Jerry Summers: "Sage Of The Smokies" (1896-1969)

Thursday, August 4, 2022 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Although he was more of a Southern historian of the area around Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains than the contemporary Lewis Grizzard of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bert Vincent of the Knoxville News-Sentinel was also widely read and respected in a column simply called “Strolling.”

 

His first book “The Best Stories of Bert Vincent, Sage of the Smokies,” contained 70 of his articles in the first printing in October 1968 that was edited by Willard Yarbrough, Illustrated by Bill Dyer, and published by Marion R.

Mangrum of Bazas Press.

 

After his death in 1969, “More of the Best Stories of Bert Vincent, Sage of the Smokies” was completed and released in 1970 by the same group of individuals and with the permission and consent of his widow, Ellen Hynes Vincent.

 

Bert and Ellen not only wrote about the historical events and people of the Appalachian Mountains and East Tennessee they also lived them in Dandridge, the second oldest community in the state of Tennessee.

 

Like the columns and writings of Lewis Grizzard what made Bert’s works eternal was the simple style of his writing for 39 years in the Knoxville paper.

 

Bert was not only a great writer who became a legend in his time but was also a humanitarian who helped many people.

 

If you needed to help an injured or crippled friend get around his “Wheel-Chair Club” would loan you one.

 

His columns would also help find a home for an unwanted pet.

 

He is credited with helping to start the Cosby Ramp Festival in the Newport-Cocke-Polk County area in 1958 which celebrated its 64th year in April of 2022.

 

On April 24, 1955, former President Harry S. Truman attended the ramp festival in Cosby, Tennessee. (For non-residents of Appalachia a ramp is a wild leek garlic or wild onion that grows in the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains.  Spring has been celebrated with the arrival of the ramp which it was believed that the odious plant warded off many winter ailments.  The Cherokee Indians historically have also eaten the plan as a spring tonic for colds and for croup.)

 

Bert Vincent's humanitarianism brought him awards and his literary talents earned him honorary college degrees.

 

He has been described as being “the true Sage of the Smokies in spite of his modesty and a friend of man.”

 

An anonymous friend once described his lifetime of giving rather than receiving with the following statement:

            “Bert Vincent has religion and doesn’t know it.”

 

(If you can find a copy of one or both of the book reprints of the selective columns he wrote during his long tenure with the Knoxville newspaper it will be worth the research!)


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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)


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