A familiar figure at the downtown library as well as the Northgate and Eastgate branches has decided to close out a 40-year career as a librarian. Mary Helms is retiring as director of the local history and genealogy section.
Ms. Helms, whose soft accent is still a credit to her Jackson, Miss., origins, said she plans to spend time volunteering, traveling and spending time with her five grandchildren.
There will also be more time for swimming, tennis golf and scuba diving.
At Jackson, Mary graduated from Murrah High School as a National Merit Scholar. She received a B.A.
in English from Mississippi University for Women and attended Emory University, where she was an Emory University Fellow and received a Master of Arts degree in Librarianship.
She was a librarian at the University of Virginia and with several libraries in Mississippi prior to her husband getting a job transfer to Chattanooga.
She notes, "They were building the Northgate branch library at the time. I applied to operate it and was selected." She later managed the Eastgate branch before going downtown when Clara Swann retired at local history and genealogy.
Ms. Helms said, "Our collection is renowned especially as it pertains to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. We also have an extensive Cherokee collection and holdings on the Civil War.
"Many people travel here from all over the country - and sometimes from abroad - to use our collection."
She says, "It is especially gratifying when we are able to help someone connect with parts of their family they never knew about."
Ms. Helms formerly was the Registrar of the Chickamauga Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was the Town Chairman of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, and is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
She was appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board and was appointed by the Hamilton County Commission to serve on the Hamilton County Public Records Commission. She is a member of the National Genealogical Society, the Society of Tennessee Archivists, the Tennessee Library Association, and the Chattanooga Area Historical Association. This year she received the CAHA James W. Livingood Historian of the Year Award.
Her past civic activities have included Board of Directors of the Brainerd/Southeast Chamber of Commerce and Hixson Chamber of Commerce; member of original planning committee for North Chickamauga Creek Greenway; and Vice President, Chattanooga Symphony Guild.