Bledsoe, 79, died on Thursday, just two days after her birthday. She was born in Unicoi County, but moved to Jonesborough in 1974 with her husband,
Baxter, and their four children. It didn’t take long for Bledsoe to immerse herself into the town and take on a leadership role that helped make Jonesborough what it is today. She served on the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen before being elected mayor in 1998.
“She was involved in serving the people of Jonesborough for 40 years in different capacities at different times,” Kelly Wolfe, who stepped down as mayor earlier this year, said. He was elected to the position in 2008 after Bledsoe.
“She came into office at a time when Jonesborough was just beginning to get a glimpse of what its future could be,” Wolfe said.”She was in office at the time when Jimmy Neil Smith was mayor and with Ernest McKinney, who the McKinney Center was named after. They were here at the beginning of the time (Town Administrator) Bob Browning came to Jonesborough.”
Wolfe said Bledsoe’s tenure as mayor was “when Jonesborough began to transform itself from a sleepy historic town to a vibrant historic town with a quality of life emphasis and something new and interesting always going on. She was a pioneer in making so many of the improvements in our town that we simply take for granted today.”
Smith said he was elected mayor the same time Bledsoe was elected alderman and they served in those capacities together for six years.
“She was critical to the success of Jonesborough,” Smith said. “She had passion for Jonesborough. Her heart was in Jonesborough and she was dedicated and committed to a better community. And she accomplished that,” Smith said.
“She kept the development of Jonesborough always moving forward. We had some ups and downs and she was always able to overcome them and move on to the next level. What you see in Jonesborough today is due, in part, to Tobie’s leadership, passion and commitment,” he added.
Browning said Bledsoe was the type of person who never met a stranger and was even able to get a group of New Yorkers talking to her on the subway.
“We had a group of friends that traveled together, and we always had the best time,” Browning said. “She would interact with people so easily. One of my favorite stories was when we were on a trip to New York. We were going to some show on Broadway and were were riding the subway. It wasn’t three or four minutes before she had people talking to her and then it ended up with 10 or 12 people talking to her.
“She just connected to people. She’d say, ‘Bobby, come over here. I want you to meet my very best new friend,’ ” he recalled.
Wolfe said one of his most cherished memories of Bledsoe was that connection she had to people.
“My favorite thing about her was she was always smiling and would welcome you to Jonesborough and want to know everything about you,” Wolfe said. “You didn’t stay a stranger very long around Tobie Bledsoe.”
Browning said that just being around Bledsoe was fun and brought about much laughter.
“We could be together just one minute and start talking about funny things,” Browning said. “The things I’m left with are stories, laughter, great memories and feeling like I’ve truly been blessed by knowing her and having her as part of my life for a long time. She and her husband, Baxter, were just wonderful people. She was truly a great leader. Tobie needs to be remembered.”
There are two memorials to Bledsoe in Jonesborough. One is Tobie Drive, located off U.S. Highway 11E, named after her, and the town’s senior center housed in the Tobie Bledsoe Building.
“Those tributes were done to forever memorialize her efforts in Jonesborough,” Wolfe said. Ironically, Bledsoe had never been able to visit the senior center that bears her name due to failing health. She’ll make her first entrance through the doors Monday for her memorial service.
Wolfe said Bledsoe was one of his childhood heroes.
“When I was growing up I knew Tobie and her family,” Wolfe said. “I grew up with her kids. In terms of her impact on me personally, I considered her a role model of how a mayor of Tennessee’s oldest town should operate. She was Jonesborough first, Jonesborough second and Jonesborough forever in terms of her priorities.
“She gave of her time without reservation. And she was always welcoming folks to our town and looking for ways to promote Jonesborough in every aspect of her life. She was a great encourager, not only for our town as a whole, but for every one of us individually. I consider her a role model of mine and love her still and will deeply miss her.”
Bledsoe’s memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday at the Jonesborough Senior Center. She will be buried with her husband, Baxter, at Mountain Home National Cemetery.