Remembering Dorothy P. Brammer – “The Grandmother Of The County Courthouse”

  • Monday, November 13, 2023
  • Earl Freudenberg
Dorothy Brammer
Dorothy Brammer

Patriotic holidays always bring to memory Hamilton County’s longest serving Register of Deeds, Dorothy P. Brammer.

The lifelong Hamilton County resident was widowed in 1952 when her husband, attorney Shelby Brammer, died while running for state senator.

The young mother of three ran for county register in 1954 and was elected. She was re-elected to seven more four-year terms.

The late Hamilton County Executive Dalton Roberts called Mrs. Brammer, “Grandmother of the Courthouse.”

Outside of being an efficient county office holder, Mrs. Brammer was a noted patriot. She served for over three decades as secretary of the Hamilton County Armed Forces Week Committee.

When this writer joined the committee in 1974 there was no doubt who was in charge. We called her “General Brammer.”

She was extremely close to several committee members - General Carl Levi, Charles and Frances Coolidge, banker Ted Mills, newspaper executives Lee Anderson and Col. John Popham, musician Jay Craven, broadcaster Fred Webb, teacher Edith Allen Adkins, LTC Ray Adkins, Col. Willard Sisson, Bert Sawyer, and there were many others.

Mrs. Brammer depended on the Coolidges to line up luncheon speakers. She often talked about Georgia Senator Max Cleland’s speaking to an overflow audience in the Read House Silver Ballroom. Senator Cleland lost both legs in Vietnam.

Mr. Mills was a vice president of the American National Bank and he paid all the bills. During Mrs. Brammer’s last committee meeting she noted, “Because of Ted Mills all our bills are paid. I leave this committee debt free.”

Both Mr. Anderson and Col. Popham provided interesting programs and they rotated when a speaker was unable to attend.

It was Mrs. Brammer’s idea for committee member News Free Press Editor Anderson to accompany the limo driver to the airport and pick up the guest speaker who usually had a tight schedule. Mr. Anderson would interview the speaker, make a quick phone call to the paper and the story would be on the front page that afternoon. Mr. Anderson would hurry back to the hotel for the luncheon and introduce the speaker.

In 1980, Major General John K. Singlaub was guest speaker and Mr. Anderson’s story with a picture was out front above the newspaper fold. Mr. Anderson went into details about the General’s disagreements with President Jimmy Carter.

“Spending time with the General, who lived to be 100 and was in three wars, was one of my best interviews,” Mr. Anderson later said.

Mrs. Brammer remarked after reading the article, “Lee surely worked fast.”

LTC Adkins was Mrs. Brammer’s go to person; She told the committee several times, “I can depend on Ray, he gets things done, he’s never let me down.”

There were many others who served on the committee, which met once a week from Jan. 1 to parade day in May.

Mrs. Brammer was a perfectionist and that’s the way the organization functioned. The late Mayor Gene Roberts commended Mrs. Brammer and the committee for its work. “I wish all our committees were this efficient.”

The mayor and county executive proclaimed the third week in May Armed Forces Week in Hamilton County and Chattanooga.

During that time, there was a Wednesday Prayer Breakfast that featured speakers like former Vietnam POW Roger Ingvalson, Dr. Charles Stanley, Rev. Ben Haden and Dr. J. Fred Johnson. Mrs. Brammer approved the programs, including the music and speaker. She wanted to ensure there were no mistakes.

Mrs. Brammer was an accomplished pianist and accompanied the attendees in singing the National Anthem.

Grand Ole Opry Singer Jan Howard was guest soloist at a breakfast in the early 90’s. Ms. Howard had lost a son in Vietnam and she sang her number one song, “My Son.” After the program, wiping back tears, Mrs. Brammer told the singer, “You touched my heart, thank you for coming to Chattanooga and sharing your story with us.”

Mrs. Brammer hosted a Read House luncheon on Thursday for military chaplains who would visit area schools, and that afternoon several committee members went to the Warner Park Field House where students were building floats; pictures were made for the Friday newspapers.

Mrs. Brammer was up on Friday mornings at 4:30 putting the finishing touches on the luncheon and parade.

The luncheon was held at the Read House for years and Mrs. Brammer would inspect the large dining room before the doors were opened. She made sure that every VIP both military and civilian was seated in their proper place. Mrs. Brammer made sure the luncheon started promptly at noon. She told workers many of the guests had to get back to work.

After the luncheon, Mrs. Brammer was rushed from the Broad Street Hotel by a police officer to the reviewing stand on Market Street. The parade coordinator didn’t start until he received the word “Go” from Dorothy Brammer.

She would always thank the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office for providing security and crowd control. Mrs. Brammer noted, “I don’t think anyone was ever hurt during one of our events. The officers deserve a pat on the back; Chattanooga has the best police force.”

Mrs. Brammer attended many Memorial and Veterans Day programs at the National Cemetery. Mr. Mills said, “I look around and Dorothy was always there; she was proud to fully support our military.”

The popular official received many awards from community and patriotic organizations, including the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, Pa.

Somehow Mrs. Brammer found time to volunteer for the Red Cross at Parkridge Hospital and deliver flowers to the patients.

Mrs. Brammer was active in Westminster Presbyterian and Brainerd Baptist churches, where she served as pianist.

Rev. Earl Stevens, Westminster pastor, remembered Mrs. Brammer especially enjoyed playing the piano for the Sunday night hymn sings led by Jay Craven who was a member of the Chattanooga Symphony for over 50 years.

Mrs. Brammer retired from the county in 1986 and would often brag about returning over $4 million to taxpayers during her time in office.

Executive Roberts said he frequently went to Mrs. Brammer’s office and sought her advice. “I always knew where I stood with Dot. There was never any doubt and she was a friend I’ll always remember.”

In the later years this writer would see Mrs. Brammer at the Martin–Boyd Retirement Home and we’d reflect about her days coordinating the Armed Forces Week Committee.

Mrs. Brammer said, “It was a year-round job, but a way to say thank you for what men and women had done for this country in keeping it free.”

Mrs. Sarah Defriese was Mrs. Brammer’s assistant for 24 years and succeeded her as Register. Mrs. DeFriese said upon learning of her former boss’ death, “Dorothy was very conscientious and worked hard for the taxpayers. She loved this country more than anything and that’s why she spent so much time promoting patriotism.”

Chattem Drug and Chemical Company President Alex Guerry served several years as civilian chairman. Mr. Guerry told the committee, “Dot is tough as nails. Whatever she says we will do. I want everyone to understand that.”

Mrs. Brammer made most of the AF week committee decisions and never publicly disagreed with Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Charles H. Coolidge. He said laughingly, “Yes, I had to straighten her out a few times.”

Mr. Coolidge said the committee consisted of prominent citizens because of Dorothy’s leadership and persistence.

Some of the committee chairmen were financial firm owner Joe Descomio, General Carl Levi, NFP Editor Lee Anderson, UTC’s Dr. James Drinnon, Chattanooga Mayor Pat Rose, realtor Elgin Smith, businessman John Steffner, educator Jack Benson, businessman Hardwick Caldwell Jr., Brigadier General Madison M. McBrayer, banker John Guerry and many others.

The last time this writer visited with Mrs. Brammer she hoped the annual parade would continue for a long time as it was established in the 40’s to honor the men and women in uniform who sacrificed so much.

Dorothy Brammer died May 1, 2010 and was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo. There probably wouldn’t be an Armed Forces Day Parade if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Brammer’s commitment and stern leadership.

Chattanooga’s annual Armed Forces Week activities continue in May under the direction of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council. Although Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May by presidential proclamation, Chattanooga holds their parade the first Friday in the month so more students can participate.

Dorothy Brammer and the Armed Forces Week Committee in 1986
Dorothy Brammer and the Armed Forces Week Committee in 1986
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