Williams Reflects on a Life of Public Service

Union County Mayor Mike Williams

If you're feeling disillusioned with party-line politics, sometimes it's refreshing to look at the politicians right here at home, the people who talk to the folks they represent every day, the politicians who don't see themselves as answerable to a party, but to the people who voted them into office.

Whether you agree with him on all decisions or not, Union County Mayor Mike Williams is one of those hometown politicians. Born and raised in Union County, he went on to serve in the state legislature for 18 years and is in his second term as mayor.

"I see myself as a public servant more than in a political job," he said. "My responsibility is to do what's in the best interest of the public. Sometimes you have to put your political career in harm's way, but if you're doing what you should be doing, that's what you do."

Williams grew up on Maynardville Ridge. His grandmother Alice Cook ran the House Truck Stop restaurant where his mother was a waitress. When he was just a kid, he was already at work in the restaurant, bussing tables and delivering food. He attended Maynardville Elementary School and Horace Maynard High School. After high school, Williams worked with ETHRA in various positions including summer youth programs and job development.

He went to college in 1982, attending night school at the University of Tennessee with a major in education, then transferred to Lincoln Memorial University to finish his degree. He taught in Campbell County for a couple of years and half a year in Union County schools before he changed careers. It wasn't that he didn't like working with kids, he said.

"It just didn't fit very well," Williams said. "I just realized that I liked being able to get in and out of a space, needed a little bit of freedom."

From there, he worked in the Alumni Affairs office at LMU, doing fundraising and attending alumni events. He also worked as an announcer at LMU basketball games, traveling with the team and doing radio broadcasts with another announcer.

In the late 1980s, Williams decided to run for the state House of Representatives. He lost his first race but won his second and went on to serve as state Representative from 1990 to 1996 and as state Senator from 1996 to 2008.

The reason, he said, is simple.

"When I taught school, you'd always invite elected officials to come and talk to your classes, and generally speaking they only showed up during an election year, and I just thought that wasn't fair to the students. I remember voicing that to several people. They said, 'Why don't you run and do it differently?'" he said.

And during his time in Nashville, he said he's most proud that he stayed humble.

"I never got above my raising," Williams said. "I always felt like it was a huge responsibility to represent people and not just a party or certain people. I felt like you owed it to everyone to do what you could and take their needs to Nashville. I always took it as a big responsibility. We passed the Hope scholarship while I was in Nashville. I was there and supported it. I fought against a state income tax. It was a wonderful experience being there and a huge responsibility, but I never forgot where I came from."

But, it was that ethic that eventually got him in trouble with the Republican party and drove him to change his affiliation to Independent. According to Williams, he "bucked the system" by refusing to vote along the party line on a budget that would divide state surplus, not among all 95 counties, but among four or five metropolitan areas. He also was late to commit to a party-line vote for Speaker of the House.

"I had been told by a member of the Republican party that they were not going to allow me to run, they were going to throw me off the ballot," Williams said. "I didn't believe it, but I kept hearing it more and more. I think the public should decide who serves in the office, not people in Nashville. I thought the only way I could run was if I ran as an Independent. I just said, 'I work for the people back home.'

He lost the 2008 election and took two years off, working with TDOT as a project manager, and during that time he decided to run for mayor of Union County. He won and took office in 2010.

Just like with the decision to run for state legislature, Williams said he thought he could make positive changes in the county by serving as mayor.

"I just think we could do better than we're doing," he said. "I thought I could do it and make it closer to the way it should be."

Williams counts setting up central finance in Union County as one of his successes, and one of his biggest challenges.

"I think the biggest challenge was getting a grip on our local budget to make sure we were sound financially. The state had written up Union County many times over not having centralized finance," he said. "I met with the auditors within the first month of taking office and asked, 'What do we need to do to make this right?' Now, our county is well financially. We refinanced loans at a lower rate. We have a better credit rating. It was something that put us on a sound financial foundation. Before you can build something up, you'd better make sure you have a good foundation."

He also feels that folks outside Union County are seeing the county in a different light these days.

"When I go to meetings outside the county, they look at our county differently. They hear good things. We've had other counties come to our county to see how we changed our financial status. We have counties coming to us to see how we do business. I think that speaks very well, and I think our image is improving," he said.

While he's proud of improvements to Wilson Park and the addition of a memorial to veterans there, he said he's most disappointed that he's not gotten more done.

"We need more things for our young people," he said. "I think the people of this county deserve activities."

Anyone who has met Williams probably knows about his love of cars and specifically the late NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt. Williams collects and works on cars as a hobby. In fact, he still has the 1975 Hornet he drove to his first session in the state legislature. And it still runs.

He has four vehicles painted in honor of Earnhardt, and they've become his signature vehicles.

"I always liked racing, and the reason is that you earn it or you don't. Your performance determines what you make," Williams said. "The first time I ever saw Dale Earnhardt race, he didn't even do well. He wrecked early in the race. He wrecked, and the thing that got me was that I watched this driver get out of his car and work on his own car. I became a fan the more I learned about him, how he never forgot about his family, never forgot where he came from, and he did so much work for people that nobody knew about. I thought, 'This is a really good guy."

"The reason that I have the cars is not what people think. It's to remind me that no matter how good things are or how bad things are, they can take a big swing. (Earnhardt) was top five at Daytona and got killed on the last lap. The Earnhardt legacy to me is no matter how bad things are, they could be worse, and no matter how good things are, don't get yourself up on a pedestal or you'll get knocked down."

Williams said he hasn't decided whether he'll run for another term as Union County's mayor or not. It depends on who might come next.

"You either lead, follow or get out of the way," he said. "I just believe that you ought to make a difference. I think you do the best you can for as long as you can, and maybe let somebody else take up the mantle and maybe do better."

"I just think I've been blessed that people have trusted me to be in public service for as long as I have, and I hope I've never taken that for granted. This is not my office. This is a place I rent for a period of time. It's been a good ride."

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Two men making a speech

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Two ladies talking at a meeting

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group of people shoveling dirt to symbolically begin construction on a highway

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Meet me at the Lemonade and Sunshine Festival

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UC 4-H Clover Bowl results

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Did you notice her last name is the same as mine? That is because she is my daughter.
While she was growing up, we couldn’t help but notice her love of animals. Actually, it went way past that. She seemed to also have a way with them as well. I used to joke that dogs would bite me, but they loved her. She could get them to behave and do things whereas I would receive a menacing growl. No exaggeration there.

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“Tinkling” at Church

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I leaned over and told one of the gentlemen sitting at the table with me, “We’re turning Catholic! Next thing you know we’ll be using real wine at the Lord’s Supper.”

Longmire family teamwork creates grocery legacy

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My thoughts wander over to two very nice and gentle brothers that have deep roots from Union County to Knox County’s Corryton and Gibbs areas.

The 23rd Psalm in short order

I just want to take a moment to write down some random thoughts that come into my mind as I meditate upon Psalm 23. I have pasted the text below and will comment after each verse.
Psalm 23:1-6 KJV; A Psalm of David. David knew a lot about sheep and shepherding. In 2 Samuel 7, as David sits in his palace admiring its splendor, Nathan the prophet reminded David where God has brought him from. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel:”

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Spring Violets

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AREC Welcomes Undergraduate Researchers

The Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics is pleased to welcome eight undergraduate researchers for the 2022 spring semester. Front row (left to right): Heather Mannis, Hannah Williams, and Savannah Jones. Back row: Eilish Bennett, Gray Erwin, Samuel Neary, and Adam Fuller. Not pictured is Lauren Pate.

The Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics has hired eight undergraduate researchers during the 2022 spring semester. The students and their mentors are, as follows:

Heather Mannis and Gray Erwin are working with Drs. Jada Thompson and Carlos Trejo-Pech by reviewing financial documents and creating a dataset for an event study on agribusiness firms relating to large animal health outbreaks, which provides an opportunity for these students to learn more about agricultural financial and food markets.

Ever Lasting Arms

Isn’t it funny how you can look back on things and see them differently after you are grown?
Back in the ancient times of the 1970s, there were no SUVS. When we went on family trips, we rode in one of Papaw’s station wagons. At least once a year, we all piled in one and headed south and east to Cades Coves in the Smokey Mountains. We always packed a picnic. Sometimes Papaw would stop at the KFC in Maryville and pick up a bucket of chicken to have with it.
But one trip was totally different.

Addicted

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Take me, for example. I love to collect books. I also love to read them, but I find as much or more joy in the collecting. I learned on Jeopardy! there is a Japanese term for this—“tsundoku”.

Spanish rice

Years ago when i worked as a telephone operator in Angola, Indiana, i learned how to cook rice the South American way. A fellow operator had been married to a man from Venezuela. The main difference is how the rice is prepared. Her Spanish Rice had no meat. She just browned raw rice in a little oil and sauteed it a few minutes. Then she added canned tomatoes, onion and green pepper, cooking until the rice was tender. I understood this was the mainstay of poor folks' diet down there. Do i have you confused as to what is really Spanish Rice? It is whatever you want it to be. Try mine.

Events

Authors Guild of Tennessee

Thursday, June 2, 2022 - 11:00

The Authors Guild of Tennessee (AGT) will hold its monthly meeting on Thursday, June 2, 2022 at 11:00 am at the Faith Lutheran Church in Farragut. Social time and book exchange begins at 10:30. Published authors are invited to attend. AGT is now accepting applications for associate membership from authors who have written a book but are not yet published. Serious authors only. In the event of inclement weather, check the AGT Website for updates and information: authorsguildoftn.org.

Sarah Kate Morgan, Busier Than Ever

Friday, June 3, 2022 - 10:30

Union County’s own Sarah Kate Morgan has a full season in 2022 and beyond with travel, concerts, performances, and teaching. If you haven’t had a chance to hear this talented lady in person, you will have many opportunities this year. This girl can make a stringed instrument sing as her soulful voice transports the audience to another, more peaceful time.

Appalachian Family Folk Gathering
June 3rd-5th
Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY
https://hindman.org/events/2022folkgathering/

UNION COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARIES SUMMER READING PROGRAM

Friday, June 3, 2022 - 12:30

The Summer Reading Program "Oceans of Possibilities" for the libraries of Union County will begin Friday, June 3rd at the Maynardville Public Library at 12:30 pm with a story and then to follow: a painting class for kids of all ages. Then CW Farms Petting Zoo will be at the Luttrell Public Library on Monday, June 6th. See calendar for all program dates at each library.

Primitive Quartet

Saturday, July 23, 2022 - 18:00

Primitive Quartet, Journey Home, County Line, Saturday, July 23, 2022, 6 pm, Union County High School, 135 Main Street, Maynardville, TN. $10.
This concert is rescheduled from March 23, 2022 which was cancelled due to snow. All tickets purchased for the March date will be honored for July 23, 2022. Sponsored by Union County Lions Club. Additional information--865-278-6430, minceyr@ucps.org.

Obituary

Janie Gonzales

Janie Dominguez Gonzales-age 71 of Luttrell passed away Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at North Knoxville Medical Center.

No services are planned.

Arrangements by Cooke-Campbell Mortuary, Maynardville.

Lois M. Williams

Lois Marie Williams-age 92 of New Tazewell (Union County), born March 24, 1930 passed away suddenly Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at her home. She was saved at an early age and was a longtime member of Leatherwood Baptist Church. She was a loving wife, mother and sister. Preceded in death by husband, John Franklin Williams; parents, Matt and Ollie (Russell) Evans; brothers, Carl Alfred and Clay Evans; sisters, Cecil Keck, Julie McGeorge and Resette Walls; infant sister, Faye; grandson, Brandon Williams and son-in-law, Larry Weaver.

Ben Williford

Ben Hugh Williford - age 89 of Maynardville, passed away peacefully May 24, 2022. No services are planned at this time. Trinity Funeral Home, LLC, Maynardville, has the honor to serve the family of Ben Williford. 865-992-5002 trinityfuneralhome.net

Mark Heath, Jr.

Mark Anthony Heath, Jr. - age 40 of Maynardville, passed away peacefully May 25, 2022 at home. No services are planned at this time. Trinity Funeral Home, LLC, Maynardville, has the honor to serve the family of Mark Heath, Jr. 865-992-5002 trinityfuneralhome.net

Amy Marie Coffey Smith

Amy Marie Coffey Smith, age 47, of Maynardville, Tennessee, passed away at home on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Amy was born April 28, 1975. She attended Big Ridge Elementary School, J. Frank White Academy, and Lincoln Memorial University where she earned a Bachelor Degree in Visual Art in 1996. In later years, she returned to teach at Big Ridge Elementary and to serve in multiple positions at Lincoln Memorial University including the role as Director of Alumni Services. She also worked in the Joyner Library at East Carolina University.

Logan Daniel Black

Hearts are heavy by the loss of Logan Daniel Black-age 26 of Newport passed away Monday, May 2, 2022 in Knoxville. A young man so full of light and love that befriended everyone he ever met. He was a son, brother, father, and dear friend to many. He will forever be missed.

Survivors: son, Sammy; daughters, Hynlie and Vanessa; mother, Rheannon Childress; brother, Dylan Childress; sister, Tiffany Black; nephew, Alyzae Robertson; nieces, Kilayla Black and Delilah Black. Grandmother, Sheila Rouse; uncle, Jack Childress. Several other aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles.

Brenda Collins Relford

Brenda Carol (Collins) Relford-age 72 of Knoxville passed away suddenly Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at North Knoxville Medical Center. She was a member of Ailordale Baptist Church. Preceded in death by parents, Wren and Adell (Ford) Collins; sisters, Evelyn and James Sands, Lorene Collins, Wanda and Danny Whitson; brothers, Clay and Brenda Collins, Jimmy Collins.

Josie Chesney

Josie Chesney-age 94 of Luttrell passed away peacefully Monday, May 16, 2022 at home with her family. She was a member of Chestnut Grove Baptist Church. Preceded in death by parents, Elbert and Easter Hammock; husband, Richard “Dick” Chesney; daughter-in-law, Vivian Chesney; sisters, Christine Wallace and Esteen Hammock.

Dorothy Sanders

Dorothy Sanders – age 79 of Maynardville, passed away peacefully Saturday, May 14, 2022 surrounded by her family.

She is preceded by husband, Harold Sanders; parents, Edward and Elizabeth (Rogers) Cooper; brothers, Andrew, Jack and Dennis Cooper: and grandson, Randall Sands. Dorothy is survived by former husband, Fred McHaffie; daughters, Debra McHaffie, Faye Sands, Fredda McHaffie and Donna Beason; son, Fred McHaffie, Jr.; five grandchildren; and eight great grandchildren.

Dulcie Gunter

Dulcie Renee Gunter-age 52 of Sharps Chapel passed away suddenly Tuesday, May 10, 2022 in North Carolina.

Survivors: son, Marty Rogers of Maryville; daughter, Kenzie Lou Rogers of Maryville. Parents, Ed and Delores Warren of Sharps Chapel; siblings, Billy and Lorrie Lacy; Sheila Warren Honer; Wendy Warren; Tony Warren; Mark and Linda Warren; Troy Warren; Eddie Warren; April and Rob Miracle. Several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Louise N. Phipps

Louise Needham Phipps-age 90 of Powder Springs passed away peacefully Monday morning, May 9, 2022 at the home of her son. She was a member of Johnson’s Chapel Baptist Church. Preceded in death by parents, Earl and Martha Needham; husband, Charles Phipps; son, Larry Phipps.

Randy Blankenship

Randy Edward Blankenship-age 64 of Washburn, born March 27, 1958 passed away suddenly Thursday, May 5, 2022. He was a Christian and was of the Baptist faith. Retired employee of Carmeuse Lime and Stone (Luttrell Operation). He was a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Preceded in death by father, Coy Blankenship; nephew, Dennis Dalton; grandparents, Ernest and Ida Blankenship; Vaughn and Ida Mae Wolfenbarger.

Warren Seymour, Jr.

Elmer Warren Seymour, Jr.-age 61 of Corryton passed away Tuesday morning, May 3, 2022 at U. T. Medical Center. He was born May 7, 1960 in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. He was a member of Comforter in Christ Church. He loved everyone unconditionally and everyone loved him. He was preceded in death by wife, Annette Seymour; parents, Elmer Warren, Sr. and Martha Seymour; brother, Timothy Seymour.

Karen D. (Loop) Booker

Karen Darlene Booker-age 66 of Luttrell passed away Tuesday, May 3, 2022 at her home after a hard and courageous battle with cancer. She was surrounded by all her family. Karen was of the Baptist faith and a member of Willow Springs Baptist Church. Preceded in death by her parents, Earl and Lucille Loop; nephew, Shane Smith.

Tony Ray Odom

Tony Ray Odom – age 57 of Maynardville, passed away unexpectedly into the arms of the Lord May 2, 2022. He died as he lived, everyone’s friend. He lived life large and rarely in moderation. Tony had an amazing sense of humor, his wit was razor sharp. He wanted to keep everyone laughing. His bigger than life personality made everyone feel welcome. Tony loved fiercely and deeply. We take comfort in knowing that Tony is at peace and surrounded by Jesus’s love.

Richard Livesay

Richard Livesay, 63 of Maynardville, laid down his working tools to be with the Lord on April 27, 2022. He was a member of Circle Assembly of God and an ordained minister of the Gospel. Richard was a member of J. C. Baker Lodge #720 and a Shriner at Kerbela Temple and in the Go Kart Unit. He was the owner of Livesay Electric, Inc. and in 2011 stepped up to the position of Chief Electrical Inspector of Hamilton County, TN. Richard enjoyed classic rock, guitars and old cars. He was a loving father, grandfather, devoted husband and a patient and kindhearted man.

Barry D. Evans

Barry D. Evans (“Poppy”) 69 years old of Knoxville, passed away at his home on April 26, 2022, after a hard fought battle against a rare brain disease. Barry was a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, son and friend. He had been an active member of Cokesbury United Methodist Church for 33 years. Barry graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering. He was employed at Tennessee Valley Authority for 10 years before starting his own business which he owned for 32 years.

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