By Lisa Whaley

I have always believed that one of the best things about being in the newspaper business is that I am continually learning something.

Sometimes it’s a lesson I expected. Sometimes it takes me by surprise.

That was certainly true last week as The Erwin Record staff worked to put together the finishing touches on a special section spotlighting women in our region. I’m sure you saw it in our last issue and I certainly hope you enjoyed the articles.

The Erwin Record’s  “Women Today” included just a tiny slice of individuals in Unicoi County who continue to make a difference. Some are well known. Others are precious mostly to their families.

All, I believe, play an important role in our region.

One even gained recent statewide attention as shown in the article in today’s paper on Page 2A. Erwin’s mayor, Doris Hensley, was chosen as Mayor of the Year by the Tennessee Municipal League on June 25.

When we started her article for the June 26 special section, we had no idea Hensley would be so honored. It was an exciting discovery for everyone involved.

It also pointed very clearly to something that I am sure we are all becoming increasingly aware. Erwin and Unicoi County are well on their way onto the list of “places to be reckoned with,” thanks in no small part to the people who live here.

Hensley was first elected as mayor in 2012, ready to lead a community forward through railroad closures, financial challenges and those never-ending stories of Erwin’s role in the hanging of “murderous” Mary, the elephant.

She took up the challenge and marched forward. But, as Hensley stressed repeatedly, she was not alone. She credits a united community willing to work hard and share challenges as the key to Erwin’s success.

And that success continues to grow. In the relatively short time I have been here, I truly believe Erwin and Unicoi County have become more beautiful every day. New businesses are opening all the time, often the result of another’s dream given a chance to bloom. 

The community, too, seems eager to get in on the act, joining together to celebrate their valley whenever they get the chance, from Unicoi to Erwin to Flag Pond and from strawberries to apples to hiking trails.

Everyone is proud of their home and seem to be excited about the future.

But I also learned something else this past week. That future, as well as our past, owe a lot of thanks to the women who helped shape it, both during our yesterdays and throughout our tomorrows.

As Sandy Lingerfelt, CEO for Clinchfield Credit Union shared, Southern women do what needs to be done, but they do it with grace.

They have strength. And they have faith. And like the beautiful mountains, they are an important part of this valley home.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate our nation’s independence and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed to protect our freedoms, let us never forget that all of us — both men and women —  have a role in that fight.

And sometimes, that fight is simply at home as we work to protect the people and the places that we love.