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Political trailblazer, inspiration
By Megan Barry
This year was Betty Nixon’s 80th — a year that started off with celebration and, for me, ended in sadness. We roasted Betty on her birthday, and she declared this year her “birthday year.” She told me she was determined to celebrate every day, and she did.
She was a trailblazer — an inspiration to so many women and men in Nashville. Whether she was serving on the Metro Council, running for mayor or working with Vanderbilt University to support the community, she was always working on behalf of the people.
Betty helped launch the neighborhoods movement in Nashville. She didn’t just talk, she acted. Months before she died, while she was suffering from cancer, Betty was first in line at a council public hearing, where she spoke out about a project she worried would threaten the community character she helped nurture.
Betty was a fighter, a fierce advocate for equity and fairness. She headed up my campaign office in North Nashville, and she told me it was the most fun she’d had in a while — because Betty loved politics and loved helping people.
Another friend, Ronnie Steine, gave me a book by Eleanor Roosevelt (the cover quaintly listed her as “Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt”) when I was elected. I shared a passage from the book, called “It’s Up to the Women,” at Betty’s funeral because it so effectively captured Betty’s way: “A man or woman in public life must learn to listen to everybody’s opinions. They must never be prejudiced or dogmatic, they must keep an open mind, but when they have listened and know what they think themselves, they must have the courage to stand by that.”
Betty taught me to take conflict and turn it into conversation, but not to stop there. Yes, it’s important to have conversations — but those conversations have to turn into action.
Betty gave me many gifts, but her final one came to me after she had passed. She’d penned a note to me a few days before she died. I now keep it on my desk, and I keep her words in my heart. “Dear Mayor Barry and team — how lovely to have a long, interesting visit with you. You are the brightest of the shining stars in the political sky. Nashville is in strong hands. Love, Betty.”
Nashville was a brighter, stronger place because of Betty. She was an unforgettable force in my life, and she helped me be a better public servant. Whether you personally knew her, knew of her, or simply benefited from her advocacy, perhaps without even realizing — we would all do well to remember the life and legacy of Betty Nixon.
Megan Barry is the mayor of Nashville
Political groundbreaker, mentor
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