day. She named her pieces first from titles, phrases or puns that caught her fancy. Two are at Vanderbilt Hospital, the Metro Arts Commission has Rockford Files, and more than 20 locals own a Ritter. The rest — which she demanded be kept for her grandchildren and their children — are residing with Tory and Chris until they will pass them along.
Her memorial service on a clear cold afternoon was staged — as she wished — between the lap pool she designed and her studio. It commenced with her niece Coco singing what her kids considered their mother's theme song, "Cabaret" and ended with dear friend John Jackson's emotional rendition of the poignant folk standard, "Goodnight, Irene," which ends with the promise, "I'll see you in my dreams."
Tory and Chris were absolutely right to believe their mother was a wonder woman. She created a world of wonder for her five cherished grandchildren — Liam, Henry, Harrison, Gibson and Katharine Irene. Everyone who had the privilege of standing in the glorious, radiant light that was Irene Ritter would tell you she was one hell of a wonderful woman.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, 72, Christian ethicist, former Vanderbilt professor and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago's divinity school. She wrote the best-selling book Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, which made the ethical case for going to war in Iraq.
LIVIA ROSE SMITH
Makeup artist and skin-care professional
By Amanda Valentine
Livia Rose Smith was killed on Feb. 20 in an apparent hit-and-run near her East Nashville home.
When I first met Livia, I thought she was a punk-rock Disney princess. She had perfect porcelain skin, coiffed platinum hair and a meticulously effortless (is that possible?) outfit. She greeted me with sparkling eyes and a gorgeous smile. I think I saw bluebirds flying around her.
We were fast friends and neighbors for a couple of years. I first started knocking on her door for a quick hello or glass of wine. The visits became more frequent, and soon I was depending on her like family. She got me through breakups, a million stressful projects and many an existential crisis. With any struggle, she would roll her eyes and say, "Oh babe, you've got this."
She had this way about her. She was one of those extraordinary combinations of striking beauty and welcoming warmth. She had an unending reserve of patience and sympathy.
She was always most concerned with how everyone else was feeling. She was honest with her friends, she listened, she invested in her relationships and gave the best advice you've ever heard. I can't think of another person I've met with that much genuine compassion.
"Hey! Bauhaus' version of 'Ziggy Stardust' was just on the radio!" she texted me out of the blue a couple years ago. That was how we worked. Jobs changed, relationships changed, apartments changed, but we always checked in. We would reconnect at one of our "spots" and spend hours and hours talking about everything from skin care to gluten-free diets to professional goals and spiritual paths.
I can't begin to describe the hole her death has left in my life. I can't begin to describe how difficult it is to translate such a vibrant and exquisite soul into black-and-white words. But I imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, "Oh babe, you've got this."
Waylon Jennings' business manager; pilot; adventurer
By Kim Green
Nikki Mitchell fell in love with things. A lot. First, it was horses; then drawing and painting; then flying.
In 1991, Russia ensorcelled her. She learned that three regiments of Soviet airwomen had fought in World War II. Knowing no one, Mitchell visited the USSR to hear the women veterans' stories and find a way to honor them.
In 1998, Mitchell, a private pilot, and Rhonda Miles, flight instructor, corporate pilot and confidante, flew Mitchell's hardy little single-engine Maule to Russia. They traversed Siberia with a team of Russian airwomen and airplanes to commemorate a famous 1938 flight by pioneering Soviet aviatrices. Many things went wrong. One day, a Siberian fog clung so low that a controller guided Miles (without radar) to land by listening to the sound of her engine. "I drank a bottle of Champagne that night," recalls Miles.
While president of country artists Waylon Jennings' and Jessi Colter's enterprise for 20-plus years, she co-founded a women's fly-fishing club and annual fishing retreat for breast cancer survivors, and bought a historic building in Normandy, Tenn., opening her dream restaurant, the River Cafe. All while plotting her next journey — to Mongolia.
The Mongolia adventure was not to be. Last summer, Mitchell called her friends to the cafe to say goodbye. After 31 months of treatment for pancreatic cancer, she told Miles — her caregiver those last months — that she wanted to disconnect her feeding tube. "Are you doing this so I don't have to decide?" Miles asked her. Mitchell just smiled.
The day before Mitchell's memorial service, Miles quit her flying job to pilot the Nikki Mitchell Foundation, which supports research into early detection of pancreatic cancer.
"She left me a notebook full of stuff to do," Miles says. "She was my adventure soul sister."
JAMES "RALPH" DISHMAN
Barber; owner, Belle Meade Barber Shop
By Lance Conzett
I couldn't have been older than 4 when my parents dragged me to my first haircut that didn't involve a metal bowl and a pair of safety scissors. From that point forward, living in West Nashville meant regular haircuts at the Belle Meade Barber Shop, a quaint barbershop anchoring the corner of what used to be the H.G. Hill Food Store on Harding Pike. And more often than not, it was James "Ralph" Dishman who had the honor of shearing my unruly head.
Dishman occupied the middle chair at the Belle Meade Barber Shop for decades, working his way up from the end of line when he started barbering at the shop in 1960, until he bought the place from its original owner 14 years later. If Nashville were Mayberry, a compelling argument could be made that Dishman was our Floyd Lawson — a quintessentially Southern charmer whose friendliness and memory for names and family history was uncanny, to say the least. Like the barbershop he owned, he was an unpretentious relic from the past, an "only in Nashville" character who doesn't let you forget our city's aw-shucks demeanor.
But to kids, Dishman was the guy who could be your grandfather who would hand you coins to put in the penny candy machines once he was done chopping off your hair. Eventually, I would grow into a resentful, sullen teenager, and eventually, the H.G. Hill and barbershop would get displaced by a Publix, but looking back, I can't help but accept that Dishman and the Belle Meade Barber Shop were a significant part of my childhood. And for that, I'm grateful.
By Kay West
Six years ago, when former U.S. Congressman Bob Clement was running for mayor, he asked Room In The Inn founder Charlie Strobel and executive director Rachel Hester to help him better understand the homelessness issue in Nashville. They invited him to ride along in the Campus for Human Development van.
Not long into their field trip, they saw an older man on the sidewalk, obviously in distress — dressed in paper hospital scrubs, his belongings in a clear plastic bag.
"He was not a stranger to us," Hester says. Don Edwards was a chronically homeless alcoholic, estranged from his family, a regular participant in Room In The Inn's winter shelter program. A native of Kentucky, he once had a successful career as a pharmaceutical rep, but his disease had taken everything from him.
Strobel pulled the van over, and they helped Edwards in; Clement was about to get more insight than he expected.
Well enough to be released from a hospital, Edwards had been discharged back to the streets. They brought him back to the campus — then just one shabby building on Eighth Avenue South — and got him into a respite bed. Once rested, he moved to a bed in the guest house to begin a 90-day outpatient recovery program. Upon completion, he was accepted into the campus's two-year residential Odyssey program, and when he graduated from that, he received permanent housing in one of the new building's 38 apartments.
Campus staffer Sheila DeBerry says, "Don was a fireball for recovery. He struggled in the beginning, but when it clicked, he was in it all the way. When he graduated, he sponsored several people in the program. They knew that he was someone who had been where they had been, and he became a mentor."
Volunteer Jim Reyland led a class called "Life Stories," during which participants reveal often traumatic childhood memories and painful adult truths. "Don was empathetic, but always positive. He would say, 'Look where you are now, look at the opportunity before you, look at the gift you've been given.' He offered a steady hand, and an example to follow to be grateful, kind and forgiving. He was such a leader. They could see someone who had been through the program and had found peace and happiness in life."
His health, compromised by years of drinking and life on the streets, declined. After another hospital stay, he was admitted this fall to Trevecca Health Care to recuperate. His campus and Room In The Inn family visited him, and in the last days of his life he reconnected with one of his stepdaughters. He passed away sober, loved, sheltered and connected. He remains an inspiration.
"We had an Odyssey class recently where we talked about hope, and his name came up immediately," says Reyland. "That is what Don offered to other men in the program. Hope that they could follow his example and overcome as he had."
LISA DAWN GRANOIEN FROEB
By Kay West
When Lisa Froeb moved with her husband Luke to Nashville from Washington, D.C., in 1993 so he could accept a position with Vanderbilt University, she had a 1-year-old son, Jake, and was pregnant with her daughter Halley, who was born shortly after they arrived. She immediately sought a place to do what was as necessary to her as breathing: walking amid nature. She was drawn to Warner Parks, first pushing a double-wide stroller up to Luke Lea Heights and back down again, then — as her children's legs became sturdy and restless — walking the trails of the park as a family.
When Jake and Halley went to school, the unspoiled acres of forest and meadows, creeks and springs, high ridges and low valleys were where she met almost daily with friends, a community as intertwined as the branches and vines overhead, as solid as the ground, as deep as the woods, as reassuring and reliable as the turn of the seasons, year after year. Her love of the outdoors was born in Minnesota, developed in the foothills and summits of the Rocky Mountains near Boulder, Colo., where she put herself through college, and expanded in Asia's Golden Triangle, where she spent two-and-a-half years in the Peace Corps.
In Nashville, she devoted herself to her family; to Magdalene and the Tree Foundation, on whose boards she served; to outreach programs and missions of St. Augustine Episcopal Chapel; and to Crossroads Campus, an organization that pairs abused and neglected dogs with disadvantaged teens. On May 24, Lisa helped celebrate the grand opening of Magdalene's newest social enterprise, the Thistle Stop Café. She and Luke then left for a trip with friends to southern Utah, where they had a cabin.
On May 31, while hiking with a group in the remote Box Death Hollow Wilderness, she was killed in a freak rockslide. Hundreds filled Benton Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus for her memorial service a week later. They heard her good friend, frequent trail partner and pastor, the Rev. Becca Stevens, read the poem she wrote for her, "Walking." It begins, "She walked all over God's green earth."
Along the Mossy Ridge Trail in Percy Warner Park, hikers who walk the same route she did countless times will come upon a shelter. Above the rough wood mantle over the fireplace is a modest bronze plaque that reads, "Restored in Loving Memory of Lisa Granoien Froeb." At the dedication two days after Thanksgiving, on a clear afternoon, family, friends and many dogs gathered under the roof upheld by stout cedar posts. Behind a stone left loose in the chimney, grieving hands tucked prayers, notes and small keepsakes, before it was mortared in place. The shelter is there for all who follow her path.
Darrell Wyndell Wright, 50, was at the Church and Son Market on 15th Avenue North on an August Sunday when two gunmen entered the store around 6 p.m. They shot Wright, stealing his life and less than $10 in cash. "For someone to come and do that to him, they robbed us," neighbor Carl Nelson told WSMV. "They didn't just rob his family, they robbed his friends as well." A 15-year-old Stratford High School student, Veretez P. McGill, was arrested in November and charged with criminal homicide and aggravated robbery in connection with the shooting. Old photos of Wright reportedly hang on the walls of the Church and Son Market, where he was said to be a regular.
Elle Fanning, 67, was a DNA researcher and Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences and a professor of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She died Sept. 1 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of English, said to the Vanderbilt news service, "She was a great person and a true pioneer. This is a huge loss for Vanderbilt and for the scientific community."
JAMES W. CARELL
Businessman; founder, CareAll
By J.R. Lind
James Carell caught the entrepreneurial bug early. When he was in grade school, he set up a shoeshine stand every Saturday just outside Christ the King. Of course, it ran in the family — his brother, Monroe, started Central Parking. Shortly after graduating from Notre Dame, Carell worked for Mutual of Omaha but then started to blaze his own trail, founding his own insurance company, an office products firm and a real estate agency. But his biggest success began in 1985 when he founded home health care provider CareAll, now one of the largest such companies in the South.
Carell, who died in September at 77, was a face known to Nashvillians, for he called his own number when it came to casting CareAll's commercials. While his brother's philanthropic efforts may be better known — the children's hospital bears Monroe's name, after all — James focused on education. Over the years, he funded expansions at his alma mater Father Ryan, Currey Ingram Academy and Hendersonville's Pope John Paul II.
And he never forgot where he started: he funded numerous projects at Christ the King, where he had that first shoeshine stand.
LURA BIRD BAINBRIDGE BROTHERS
Real estate agent to the stars
By J.R. Lind
When country stars needed a house, they turned to Lura Bainbridge Brothers, who died in May at the age of 66. She was "The Real Estate Agent to the Stars," and her client list looked more like a Grammy nominations slate: Kenny Rogers, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, John Fogerty, Tanya Tucker, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, J.D. Souther, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell.
But she was also a bit of a visionary. She was one of the first agents who recognized those little houses on Music Row — the homes of songwriting shops and tiny little studios — had real value. When it came time to sell, the who's-who knew who to call.
Her funeral, appropriately, was at the Belmont Church, right there on Music Row.
CORNELIUS "NEIL" CRAIG PARRISH
Businessman; socialite; do-gooder
By Kay West
Most wives would be concerned if they saw a charge on their husband's credit card statement for a Motel 6, particularly if they knew his taste and credit line ran more to The Ritz. But Nan Parrish knew her husband of 30 years as well as anyone, and she knew that charge meant Neil was sneaking around again, committing good all over town.
"He would see a story on the news about a family stranded in Nashville, track them down and get them a motel room for a few nights. I wouldn't know about it until the credit card statement showed up," Nan remembers. "If he heard a story of someone who had no heat, he'd quietly call the gas company and pay their bill for a year in advance."
Neil was as blue-blood Nashville as they come; his maternal grandfather Edward Burr Craig and his great-uncle Cornelius Abernathy Craig founded the National Life Insurance Co., which led to the creation of WSM radio and subsequently the Grand Ole Opry. Neil was simultaneously a lifelong member of the Belle Meade Country Club and a daily listener to classic country on WSM. He was equally at ease at the Swan Ball — where he was one of the few who knew white gloves were an intrinsic part of the white-tie ensemble — as he was backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, where he was proud to escort out-of-town guests. Over the years, he answered dozens of anxious calls from brides and their mothers on matters of etiquette; if asked, he would even oversee the wedding rehearsal.
Neil spent 25 years with National Life, and when it sold to American General, he formed Neil C. Parrish Investments. He was a savvy businessman, but when it came time to play — whether on the golf course or at one of his infamous birthday parties — his exuberance was unmatched.
For his 60th birthday, Nan invited 120 of his favorite women to lunch with her husband, a skilled and enthusiastic flirt who never crossed the line of gentlemanly behavior. For their 10th wedding anniversary, the entire Belle Meade Country Club was transformed into glittering and glamorous Manhattan — a city they both adored and lived in several weeks every year.
He took enormous pleasure in the company of others, but none so much as his wife. In Central Park, there is a bench he dedicated to her with a plaque that reads, "God gave the world trees, flowers and love and gave me an angel, Nan."
On July 26, following a second stroke in two years, Neil Parrish died peacefully at home, his beloved Nan at his side, 11 days past his 77th birthday.
Frances Moudy, 90, was co-owner with her husband Charlie of Moudy Drugs on the Murfreesboro courthouse square, where she sold her famous sandwiches; she was also noted for knitting hundreds of caps for newborn babies as a volunteer at the Murfreesboro hospital.
Longest-serving member, Tennessee House of Representatives
By Betsy Phillips
There are two types of stories you hear about Lois DeBerry. There are the stories about what a trailblazer she was — first female speaker pro tempore of the state House and the only African-American to serve in the position; the second African-American woman ever to serve in the General Assembly; the longest-serving member of the House; and an effective advocate, even as a member of the recent Democratic minority, for her political positions — not to mention her participation in the civil rights movement.
And then there are the stories about her sense of propriety. How she was determined that House members conduct themselves with a certain amount of decorum in the House Chamber. (She famously once told Speaker Beth Harwell to "cover up those scrawny arms," after Harwell had taken off her jacket while presiding over the House.) How determined she was, at the end of her life, to do the work she had been elected to do.
Those seem like two different kinds of stories, but in truth they are the same thing approached from two different directions. Lois DeBerry was first elected to the state House in 1972. At the time, as a woman, she couldn't have gotten a credit card without either her father or husband's approval. At the time, as an African-American, she had possessed an unimpeded right to vote for only seven years. It's easy to see how determined DeBerry was to show that she deserved to be in the House, that she could do her job and do it as well as it could be done.
But Lois DeBerry's real legacy is that she believed the General Assembly, and Tennessee in general, could be a place that deserved the best efforts of its citizens. Her life was devoted to making that true.
MARY REALE "EVA" VARALLO
By Dana Kopp Franklin
Nashville's oldest restaurant, Varallo's Chile Parlor and Restaurant, opened in 1907. For the better part of a century, it ladled out bowls of steaming chili over tamales and spaghetti (the legendary "three-way") at its longtime home at Ninth and Church. But it was the couple behind the counter who kept the place warm.
Eva Varallo joined the operation in 1937, when she married Frank Varallo Jr., the son of the restaurant's founder, Frank Varallo Sr. According to her daughter-in-law, Deborah Varallo, she was working at the venerable Candyland candy shop downtown and planning to join a convent. That changed when she met Frank Jr. They worked side by side at Varallo's until 1998, when the Church Street location closed and they retired.
Their customers represented a cross-section of Nashville society, including politicians and other downtown power players. When then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy prosecuted Jimmy Hoffa in Nashville in the '60s, both sides hunched over bowls at Varallo's. "The richest people in Nashville, the biggest politicians, the poorest people, the in-between — everybody comes together in Varallo's Restaurant," ex-wrestler and 60-year Varallo's patron Don McGehee told the Scene's Daniel Cooper in 1998. "That's the way it's always been operated . ... It's just, sort of like, I guess, Basin Street, where everybody meets."
Together the couple wrote a book titled Thoughts From the Bottom of the Chili Bowl, inspired by daily nuggets of wit and wisdom from their patrons. "Frank and Eva smile easily and laugh easily and trade off each other's sentences with the casual synergy of two people together nearly their entire lives," Cooper wrote in 1998. "Behind her horn-rimmed glasses, Eva's eyes seem permanently flecked with mirth."
Frank Jr. died in 2007, one day after the couple's 70th anniversary. The restaurant operates to this day at 239 Fourth Ave. N., run by their grandson, Todd Varallo. Try the three-way.
Entrepreneur; longtime CEO, Mrs. Grissom's Salads
By Dana Kopp Franklin
Not only did the Mrs. Grissom behind the 58-year-old supermarket brand Mrs. Grissom's Salads exist, she was more than just a friendly maternal face in marketing campaigns. She was the driving force in the company.
Grace Grissom, who died this year at 94, founded Mrs. Grissom's Salads in Nashville in 1955 with her husband Herbert. At a time when prepared foods were just beginning to appear in stores, she was convinced that it made sense to fix up batches of pimento cheese and chicken salad to sell families to save them time in the kitchen. The Grissoms loaded their product on a little pickup truck for Herbert to sell to stores. The concept eventually took off across the South.
"Grace was the brains behind the company. She ran the production and the office," says Kenneth Funger, the Grissoms' son-in-law, now CEO of the company. Herbert ran the sales side.
The Grissoms worked zealously, Funger says, never taking a vacation for the first 20 years of the company's existence. Grace Grissom also had a willingness to do whatever job the company needed, whether it was riding in a delivery truck or dressing up in white gloves and heels to talk Mr. H.G. Hill into carrying her products in his stores.
Mrs. Grissom's sandwich spreads became a lunchbox staple, and the TV jingle is something Nashvillians of a certain age can easily recite. Herbert died in 1998; Grace Grissom stayed in the CEO chair until 2005, when she ceded it to Funger, who had married their daughter Sylvia in the '70s. He moved to Nashville with the intention of becoming a Metro schoolteacher but instead found himself a lifer in his mother-in-law's company.
"She was remarkable, and my mentor, obviously. I miss her a lot," Funger says. "She was a visionary as far as seeing opportunities and taking chances." As for why Grissom didn't mind bending cultural expectations, running a company at a time when most women didn't work outside the home, Funger says, "She just had a burning desire that she was going to succeed, that her children would have a better life."
Even after she stepped down as CEO at 87, Grissom went to the office every day until not long before her death. Today Mrs. Grissom's Salads continues to operate out of a factory on Bransford Avenue, and Funger cites more than $50 million in sales for this year.
Grissom's final years included profound losses. Daughter Sylvia died of brain cancer in 2011; daughter Herberta died of kidney cancer in 2012.
Both Grissoms were devoted Methodists, and upon her death Grace Grissom left more than $2 million to Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.
Restaurateur; vegetarian pioneer
By Jack Silverman
Born and raised in rural Germany, Gabrielle Mittelstaedt first made her mark on the Nashville dining scene as co-owner and head chef of Peaceful Planet, a buffet-style vegetarian restaurant that opened in 1997. Shortly after Peaceful Planet closed in 1999, she helped Jeff Poppen, aka The Barefoot Farmer, launch one of Nashville's first CSAs, Long Hungry Creek Farm. In fact, according to a January story by Susannah Felts on the food blog Freshfully, Mittelstaedt's carport served as the first pickup center for the CSA's produce.
"She was instrumental in getting my CSA organized," Poppen says. "She brought skills I didn't have, and made a wonderful, fun, community-oriented place to get your vegetables. She was so helpful."
Mittelstaedt and business partner Laura Yazdian opened Sunflower Cafe in October 2012.
"She was definitely a vegetarian pioneer," Yazdian says of Mittelstaedt. "She was into health food and vegetarian eating 15 years ago when she opened Peaceful Planet, and teaching people about it. That was back when people around here thought it was strange."
Yazdian adds that Mittelstaedt was a much-loved member of Nashville's restaurant community who did a lot of volunteer work. "She was very involved in Gilda's Club, and would volunteer to teach cooking classes at University School of Nashville," Yazdian says.
Most of all she'll be remembered for her generous spirit and commitment to bringing healthy food options to the land of fried chicken and meat-and-threes. "She never thought about herself," Poppen says. "She just wanted the whole local food movement to progress forward. She'll be sadly missed."
Veteran Nashville chef Toby Willis, whose career included stints at the Nashville City Club and Macke's, as well as restaurants in Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Tracy Lynn Hamilton, 37, was founder and operator of three business — Hamilton Bartending Services, Village Pub & Beer Garden, and the upcoming Hop Stop. "She truly was a wonderful, beautiful person, and the world will always be a better place because she was here," her husband Jesse wrote on It's Positively Cancer, the Facebook she had created to document her journey through treatment for breast cancer, from which she died on Dec. 15.
Nashville's No. 1 sports fan
By Don Meyer
Chuck Ross was best described as "Lipscomb's Superfan." Wherever the Bisons played, usually Chuck could be found (although he had a known dalliance with the Sounds each summer). His wardrobe was almost always purple, and his persistence in checking on his favorite school was legendary among those who covered sports. Former Lipscomb basketball coach Don Meyer, a legend in his own right, used to let Ross address the players to fire everybody up. The speeches were penned by a member of the coaching staff or one of the team members, but Chuck always got to do a little ad-libbing at the end. One day, Chuck punctuated the oration with, "Beat 'em and beat 'em bad!" It became his signature. After Chuck died in September, we asked Meyer, now retired and living in South Dakota, for a few words about his biggest fan.
Chuck Ross is the kind of person that sort of grew on you. Like a glass of sweet tea after a meal at Captain D's. He just kept hanging around like a career professional baseball player trying to squeeze in one more great at-bat.
His first goal above all — be a team player. Team first, last and always, and that means he has to be on top of everything: "I see you, so-and-so, I see you."
Wins meant nothing to the man, but he agonized over every loss. After an 18-game win streak: "I am sick and tired of losing."
And so were we, Chuck, because we learned from you that it was not whether you won or lost but how you played that game.
Chuck was all ours. He was Bison through and through. The Sounds and others were something to do when he couldn't be at Christian ball games.
We really miss you, Chuck.
You were more than a part of all of us ... you were us.
There will never be another like you and none should dare try.
I was your coach but the best thing is that I was your friend.
I loved you and will never forget you.
Volunteer; former pro wrestler; former state and local official
By Jonathan Marx
In 1999, Don McGehee earned the Nashville Scene's Nashvillian of the Year award in recognition of his volunteer work with schoolchildren in East and North Nashville. Through his "I Am Somebody" program, he reached 600 kids annually, making regular classroom visits to Ross Elementary and Jones Elementary, where he'd teach students about the very qualities that helped him throughout his own life: perseverance and altruism.
But there was so much more to McGehee's story that made him worthy of Nashvillian of the Year. Throughout a colorful life that frequently saw him working in service of others, he came to embody the best qualities of the city he called home for 89 years. Born and raised on Douglas Avenue in East Nashville, working as a newsboy at an early age to support his single mother, he left home at age 17 to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and wound up fighting in the South Pacific during World War II. Upon his return home, he went to work for the YMCA, where he maintained an association as a member for 65 years.
Open-hearted and up for anything — as long as it was in the spirit of fitness, helping others and just plain fun — McGehee racked up a professional résumé that reads like no one else's. He was a judo instructor. He worked briefly in film and served as the host of an exercise segment on the long-running local TV program The Noon Show. Under the nom de guerre Robin Hood McGee, he worked the professional wresting circuit in the 1950s, literally rubbing shoulders with the likes of such legendary grapplers as Lou Thesz and Fred Blassie. In the early '60s, he found his way into state and local government, working as chief juvenile officer for the city government before receiving an invitation to serve as director of the state's Department of Pardons and Paroles under Gov. Frank Clement. Later, he was appointed to the directorship of the utility service division in the state's Public Service Commission, where he served for 15 years.
But McGehee's true legacy was his unflagging generosity of spirit, his ability to make everyone feel special. He loved to pull in friends and associates to serve as role models for the schoolkids he visited every week through his "I Am Somebody" program. That was his way, to shine a light on others. In his later years, as his once powerful body started to fail him, he followed his own advice: He persevered. He stayed active, and he always had a hug, a handshake or a kind word for whomever he met.
Kenneth Stanley "Bud" Adams Jr., 90, was instrumental in founding the American Football League and made Nashville and national history as owner of the Tennessee Titans.
JAMES "BIGDADDY" BUCHANAN III
Son; brother; protector
By Kay West
Every inch of wall and shelf in the small house in Antioch where Barbara and James Buchanan II raised their six children is covered with family portraits, school photos, baby pictures, plaques, framed certificates of achievement and athletic trophies. On a bitter cold December night, their home is toasty warm and loud with laughter. Momma is in the kitchen, one eye on the stove, one ear tuned to the living room where Pops, William (30), Santana (28), twins Jessica and Jeremy (24) and Jamesha (20) sit close together on sofas and trade stories about Jamesha's twin James Buchanan III — or "Bigdaddy," as everyone called him.
"The only time Bigdaddy was ever small was the day he was born," Pops asserts, to the nodding agreement of all. "He was 5 pounds, 1 ounce, and Mimi (Jamesha) was 5 pounds, 14 ounces. But he ate everything he could get his hands on. Take it right off your plate, then tell you how good it was!"
At 5, he began playing football and was a natural. "He loved it," Pops says. "When he would tackle other kids, they wouldn't want to come back in the game."
Off the field, he was nothing but love. "Of all of us, he was the best," says Santana. "He always stuck up for kids who were disabled or getting picked on. He didn't have to hit anyone. He just stood beside them and they would back off. He was so big, Mimi could hide behind him. He was so wide he would block your way through a door until you would give him a hug."
Like older but smaller brother Jeremy, Bigdaddy played football through high school. When he and Mimi graduated from Antioch in 2012, they both enrolled at Carson-Newman College.
By the time the family came to the first game, it seemed like he had made friends with everyone on campus. "He gave something off that drew people to him," his mother chimes in from the kitchen.
But family and home was where his heart was, and this summer, he decided to take a semester off to help Santana with the girl and boy she had that spring, the 55th set of twins on Barbara's side of the family.
"I've always told my kids, no one will be there or have your back like your own family," says Pops.
On Sept. 11, Bigdaddy insisted on helping Jeremy on his early morning Tennessean delivery route. "I was driving, he was throwing, we were having fun," remembers Jeremy. When the car ran out of gas, Bigdaddy looked up the closest gas station on his phone. "He said, 'It's just a mile, let's go. We haven't had our exercise yet.' "
The brothers walked in the grass on the far side of the shoulder, Bigdaddy in the rear, shining the flashlight app on his phone behind him so cars would see them, though it would seem hard to miss the 6-foot-4, 380-pound Bigdaddy in a white T-shirt. But shortly after 6 a.m., an approaching car swerved, and Bigdaddy only had a second to push Jeremy out of the way before he took the hit.
"My brother flew through the air like a piece of paper, and hit the fence off the road," Jeremy recalls quietly. "I was sure he was dead; there was blood all over his shirt."
But the kid who his family said was tougher than anyone they knew got up, stumbled to the road, and lay down again. As the ambulance approached, Jeremy squeezed his big brother's hand, and when he was put on the stretcher, "I told Bigdaddy to look at me. I could see in his eyes he was leaving, that he knew where he was going and was not afraid."
Bigdaddy was buried in a black Steve Harvey suit. In the coffin above where his head would rest was sewn the logo for his beloved University of Alabama. More than 700 people came to his funeral at Inner City Church of Christ in Murfreesboro. All five of his siblings and both parents shared their memories of their beloved brother and son.
So did a young girl no one knew very well. But, his father says with pride, she knew Bigdaddy. "She got up to speak, she had an impediment and was hard to understand," he remembers. "She told everyone that whenever she was bothered in school, he would somehow be right there to protect her. She said, 'Bigdaddy was my angel.' "
Christopher Ellison, 9, had set out on his bike to go trick-or-treating after high winds and heavy rains had all but canceled Halloween in Nashville. It was around 9:30 p.m. when he was struck by a downed power line, which officials said had been knocked down by a fallen tree limb. Neighbors told WSMV he was still holding his candy when he was thrown to the ground. After first responders found him unresponsive and attempted CPR, they transported him to Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt where he died, officially of an accidental electrocution. Ellison was a student at Napier Elementary. Speaking to News Channel 5 just after his death, his cousin, Donzell White, remembered his kindness. "Anything (Chris) knew he could've helped you with, he would've helped you," he said.
Johnathan Johnson, a 17-year-old Pearl Cohn High School student, was on his way to catch the bus on the morning of April 11, when he was shot and killed by a gunman police said had been waiting for him in a vacant lot.
Mi-Twan Johnson was among a group of people standing outside an apartment building on Herman Street in North Nashville when shots rang out from a car nearby. The 17-year-old was struck and later died from his injuries.
Elena Zamora, 17, died Dec. 19 after a tractor-trailer struck her as she crossed the street at a downtown intersection. She was a 17-year-old junior at Hume-Fogg High School. "[She was] quiet and reserved," recalls her physics teacher, Justin Montenegro. "It always seemed like there was something just on the verge of bursting out from her, but she was either too nervous or just waiting for the right time to say it." She ran track and field for the downtown high school, just one of the things friends and teammates noted in her memory in tweets and statuses. The morning after her death — on the last school day of the year — the sign outside of Hume-Fogg was a makeshift memorial, with flowers laid out beneath the words "In Loving Memory of Elena Zamora."
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