East Tennessee is riddled with history and long forgotten stories, but a small group of teenagers in Sweetwater, Tennessee is hoping to change all of that. The Marble Town Guardians are a group of high school students that are hoping to uncover the past one grave stone at a time. They all currently attend Sweetwater High School and were brought together by a passion for the past. The Guardians go to bygone cemeteries and clean dirty grave stones in hopes of reviving the past in way that’s never been done before. They then record the information they have gathered and release it on social platforms and to the Monroe County Archives in order to make it public. The group consists of: Jade Links, Jared Watkins, Sophie McCosh, Makayla Coppetti, Brent Jones, Dalton Williford, Noah Hall, Julia Powell, Olivia Jones, Clayton Lynn, and Morgan Hadorn and they are led by sponsors: Candra cox, Wendy Hill, and Lauren Kyle. This modest group of only eleven is making anything but a modest impact on the community, Doyle Lowe, the mayor of Sweetwater, has even given them a proclamation of support to honor their actions. They also work with other community groups such as Sons of the Union veterans in order to increase their already huge impact on the community. They are also hoping to widen the scope of their impact by having their story shared by the media. The Guardians hope that they will inspire others to delve deeper into the past and uncover once hidden history. To find more on these hometown heroes or their findings go to the their blog, marbletownguardians.blogspot.com, or their Facebook Sweetwater High School Marble Town Guardians.
When Lou Lovingood, a 63-year-old grandmother from Sweetwater, was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, she didn’t shed a tear.Those came, she said, after receiving the first letter from her insurance company denying coverage for proton therapy, a type of radiation treatment that targets a specific location while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue and organs.“It was the first time I had cried after all of this, after I got my first denial,” said Lovingood, who has now been denied twice and is appealing to her insurer again.Lovingood had lumpectomies in both breasts after her diagnosis, and completed her 33rd and final proton treatment Thursday at the Provision Center for Proton Therapy. She was the center’s 500th patient, and used the spotlight during a special celebration to share her insurance story.“My diagnosis today could be yours tomorrow,” she said. “We want the best level of care for everybody. If there is something better that’s out there, we should have the right to it. We have to stand up and use our voice to say, ‘You can’t treat us this way.’”Lovingood, co-owner of Sweetwater Insurance Agency, used savings put up for retirement to pay for the treatment. Others, she said, may not be so fortunate.For the past two years, Provision has unsuccessfully prodded the state Legislature to get involved in getting proton therapy covered. The most recent bill called for proton to be covered by insurers at the same levels it covers other radiation therapies.Insurers have argued that the more-expensive treatment isn’t cost effective and is not necessarily better than traditional radiation therapies.Provision opened in January 2014 and is treating about 80 patients a day with proton therapy. More than 44 different cancers in various locations have been treated.It also now has pencil beam scanning in all three of its treatment rooms, giving physicians more-precise capability, said Bill Hansen, vice president of business and strategic development at Provision Health Partners.Looking ahead, Provision plans to continue to expand into different disease sites and offer more trials with some other newer treatment techniques.Lovingood, for example, is the first person the center has treated for bilateral breast cancer.“We’re trying to treat as much cancer as we can as noninvasive as possible,” Hansen said. “More time and energy is going to be spent in early detection, free screenings and finding programs that can match up.”
Although a west virginian by birth, born in Holden, December 4th, 1927, At 13 years old, his Dad, who worked as an electrician in the West Virginia coal mines lost his job during the depression and moved his family to East Tennessee where they found a small town called Maryville. lvan attended Maryville High School where after graduation at age 18, he joined the Navy. His whole family history served in the military. His Father, who had been trained as an electrician while in
the Navy served during peace time during the 1930s between WWI and WWll. lvan’s Grandfather, fought in the spanish American war and his Great Grandfather served for the Southern Confederacy as an officer with the 50th lnfantry in the Army of Virginia. With a family history like this, lvan knew there
was only one path for his life and that would be to serve with the United States Military. As an enlisted man, lvan was assigned to serve aboard the USS Rodman and later reassigned to the USS Hamblen. Upon his release from the Navy after serving 2 years at the end of WWll, lvan entered Maryville College. After a short stay he transferred to the University of Tennessee where he met and married
Alice Robinson Kirk and graduated from the Tennessee Business College where he studied journalism. This became invaluable later on. He entered the United States Army as a commissioned officer, 2nd LT. ln 1951 after which he was sent to Fort Benning, GA, Officer Training School and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division (later split to be commissioned as the L01’t Airborne Division) where he attended jump school. He completed his first 30 jumps to earn his “wings”, but the adrenalin burst kept him jumping out of a perfectly good airplane for over 300
lvan’s training continued as he was assigned to the Korea Officer Training School for Psychological Warfare at Fort Riley Kansas, after which he was sent Soule Korea assigned to I Corp as Platoon Leader for the 8th Army Headquarters where he the olc (officer in charge) leading a team operating loud speakers broadcasting American propaganda into North Korea at the 38th Parallel. ln 1953, lvan was returned to the US as the executive recon officer for the 90 mm recon officer for the 325th lnfantry Regiment which was part of the 82nd Airborne. His next assignment was that he was to be transferred to the 10th Special Forces A
Team Leader at Fort Brag then to go to Germany. His Special Forces training was extremely intense including scuba, mountain climbing and snow survival combat training. After 3 years he was again reassigned to the 101’t Airborne at Fort Campbell, KY, where he received his Captains bars and was assigned to S-2 lntelligence Battle Group and became the Public lnformation Officer. He was again sent to Germany to serve as Team Leader with the 10th Special Forces S-2 section under Major Ralph Puckett but only a short time later was returned to
Fort Brag and reassigned to be Team Leader for the 6th Special Forces Group. His career was now headed into a different direction as he was sent to Viet Nam to serve in the First Brigade of the 101’t Airborne. lvan left the military after his tour in Viet Nam for a short time to study at the University of Omaha to obtain his degree in journalism. After obtaining his degree, the military once again took hold and he was assigned to be the lnformation Officer at Fort Sheridan, lll. He was later promoted to Major and transferred back to Fort Brag with the 82″d Airborne as the Executive lnformation Officer where he remained until his retirement in 1969. His many exploits and positions held has provided him with many honors. He holds ribbons from each of the countries in which he served as well as the “combat infantrY badge”.
lvan’s service to his country did not change as since his retirement from the military, he continues to remain active with the Kiwanis Club of Sweetwater, Masons, Odd Fellows and the Sweetwater Arts Council. lvan also continues to actively do fund raising for the Boy Scouts of America national council. He is independently active with the Ketchum agency a public association headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. lvan is also very active with the First Perspiration Church in Sweetwater. He resides in his home in Sweetwater and maintains an office in the Main St. antique district in downtown Sweetwater. lvan was the author of “The Always First Briga de” , a multipage tabloid keeping the veterans of Sweetwater apprised of the events and happenings of the 101’t Airborne. lvan has 3 children. One of his grandchildren is currently a colonel in the United States Army.
On December 30th, 2015, Kelsey Hawkins walked across the arena at the Liberty Bowl Rodeo in Memphis, Tennessee. As the sun set behind the mountains, the lights around the arena flickered on one by one. The crowd in the stands sat silently, waiting for the announcement.
Over the loudspeaker, Kelsey heard the announcer call in his booming voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, your new Miss Rodeo Tennessee of 2016!” With a cheer, the crowd leapt to their feet, clapping wildly.
Kelsey was handed a bouquet of flowers and stood for the pinning of her sash. Previous Rodeo Queen Tennessee, Alina Bonacquista, was present to pass the title along. Kelsey and Alina left the arena together as the crowd cheered again. Kelsey signed autographs and posed for pictures in the whirlwind of activity. “I was so excited, I was shaking!” Kelsey remembers.
A Knoxville Tennessee native, Kelsey and her family moved to Madisonville when she was 11. “I always wanted horses,” Kelsey said. “I just kept pestering my parents about it.” After discovering Philadelphia Stables, Kelsey went to three different horse camps, beginning with English Jumping and ending with Barrel Racing, which she finds “much more exciting.”
In 2009, Kelsey’s interest for Rodeo’s grew. Her dear friends Nancy and Joel Sherlin fostered that interest, taking her to Rodeo’s and teaching her about performing. “I began watching Rodeo’s on TV, I loved it.” Kelsey said. “It’s just how it was supposed to be!”
Kelsey began riding with the Hedrick Rodeo Company over the next two years, traveling with them and opening Rodeo’s by carrying the American Flag. Kelsey continued running barrels and learned how to trick ride between Rodeo events.
While riding with the Hedrick Rodeo Company, Kelsey met 2013 Miss Rodeo USA Lauren Terry, who sparked Kelsey’s interest in becoming a Rodeo Queen. “Since then, we have been very good friends.” Kelsey says. “She helps me out a lot.” Kelsey continued to ride with the Hedrick Rodeo Company, traveling to South Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and all across Tennessee.
She was part of the Specialty Act for the Southeastern Professional Rodeo Association in 2014, along with the Hedrick kids, which was a very exciting year.
Looking ahead, Kelsey is ready to embrace her duties as Miss Rodeo Queen of Tennessee. Her year will be filled with travel, including attending Tennessee Rodeo’s, and the Rodeo’s of the other State Queen Winners. Kelsey is looking forward to the Cheyenne Frontier Days in July, which takes place in Wyoming.
At the end of November, Kelsey will travel to Las Vegas to compete at Miss Rodeo of America. Kelsey is currently looking for travel sponsors to partner with her and help fund her trips across the State.
“I am very persistent in my goals,” Kelsey says. “I kind of live by my motto, to ‘never give up.’” Kelsey currently attends Hiwassee College, and will graduate in May with an Associates of Science Degree.
To learn more about Kelsey, or to receive sponsor information, email her at
I entered the vault-like room designed to be soundproof with my sister and one and a half year old by my side. Inside, the women handed an earphone set to me so that I might communicate with them as they went to the next room over and began to berate us with multiple sounds at increasing frequencies. I smiled as my son Abel seemingly responded to some of the prompts by looking and pointing at the small black flashing box located beside us. He sat on my lap and I admired his newly forming curly tendrils. What a perfect little head, I thought.
I was beginning to feel a little encouraged that he responded to at least one or two sounds when the women re-entered the soundproof room with the words, “This informal test leads us to believe that your son is experiencing bi-lateral hearing loss. …He is Deaf. “ Just like that, I had answers to so many questions. I was also flooded with so many more. I cried as my sister picked up my middle child and took him out in the hall to play with bubbles. In his eyes, there was nothing different about that day. In mine, I felt as if a dream had died that day. I sat with the audiologists and tried to gather myself. Weeks later, an ABR (Auditory Brainstem Response) test confirmed that Abel was profoundly deaf in one ear and severely hard of hearing in the other.
With much trepidation, we began the process of getting him cochlear implants (CI). I remember sitting down and searching the Internet for information. What is the difference between a hearing aid and a cochlear implant? I didn’t know. I had seen a cochlear implant before, but I had no idea what its purpose was or even what it was called. I had a lot to learn. The gist of a CI is that it’s a device inserted into the cochlea that allows access to sound while a hearing aid is for the purpose of amplification of sound. In a way, a cochlear implant is bionic hearing. It’s incredible and that’s how we choose to present Abel’s deafness to him. He has an amazing opportunity to work hard and overcome obstacles at a young age that many of us won’t deal with in a lifetime. That perfect little curly head would soon be operated on for the first of many times.
The surgery lasted several nerve-wracking hours. I waited with my husband as my mom and aunt drove our newborn over to the hospital every two to three hours so he could nurse. I didn’t tell anyone, but our new baby also failed his hearing tests at birth. He was later discovered to be hearing, but the stress of all these changes weighed heavy on my shoulders as I prayed to God in the waiting room that day. Please guide the surgeon’s hands. Give us peace that this is your will for him, for us.
I thought that was hard, but the following year proved to be even more challenging. Abel wasn’t a typical patient. Many children are up and moving the next day and waiting patiently for the first time the implants are activated (typically 2-4 weeks post op). My little Abel has never been typical! His experience was much more trying. Initially, he was off balance for weeks and his features began to droop with Bell’s Palsy affecting half of his face. The side effects didn’t stop there. After months of struggle, his pediatrician diagnosed him with a serious infection in his right ear. Eventually after many months of trying to treat it, the right implant had to come out. The surgery to remove it came a couple of days before his one-year hearing anniversary. I was devastated. Despite his infection, he was progressing well with one cochlear implant providing him the ability to access sound frequencies. For the first time in his life, he was hearing mama’s voice, the cry of a newborn, vacuums, airplanes, and his own sneezes. It was magical to see him experience each new sound. The first time his implants were turned on, he was frightened but he soon became eager to hear and asked for his “ears” as soon as he woke up each morning. Cochlear implants are not a cure for deafness. He is still very much deaf. His hearing depends on charging batteries and placing the processors in a drying box every night. Even more than that, his hearing depends on a professional team of caring therapists, audiologists, and doctors. Additionally, we rely on helpful friends and family who step in to aid us in caring for the other brothers while we run Abel to his weekly appointments. Unlike people who lose their hearing later on, Abel has to learn to listen. Without speech therapy, he would not know how to make sense of what he is hearing. It is a long, trying process. Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” That quote is framed in his room and I look at it every evening as we are sitting down together, one on one, and having our own therapy sessions. A dream of mine for him may have died that day, but it was only because a new one was forming. God had bigger plans for my boy! Through each curious stare from a stranger or each revelation of a communication barrier, if I listen, I can hear God reminding me of the verse in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
Walking into the Tennessee Supreme Court in Knoxville, you can’t help but be in awe of the white stately columns that greet you at the entrance. They are symbolic of the admiration and respect we owe those who are elected and appointed to preside over the citizens of our great state. One of these influential leaders is Madisonville native, Sharon Gail Lee, who serves as the current Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.Justice Lee grew up in Madisonville, where she watched her mother, Judy B. Lee, serve as Clerk and Master in Monroe County Chancery and Probate courts. She would often walk from school to the courthouse and sit in the back to listen to the proceedings. Her father, Charles J. Lee, also served in the county court. Even though both of her parents served in the courts, Justice Lee didn’t grow up dreaming she wanted to be a lawyer. It wasn’t until she attended the University of Tennessee where she majored in Accounting that she knew she wanted to pursue the legal field.Lee attended the University of Tennessee for law school, and she loved it. While she was attending school, she worked for her uncle J.D. Lee, a nationally known attorney that had an office in her hometown of Madisonville. He gave her the opportunity to work while she was going through law school, taking on research projects and learning the practice as she was getting her education. This not only helped her bring in a little extra money, but it also helped prepare her for her career.After Justice Lee graduated, she continued to work for her uncle a little over a year and then opened her own practice in her hometown. She loved the idea of being her own boss, and she wanted to stay in Madisonville where she felt she could really work one-on-one with people. She says, “Having a small town practice was very rewarding. I loved working with people, and it was so gratifying to see the results of my work. I wouldn’t change anything about it.”She practiced law in Madisonville from 1978 to 2004 where over the span of years she served as a county attorney for Monroe County, Madisonville city judge, and a city attorney for Vonore and Madisonville. She then served on the Court of Appeals from 2004 to 2008. While Justice Lee enjoyed her job as an attorney, having the ability to look at both sides of a case, as well as ensure the Tennessee courts were fair and impartial, was appealing. She also liked the idea of being able to make the final decision.In October 2008, former Governor Phil Bredesen appointed Lee to the Tennessee Supreme Court to serve as a Justice. In August 2014, Justice Sharon Lee was elected as the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court to serve an 8-year term.A Day in the Life of a Chief Supreme Court JusticeEnormous respect and honor accompany the position of a state Supreme Court Justice, even more so, the Chief Supreme Court Justice, but what exactly does this role entail? According to Justice Lee, the primary role is to “uphold the constitution and make the best decisions under the law.” As Chief Justice, she sits in the middle of the courtroom. She is the one who serves as the spokesperson for the courts. She greets everyone, directs the proceedings, takes control of the questioning, introduces and calls the first case, and thanks the lawyers.While that is her role in the courtroom, her job is different every day. Her responsibilities vary from getting ready for court and reading briefs, to hearing cases, preparing for conferences, as well as attending a variety of other events. She spends a great deal of time speaking to schools, non-profit organizations, and charities all across the state. She recently swore in Governor Bill Haslam at his inauguration, which was a special moment as just months before he swore her in as Chief Supreme Court Justice.As Chief Justice, she has an added layer of administrative responsibility. Justice Lee states that she wants to create “an aggressive path for doing things better in the courts.” One of her current priorities is making the courts become more efficient by creating electronic filing. This allows attorneys the ability to process their cases in the most efficient way possible. She also wants to explore ways to make Tennessee friendlier to businesses by creating a business court in Tennessee to handle large business disputes, so that these cases are processed more efficiently. Justice Lee states that overall she hopes to make the court “more accessible, transparent, and efficient as possible for the citizens of Tennessee.” Paving the Way through InspirationJustice Lee spoke of her proudest moments, and there were two that came to the forefront. In 2004, she was elected to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. “Going from a lawyer to a judge was very rewarding to me.” She also states winning the retention election in August of last year after campaigning across the state was a moment she will never forget.When asked about whether she ever pictured herself as the Chief Supreme Court Justice of Tennessee, she replied, “I always dreamed big, but I never pictured myself as the Chief Supreme Court Justice. Sometimes you just have to see things to actually believe them. I think it is very important to have women in power. It is also important to be that role model to young women, and for them to see other women in that position.” Justice Lee has certainly carved a path for other young women who may desire the same career. She states, “As a woman I never used my gender as a crutch. I knew I had to work harder, and when I do well, it makes other women more easily accepted. Once you reach the top, you can pull others up with you through mentoring and encouraging those who have the same passion.”Justice Lee takes a great deal of pride when young girls tell her, “I want to be a judge one day.” She has many parents that talk about the inspiration she has been to their daughters. She makes it a point to speak at schools, youth groups, and the American Legion Boys State as well as the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State. It is important for her to be that role model for other children and young adults.Chief Supreme Court Justice Sharon Gail Lee is an inspiration to us all. She is proof that when you work hard, serve others, and lead with confidence that you can achieve the heights beyond your greatest dreams. As she steps into the courtroom day in and day out as an honorable and respectable judge, she makes it her goal to ensure all Tennessee citizens receive liberty and justice for all under the protection of our enduring constitution.
Seventy-seven-year-old Jack Darnell was born to be a lover of books. He reads them, writes them, collects them and expresses a passion for them that only he can possibly explain.There is even an element of “superstition” behind it, as Darnell explains. “My father put a book in my hand the day I was born. He thought that whatever he put in my hand, I would be interested in for the rest of my life,” says Darnell.“Superstition” or not, his father’s wish came true. Darnell has published two children’s books and is currently working on his third book, a collection of true stories about his native Coker Creek. He also writes poetry and maintains a collection of over 1000 books from which he draws his estimated four hours of reading almost every day.Darnell’s life in the small southern Monroe County community of Coker Creek is somewhat of a story-book tale in itself. By choice, he lives without electricity or running water in the same 100-year-old rustic wooden house where he was born.The desire to be a writer hit home with Darnell when he was 10-years-old. He decided then to start his own newspaper. He gathered news, mostly about his own family, hand-wrote it on paper and passed the single copy “newspaper” around to family members. It was the beginning of a life-time of writing.The newspaper idea has long since given way to stories and poems which often come to Darnell in the middle of the night. With the help of an old manual typewriter and the light of a kerosene lamp, he puts his thoughts on paper.For a man whose main philosophy in life is “to be happy”, Darnell finds that doing without some of the luxuries of modern life is easy. “Electricity would just be an extra expense I don’t need,” he says and the once or twice daily trips down to the spring for a couple of buckets of water is no big deal for him either. “I never was lazy,” Darnell says with a smile. He lives alone in the house where he heats and cooks with wood. “I’ve never been married but I’ve had a lot of near misses,” he says.Darnell completed two years of high school in nearby Tellico Plains before serving a two-year stint in the Army. He farmed in Coker Creek for a while and then went to work in the shipping department of a nearby sewing factory. But the lure of books and writing remained with Darnell and he began writing stories for the children of the factory workers. His works gained in popularity and children and parents wanted more. Darnell retired six years ago from the factory but kept up his writing.His children’s books are made up of a series of short stories. “I like to have a different moral message in each one,” he says, but he is careful not to try to “change” the children he writes for. Of the books he has published, he says, “I feel sure they have helped some children.”Darnell is a familiar figure at seasonal festivals where he offers his books for sale along with an autograph. He does no advertising and his sales come largely from “word of mouth.” The orders continue to come in year after year, requests from parents and grand-parents anxious to get a copy of what is dearest to the heart of Jack Darnell… a book.
Featured on NBC Chicago, in The Advocate, Modern Achiever, and other media outlets, Kendrick Shope is not only a highly successful business woman, but she is also a passionate mom and the creator of Authentic Selling. Shope daily pursues her dream of helping other professionals accomplish their greatest career aspirations and realizes anything is possible if you “believe” and are willing to put in the hard work to make dreams become reality.Kendrick was born and raised in Monroe County and graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1995. She then went to college to study Psychology at the University of Tennessee (UT). She graduated from UT in 1999, and in 2001 she moved to Atlanta and worked in lumber sales.After being married only 13 months at age 27, Kendrick’s husband, Blake, suffered from multiple strokes. The doctors were unsure if he would make it through the night. He miraculously recovered after receiving an essential drug given within three hours of his stroke that reversed every side effect. For Kendrick, it was a life-changing moment. She was inspired to live every single moment to the fullest, because she realized no one is promised tomorrow. It was an “ah-ha” moment for her as she looked at her life, and said, “We aren’t promised we are going to live another day, and here I am in sales, and I don’t enjoy it.” She knew there had to be more to life, and she was motivated to go on a journey to discover her ultimate passion, but as the years passed, she still found herself in the same routine.Fast forward seven years, and Kendrick had moved from Atlanta to Chicago where she worked as a pharmaceutical sales rep at a Fortune 500 Company. She had a daughter named, Halianna, and she recalls always telling her daughter she could be anything she wanted to be if she just “believed.” It was this moment she realized, she was telling her daughter she could be anything she wanted to if she just believed, but she was working a job she didn’t love and didn’t “believe” in herself. So, Kendrick went through Martha Beck Life Coach Training, to help her begin a path to achieve her career dreams. Beck is a well-known, best selling author and weekly contributor to The Oprah Magazine. Kendrick trained for six months, and is now a coach as well. A year later, she decided to quit her pharmaceutical sales job where she was one of the company’s top sales professionals to create her dream job. She wanted to get paid for doing a job she loved and cared about. Through a lot of hard work and determination, she has proven that it’s never too late to give up on your dreams and follow wherever they lead.Kendrick states, “I want to help people follow their dreams, and help them realize you don’t have to be an icky, sleazy, slimy sales person to succeed in business. You can be authentic.” Shope assists professionals with how to have sales conversations, how to follow-up, how to start and run a business, what your web presence needs to look like, and a wealth of other topics.Today, Kendrick hosts her own online TV Show, K TV, where she inspires thousands of people across the globe. Her desire is to help business leaders pursue and follow their dreams, just as she did. Kendrick now lives in in Bentonville, Arkansas with Blake and Halianna. She is an inspirational speaker and has spoken to companies such as Colgate, Ruby Tuesday, and Eli Lilly.When her daughter looks at her now, she can honestly say, “Mommy’s job is to help other people pursue their dreams,” and she does it with passion.To learn more about Kendrick Shope and Authentic Selling, visit: kendrickshope.com.
This year, Hiwassee College Equine instructor and Monroe County native, Kara Graham, took home first place in the Lite Shod World Grand Championship at the 76th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration held in South Central Tennessee. This event takes place over the course of eleven days preceding Labor Day, and it is held to recognize the most elite Tennessee Walking Horses. Kara’s horse is named, “Simple Lee Dangerous,” and won not only the Lite Shod World Grand Championship, but also one additional World Grand Championship and three World Championships throughout the eleven-day show. As a winner, her horse received a neck of roses, and she took home a medal, a trophy, and best of all – a championship title.Kara has grown up around horses her entire life. As a little girl her family would trail ride, but it was in 4th Grade when she became part of 4-H that her love for horses really grew. She had gone to horse shows her throughout her life, so winning a show was an amazing feeling for her. Graham attended Hiwassee College and studied Equine Management Training, graduated, and now works as a riding instructor at Hiwassee equipping students as they pursue their career dreams.
Some people spend their lives simply living. Others choose to dedicate their lives to serving. Chief Justice Sharon Lee is one such person, and she is an inspiration to all who call Monroe County home.
Sharon Lee’s story began in Madisonville, where her mother worked as a clerk for 38 years. Lee grew up running around the hallways of the courthouse, where she saw lawyers in action and first gained an interest in the law. In 1978, she graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law and began practicing in her hometown. After a quarter-century of service, she became Judge of the City of Madisonville, moving to the Tennessee Court of Appeals in 2004. In 2008, she achieved the status of Tennessee Supreme Court Judge before realizing the top honor of Chief Justice on September 1, 2014.
But Chief Justice Lee’s life has not been only about law. In fact, she has dedicated an enormous amount of time to serving her community. She’s been involved with a broad range of organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Monroe County, YWCA Knoxville, East Tennessee Historical Society and others.
As a result of her service to the community, she’s been the recipient of many awards. These include the William E. Barber Equal Access to Justice Award, the Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award (East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council), Women of Achievement Award (Girl Scouts of Southern Appalachia), Spirit of Justice Award (East Tennessee Lawyer’s Association for Women) and the University of Tennessee Alumni Professional Promise Award. She has also been recognized as a YWCA Knoxville Tribute to Women honoree and named as one of the YWCA Very Remarkable Woman for more than three decades running.
Clearly, Chief Justice Lee is dedicated both to her profession and to her community. But of all her accomplishments, Lee has two she considers to be her proudest – her daughters, Sarah and Laura. At her induction ceremony, she made sure to introduce and thank them for their unwavering support and said she couldn’t ask for better daughters. She also thanked her mother, Judy Lee, and her late father, Charles, among other family members and those who have worked with and for her.
At the ceremony, which took place in downtown Knoxville, Mayor Madeline Rogero provided an introduction, with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam performing the oath of office and providing some amusing stories about Lee, as well. He should know quite a few – Governor Haslam and Chief Justice Lee have been friends over 40 years! According to Haslam, Chief Justice Lee “truly is a person of wisdom, but more impressive than that, she’s a person, to me, of compassion and humility, and she works hard to get it right. Because of that, she will serve this court very, very well.” He also made sure to point out that there are only two people who outrank the Supreme Court Justice – the governor…and her mother.
Lee realizes that Chief Justice is not just a title but also “an incredible opportunity to lead and serve the judiciary and all of Tennessee.” When she was growing up in Monroe County, she never imagined one day serving as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court…and she jokingly added there were probably many lawyers in the county who felt the same way. But through her own hard work and the support of her family, she was able to attain this highly important position of responsibility.
With this powerful title will come a push for change. Lee has much she hopes to accomplish to ensure her department operates efficiently and effectively. She intends to implement more advanced technology, including electronic filing systems so the court systems can be available 24/7. She also intends to continue supporting the Access to Justice program, which focuses on ways we can better serve those are unable to afford a lawyer.
Chief Justice Lee believes it is essential that each day we be good and decent citizens, and she intends to make the best of her new role. Given Lee’s track record through her decades of service, she is sure to continue to be a blessing both to the court and to her community. She truly is a steward of the State of Tennessee and a testament to her hometown of Madisonville.