Jen Jeffrey: “The Jeff”

Sunday, February 23, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

After interviewing and writing about hundreds of people in Chattanooga over the past few years, I have learned so much about my community which I never knew. Whether it was a building named after an interviewee’s grandfather or a program initiated by someone in that person’s family, those were only the beginning of the things I have learned and come to appreciate about Chattanooga – the place I have lived for over 30 years.

I have watched Chattanooga evolve and have gotten to know some fabulous people who roll up their sleeves and get involved. As a young mother, I barely lifted my head up to know what was going on outside of my little world with my boys and now that my children are grown, I have been awakened to the second half of my life and finding so much that I want to be a part of.

Just a couple of months before I got in touch with my childhood friend Jason Billington, my trip to Frankfort, Ky., was like opening up a trunk full of treasures. My sister was moving from my father’s last home and I went to pick up bookshelves of my grandfather’s. Seeing the house, the furniture and being on Kentucky soil brought many memories and I considered something I didn’t have that the people I wrote about in Chattanooga did have – roots.

Frankfort was just a taste of my past. I was so pleased when I found Jason - to not only find love, but have his support in retracing my family roots which began in our birthplace of Murray, Ky. It all came together like pieces to a puzzle – my yearning to feel a belonging, admiration of people in Chattanooga who have family ties in the community, and recently embracing my Kentucky home once again. People have talked about their lives coming ‘full circle’ or going back to their roots and I was beginning to understand that in my own life and it felt right.

Of course, one of the first barriers in a long distance relationship that a couple must face is who would relocate if things turned serious, but it was never a question for me. I knew I could live in Murray, that was ‘home’. After I moved to Long Island a few years ago (and though I loved it) I vowed when I moved back to Chattanooga that I would never leave again. But Murray was a different story. Murray to me was a beautiful warm quilt sewn with patches of my past.

From my grandfather’s store called “Jeffrey’s Clothing” and all the places I went as a little girl; to the home where I was a baby on Sunset Boulevard …and even the town square that is just as quaint and precious to this day.

As Jason and I have fallen in love and have been growing closer, my heart fell in love also, with Murray. I began searching eagerly on Facebook for pieces of my past. It was the same feeling you get when the picture of a puzzle is coming together and you are finding the placement of the remaining pieces a lot quicker as everything comes together. I am a born networker and I found professional pages on Facebook of Murray businesses that I liked. I began with the Murray Chamber of Commerce (which Jason is a member of) and then added other pages involved with Murray.

Then, I boldly began requesting a friendship connection with random people in Murray and sending a message about who I was and my desire to get to know people in Murray and the community again.

One of the things I learned first was Murray had been voted by Rand McNally as the “Friendliest Small Town in America.” This proved to be true as people accepted my request and responded to my questions.

It was a delight to talk with people who knew of the very places I grew up around and to find someone who knew my family was priceless! I spoke with Loretta Jobs, a realtor in Murray who did the selling of my grandfather’s home after his death. My grandparents thought highly of her and she spoke well of them and offered to assist me if I ever needed.

As I wrote to a few new friends and identified with their lives, I met a writer who once wrote for the Murray Ledger. I also met a fun-loving gal who is a member of the Chamber and we talked about hairstyles… it was fun getting to know new people. Here and there, I would randomly select someone to be friends with, in the same way I select people in Chattanooga to interview. It doesn’t feel weird to me to approach strangers.

As a child, the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” was a favorite because I believed in myself to nail it! And whenever I shop for an outfit it seems I always go straight for the one I will purchase in just 15 minutes. I trust my gut feeling and I either have a good sense of what I want or I am just a person who sees ‘the good’ in everything – maybe it is a little of both, but I was fond of every person I have gotten to know. Something about each person was special to me and I was glad to meet them.

When I contacted a few more people some days later, I made even more friends. I found Yvette Pyle who is an educator and asked if I was related to Buren Jeffrey. That name sounded familiar, but I told her I only remembered my Uncle “Boots” and Aunt Modest Jeffrey. She told me that Boots was Buren. She said that he had been the superintendent of Calloway County Schools and the gymnasium was named after him. They lovingly refer to it as “The Jeff”.

My Aunt Modest was a teacher and she even taught Mama in Lynn Grove High School before the merging of the Calloway County Schools. Aunt Modest taught the student debate team. Yvette told me that I should request friends with her brother Larry England because he said my aunt was his mentor and he owed his career path to her. You have no idea what my heart was feeling at that moment. Larry accepted my request and we messaged briefly about my aunt.

He humbly told me a few of his achievements in which he held my aunt in high esteem for her guidance. He spent 30 years teaching communications and coaching the speech and debate team at CCHS and was a student in my aunt’s speech class in 1962. Of his achievements with the speech and debate team he wrote, “25 regional, 14 state and two national championships plus winning the Harvard Invitational. Over 500+ individual state championships. For many years CCHS speech team was ranked as one of the top teams in the nation. We traveled to 21 tournaments each year and would fly to three or four. I had the dream career and it started with Mrs. Jeffrey.”

What troubles me the most is that my aunt and uncle had no children and my father William T. Jeffrey was an only child – this leaves me with very little of the Jeffrey family left to find if any. My grandfather, William Franklin Jeffrey, had three brothers – my uncle Boots, my uncle O.R. and my Uncle Glen. Glen Jeffrey had two sons named Robert Glin and Ed Frank Jeffrey. Robert Glin was the superintendent of Murray City Schools, a war veteran and he died in 2009. The last living Jeffrey male that I know of so far is Ed Frank Jeffrey whom I hope to contact somehow very soon. I guess I am the youngest (though female) to carry the Jeffrey name but my sons are Carters so it ends with me.

Discovering my family legacy of educators and merchants, I finally feel that I now have what the people of Chattanooga who have ties to the places and things in our community have that I didn’t. My uncle had a gymnasium named after him. My grandfather owned a store by the town square. My family was well-respected by the community and this is what Jason and I have in common and have both found as part of our level of trust when getting reacquainted with each other. His family is still very involved in Murray and most every person who I randomly selected to talk to on Facebook knew of Jason and his family and had only good things to say about them.

Down the road if Jason and I merge our lives we would blend well together, but neither of us have children to carry on our family name so if we were to continue a legacy – we would have to do something structurally. We have time. My grandfather’s dream was for me and my sisters to run his store but it has been sold. I would love to have some type of business in Murray square one day and I could see me becoming involved in that community. I have no idea what the future holds but I know I am on the right path and it excites me!

“The Jeff” must be pretty old and with old schools being torn down and new ones being erected, I wonder how long that last piece of my family history will stand. It makes me want to get busy and roll up my sleeves so that something else with the Jeffrey mark could linger for another 50 years.

In March, I will be taking Mama to visit Murray. She was best friends with Jason’s mom Peggy and they will have a time reminiscing. I already have a lunch date with Yvette who invited me to attend the Rotary meeting with her and she wants to show me around CCHS where I can also see my namesake gymnasium “The Jeff”. 

Who knows… as the years go by and I learn more from my own mentor (of this publication) about the newspaper business I may start my own paper one day or maybe I would form a magazine or a business and call it “The Jeff”.





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