Mary Jack – beloved local personality

Every family and every community is made up of individually unique people. In her day, Mary Jack Quinn was a unique person who was widely known and much loved throughout Hamblen County. Most anyone who’s lived in this area for a number of years remembers the lady in a long dress with a big pocketbook and white shoes who could be seen walking along the streets and highways. Oftentimes when someone stopped to offer her a ride, her comment would be, “No, thank you. I’m in a hurry.” She had a smile for everyone and few funerals went by without her stopping in to mourn the deceased. Mary Jack was born in 1927 and passed away in 2005, and has been paid back for her kindness by the fond memories and kind words from the people who knew her.

Most folks have skills as well as challenges and Mary had her challenges as well as a remarkable skill for being almost eternally happy. While many very bright people have deficient in certain areas, Mary had her deficiencies but also a remarkable skill at making friends. While I’m not fond of being in front of a computer, I was happily surprised to see a chat section entitled “If You Grew Up in Morristown, you remember….” That section had more than 100 comments from folks sharing their memories of Mary Jack. Without mentioning the names of those sending their comments, those posts painted picture of Mary.

Several comments told of her coming to church at Calvary Baptist Church, especially in the 1950s and ‘60s, where everyone loved her and where Mary would give a heartbreaking testimony. She would also attend Montvue, Calvue and Central Baptist churches. Another post mentioned she knew everyone at church and also when she met them outside of church. One post from a church member said, “I think God put people like her here for some of us to love on.” Another shared Mary’s testimony led him to being saved. A lady remembered Mary liked to show off her new shoes, which were like her old ones and were always white.

Mary could be found at the L & W cafeteria after church, where the employees were good to her and she was never charged for her dinner. Another recalled when Mary came to their back door every night to get their newspaper. People also remembered Mary’s fondness for Blue Circle hamburgers, which she smothered with mayonnaise. She also liked eating at the Cherry Café.

I’ve wanted to do a story on Mary Jack for a number of years but could never contact her brother until a nice lady recently sent William Quinn’s phone number. That led to a recent visit with William and his daughter Robin at the Quinn apartment on Old White Pine Road, where I heard William’s story, along with the story of his sister.

As I was leaving for the visit, a call came from long-time friend Donna Greene Shands, who was in for a visit with her mother. Donna had some time available and came along for the visit with William. Donna left Jefferson City years ago with her husband Joe to move to California and on to Texas, where Joe has long worked as a successful film maker. It was the same Donna from an earlier time who held William’s hand during emotional stories, while the spoiled Quinn Pekinese Snow White listened to the tales.

William was born in 1941 on the J.B. King place in Russellville near the railroad tracks which lead to Jaybird Road. The son of Nellie Quinn and the youngest sibling of the family, he never got to know his father, who left after his birth. William’s oldest sister was Mary Jack, who was followed by sister Virginia. Virginia graduated from business college and passed away in 2011, Sister Ilene died young from diphtheria. Nellie was unable to provide for her children, who were raised by their uncle, Robert Quinn, and their grandfather, Walter Quinn.

William was five years old when the family moved to the Frank Bryan place on Dover Road and on to the Bugsy Burley Place in the Lowland community. There he began his education at the Springvale and Lowland elementary schools. He remembered two of his early teachers were Ed Hartsell and Betty Roberts. The family moved again, this time to the John Pilson place on Kidwells Ridge Road, and on to a house near Central Baptist Church, where William was saved. The next move for the family was to the Dee Crawford place near the present Westside Mobile Home Park. During these moves William attended Manley School through the eighth grade.

The family finally tried town life with a move to the Crockett house on Morristown’s West Third North Street. William attended Morristown High School through the 10th grade. Mary Jack had been with the family through each of these moves.

“Me and Mayor Frank Davis were buddies,” William said of his time in Morristown. “Mom had died at the Lakeshore Hospital in 1957 when I was 16. I remember when Cas Walker brought Tex Ritter to town, and Mary always had a crush on Tex Climer.”

Following his schooling, William picked up odd jobs here and there before working at Gluck Brothers and Universal Furniture. After more odd jobs he spent 11 years at the Goodwill recycling unit before moving to his present Habitat for Humanity job. First married to Lil Lopofser, he had daughter Robin, now 52, and son Dale, who died in infancy. A second marriage to Barbara Clabo in 1969, who passed away in 2011, produced Dale Earl, Kim Arthur Milken and Tammy Cope. He also has step-children Darrel Baker, Robert Baker and Patty Noe, along with five grandchildren.

“Mary might have went to school for two or three years and she could read and write,” William continued. “She walked everywhere. When I was young, we walked together on little walks along country roads. She walked everywhere and never told us where she was going. My Uncle Robert took a gun with him one night to look for her. She was walking along the railroad one day and four or five men stole her money. She was never married. Uncle Robert signed Mary up for a government check and my ex-wife Lil was the guardian over Mary and kept her money for her. Lil died in 2014.”

Russellville’s Reba Loop spoke for many when she shared her vivid memories of Mary.

“Mary Jack was a really sweet lady who was always smiling and loved going to church. If I was visiting her and it was time to go to church, she would be ready to go! I had earlier known her when I was a little girl and we’d come to Morristown. She liked to come into Roberts and Turner Drug Store and talk to my sister Doreen and the other girls who worked there. Before I met her family I’d run into her at a little country store near Taylor Road, where she lived then. She would always have a bag of Cheese Puffs in her hand.”

Mary was in a Morristown nursing home when she passed away and was buried at Central Baptist Church Cemetery. To show their love for Mary, The Primitive Quartet held a benefit singing to pay for her funeral. William and Robin still follow in Mary’s path and are passionate gospel music fans. Many of us still see Mary walking quickly down a road with a smile on her face.

-Jim Claborn is a retired history teacher and a historical reenactor, as well as a published historian.