By LISA WHALEY
Family, friends, neighbors and colleagues gathered Monday at the Jonesborough Senior Center to say farewell to former alderman and town mayor, Tobie Bledsoe.
“The town today is due in part to all the work Tobie had done since 1978,” said International Storytelling Center founder, Jimmy Neil Smith, who served as mayor when Bledsoe first became an alderman. “Everybody has benefitted. The town is a better place to live, to work and to raise your family (because of Tobie.)”
A surgical nurse at Northside for more than 25 years, Tobie, her husband Baxter (who passed away in 2017) and their four children moved to Jonesborough in 1974 — and the town was never the same.
According to Bob Browning, town administrator for Bledsoe as well as long-time friend, her love for people was one of her greatest strengths.
“She connected with people so easily,” he said, citing the number of times she would motion to him saying, “Come here, Bobby. I want you to meet my new best friend.”
“She was just an amazing person,” he said.
Bledsoe’s warmth and welcome were ever present, Alderman Terry Countermine agreed.
“She and I started at the same time,” Countermine said. “She became mayor my first year as alderman. We were big buddies. We always kidded that she was my favorite mayor and I was her favorite alderman.”
“In terms of relationships, she was so good because she didn’t have any pretenses,” Countermine continued. “She just was who she was.
She was welcoming. And she was good listener. She made like what you were saying was important. She may not agree, but she listened. And that is very important for a leader.”
Yet there was more than warmth in Bledsoe’s reign in public office, according to Browning. There was also grit.
“She was always heartfelt,” he said. “But she could also be fierce when the situation called for it.
“She loved the town and she loved public service,” Browning continued. “And I think it’s important for people to know what kind of impact she had from the very beginning.”
Her contributions were many, he said, not the least of which was the Jonesborough Senior Center that now bears her name. Long before the new center’s walls began to go up, Bledsoe had been advocating for and working toward such a center to benefit the town’s older citizens.
Bledsoe is also credited for roles in everything from the building of a new town hall and the visitors center, the development of Persimmon Ridge Park and Mill Spring Park, inroads into town flood prevention and the redevelopment of the town’s infrastructure.
Former town alderman Jimmy Rhein recalled the days that he served on the board along with fellow aldermen Countermine, Jerome Fitzgerald and Homer G’fellers.
“Homer and I were the bookends (at each side of the board seating) because we were both bald,” Rhein shared with a chuckle. “Homer always said that.”
He also remembers Bledsoe being one reason he joined the board.
“She was extremely good,” Rhein said. “I told her ‘I’m concerned about infrastructure.’ She said ‘I understand that. Why don’t you run? If you are so concerned about it, why don’t you just run?”
Rhein campaigned, and was elected.
“We had a common purpose,” he said. “We were making it all happen.”
The loss of husband Baxter in September of last year was difficult for Bledsoe. “She never got over the loss of Baxter,” Browning said. Ill health also kept this once gregarious mayor out of the spotlight over the past several years.
She never got to step inside the building that bears her name, Browning said, but he believes her legacy carries on. She was a brilliant nurse, a fearless mother, a loving friend and a determined advocate for a town she loved, Browning, friends, family and colleagues agreed. And she helped make Jonesborough what it is today, they said.
“She always had the town at heart in anything she did. And she stood firm,” echoed newly elected town alderman Virginia Causey, who worked in the town hall office while Bledsoe was mayor.
Smith summed it up this way:
“She gave all she could give,” he said. “She gave all she had to give.”