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Down in History: Remembering Nancy Kennedy

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 Documenting McNairy County’s history was a labor of love for Nancy Kennedy.

Kennedy was an award-winning contributor to the Independent Appeal. She won two Tennessee Press Association awards for her humor columns. Readers enjoyed her storytelling and were quick to let us know.

In fact, even during her sudden illness, Kennedy was worried about sending the next column. We at the Independent Appeal are grateful for the collection of stories that she shared with us, and we will miss her unique spirit.

Kennedy was a writer, author, musician, storyteller, historian, mother, grandmother and friend to all. 

“Nancy had a genuine love for the history and people of McNairy County. Despite naming her column ‘Tidbits,’ she was a giant in terms of knowing and collecting the history from around the region. I appreciate her service to the people of the county, and it was a privilege to serve with her many years in county government,” said Jai Templeton, whose time with Kennedy dates back to his college days, when he worked on county elections. They collaborated again during his tenure as county mayor.

“Nancy was one of McNairy County’s treasures. Her love and compassion for preserving and sharing the history of the county was unwavering. Her knowledge, spunkiness and unique personality made  time spent with her an experience. She will be missed by so many who loved her,” complimented Ronnie Brooks, the county’s previous mayor.

Kennedy had two major loves: her family, and recording our history.

A historian has the fascinating job of studying and interpreting the significant changes and events of the past; when people need detailed, nuanced information about the past, they go to historians to get the facts. That is just what Kennedy did for us. Always driving her were her desires to share information and to help anyone who desired to know more about local history.

Kennedy even took it upon herself to organize what were once dozens of archives, laid with disarray on the courthouse’s basement floor, into a coherent whole for all of us to enjoy.

“McNairy County does not know what [it] lost. Her soul belonged to God, but her heart belonged to genealogy and those archives,” said Pat Jones, a previous co-worker and friend.

In the late 1980s, Kennedy became interested in genealogy. Jones joined in on the journey, and a 2018 DNA analysis revealed that they were third cousins.

“What was found, she wanted to share–she loved doing it. It was volunteer work: the county never paid her a salary, but paid for supplies. She could write, paint, play music and tell stories and had friends from so many states. She tried to get information to anyone who requested it,” Jones added.

While serving as administrator of elections for the county from 1989 until her retirement in 2008, Kennedy became very familiar with the archives for the county and wanted to improve the state that they were in. One of her major accomplishments was a book called Reflections, which was published in 1996. Culminating from a committee of 21 members, many contributors and a couple of years’ work, the book featured a collection of historical data and information recording families past and present in McNairy County. Judy Hammons, a retired educator in the county, served on that committee, and she remembers the commitment that Kennedy had to their project and the preservation of our history, which became one of the primary missions of her life. Kennedy also wrote Confederate Guerrillas Terrorized McNairy County.

“I am saying a prayer that they will realize what a valuable service she offered to the county. She just worked out of the goodness of her heart and will be greatly missed. All of us are worried about what will happen to the archives. Many things were just taken and can never be replaced,” said Hammons.

“The job that she did has been invaluable,” Bill Waggoner, another historian, was quick to state. “She will not be replaced… I remember when the records were in the basement being trampled on.”

Waggoner added that Kennedy alone initiated the organization that room. Many records were lost, but she saved what was left–without payment. McNairy County will forever be indebted to her.

Wayne Elam, the election commissioner who first hired Kennedy, was working on several projects with her when she passed away.

“She was outstanding in my book and was a big asset to the Ruritan Club,” Elam praised. “She helped people all over the county. We will miss her too. I thought as much of her as I did my own sisters.”

Kennedy gave us much time over the years and pieced together our historical narrative. She was the one we all called when we had questions. We can only hope that her work will live on for generations and that someone will step up to continue the preservation of our history.

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