Going away to the University of Georgia made me appreciate Chattanooga more.
As a result, when I returned after graduating in 1983, I began wanting to boast about my hometown. One of the best ways, I learned, was to point out some of the well-known people who have lived here.
When I began working at the then Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1984 and started writing local history stories, I naturally focused on some of these people.
I later included many of them in a small book I put together called Chattanooga Trivia.
One of the more memorable stories for me was writing about the late Hugh Beaumont, who had played father Ward Cleaver on the popular “Leave It To Beaver” television show.
Although I was already familiar with Baylor School’s history and some of its graduates, I was surprised to learn in an article in the Chattanooga Times that he was an alumnus.
That started some research, and I found out that he had graduated from Baylor in 1930. I was able to track down a couple of his classmates, and even figured out that he had lived in a couple of still-standing apartment buildings near McCallie Avenue.
I also located his son in South Carolina, and he told me that going to Baylor had been a high time in his father’s life.
Previously more familiar to me had been the fact that Jim Nabors, who starred on “Gomer Pyle” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” had once worked for Channel 3 and had lived in a home in Shepherd Hills.
As a journalist interested in the civil rights movement, I also became fascinated and proud to learn that civil rights advocate Ralph McGill, who won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, had lived in Soddy-Daisy and Highland Park and went to McCallie. I remember tracking down his old residences out of a city directory at the library and driving by them.
I also had an opportunity to interview Samuel L. Jackson when he was just starting to become well known as an actor, and he recalled going to Riverside High. I also had an enjoyable interview with his mother in her older downtown home next to the Unum parking lots.
Actress Susan Hayward’s brother-in-law, William Chalkley, lived in Chattanooga, and I once interviewed him about his memories of her visiting the Scenic City. She also had a son who lived in Northeast Alabama, and he and his wife showed me her Oscar Ms. Hayward had won.
I also one time overheard Free Press editor Lee Anderson tell someone that the nationally known Congressman Lee Hamilton from Indiana had lived in Chattanooga. I was able to get an interview with him, and he fondly recalled going to Missionary Ridge Elementary and playing sports at the now-razed YMCA on Georgia Avenue.
He was in the national news spotlight again recently as co-chairman of the committee presenting the report on the Iraq War.
I also learned by chance that actor Montgomery Clift had ancestors with Chattanooga connections. His father and aunt, for example, attended Baylor.
Playwright Tennessee Williams’ grandfather and great-grandfather also lived here.
I was also fascinated to know that noted singer and actress Grace Moore’s parents and siblings lived in Chattanooga. I enjoyed writing multiple stories about her. I once had a delightful interview with the former Mrs. Jim Moore Sr. about her famous sister-in-law as well as her daughter, the Grace Moore who had been May queen at Girls Preparatory School in 1958 and was tragically killed in a 1960 automobile accident in North Carolina.
Of course, Chattanooga is large enough to have produced numerous people who have enjoyed more than 15 minutes of fame. Although the list seems almost endless, I have always been interested in noting each one as I learn about him or her.
Others who lived in Chattanooga included members of the Impressions and Confederate Railroad singing groups, noted early 20th century African-American singers Bessie Smith and Roland Hayes, guitarist Gary Alexander of the Association, opera singer Monte Jaffe, pop singer and actor Usher, and actor Dennis Haskins,
Also, former Tennessee Gov. J.B. Frazier lived in Chattanooga, as did former Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, former Postmaster General David Key, U.S. Sen. and former vice presidential candidate Estes Kefauver.
Other well-known residents or former residents include Memoirs of a Geisha author Arthur Golden, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs and football star Reggie White.
Media mogul Ted Turner, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, and U.S. Sens. Bill Brock and Howard Baker attended McCallie, as did current U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp. Baylor, meanwhile, produced former Alabama Gov. Fob James and the late Georgia congressman Charlie Norwood. Of course, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is also a Chattanoogan.
Some well-known people lived in the Scenic City only briefly. Dwight Eisenhower and World War I Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing were stationed in the area during wartime, as were future presidents Ulysses Grant and James Garfield during the Civil War. Such baseball players as Willie Mays also played professional baseball here.
NFL quarterback Peyton Manning has moved to Chattanooga as an adult, and pro baseball player Todd Helton married an Ooltewah girl.
I also learned once that Margaret Mitchell was inspired to finish Gone with the Wind after visiting the Civil War sites around Chattanooga.
And who can forget that Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher honeymooned at the hotel on Lookout Mountain that later became part of Covenant College? I have never been able to find much information on their visit, but it is one fact that many Chattanoogans seem proud to know.