It has been said that extraordinary things are revealed through extraordinary evidence.
But perhaps not always right away.
Those present in downtown Greeneville on the morning of Oct. 1, 1916, likely detected nothing extraordinary in the sight of a familiar local woman striding along for two blocks with a cheerful but intent expression on her face.
There might have been passing conversations. Look, there goes Edith Susong — you know, that schoolteacher O'Keefe gal who married Dave Susong a few years back. Look how fast she's walking! Wonder what she’s up to?
What could not be seen in that ordinary sight of a passing woman was the extraordinary talent and potential hidden in her, nor the destiny ahead of her. Those would not remain hidden for long.
As for the activities she was “up to” on that crisp autumn day, they continue even now, a full century later, as another autumn dawns.
A Woman Publisher?!
Edith O'Keefe Susong was doing more than just taking a walk that day. She was striding into a new life and, in doing so, redirecting the flow of her family’s history for generations to come.
She was becoming a newspaper owner/publisher, but she would quickly discover that, on a paper staffed by only two other people, an owner/publisher had to be prepared to do it all, or at least almost all.
That newspaper was the Greeneville Democrat, circulation about 600. It was the smallest weekly paper in a town with three of them. Total population in Greeneville in 1916: an estimated 3,750 people. And that struggling publication was now in the hands of someone who had never had a prior ambition to run a newspaper at all.
To make it all the more unpromising, the new owner/publisher was a woman. It would not matter today, of course, but in 1916 and through many more early 20th century years, it mattered much.
In a 1974 remembrance of his grandmother published soon after her passing, her eldest grandchild, John M. Jones Jr., recalled her story of a man who came to the newspaper office to pay his $1 subscription bill for the year and, rather than turn the money over to a young woman, asked if she would fetch her “pap” to accept payment.
A Way To Provide
So why did Edith Susong, who in 1909 and 1910 had been a popular sixth-grade teacher at what was then Roby Fitzgerald School, make the unlikely move into a business that in itself did not initially attract her interest or ambitions — and this in a day when women just didn’t do “that kind of thing” anyway?
It was because she possessed a different, and simpler, fundamental ambition: She needed a way to take care of herself and her children, one that could survive even if the core structure of her family fell apart. And that was a distinct possibility.
Edith, then 26, was beautiful, personable, energetic, and blessed with a wonderful sense of humor apparently inherited from her father, William H. (Will) O'Keefe. A true "people person," she loved conversation and made friends easily with others of all backgrounds.
She was also well educated for the time, especially for a young woman from a small town. She had been schooled first at home by her mother, then in Richmond, Va.’s Miss Jennie Ellett's School, later to become St. Catherine’s School, and for a short time at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.
Her husband was the handsome, athletic David Shields (Dave) Susong, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School who had also been the celebrated star pitcher on the university's varsity baseball team in an era when collegiate baseball was king in American sports.
Both Edith and Dave came from respected longtime Greene County families. Their wedding in 1911 had been a major local social event. He had built her a house on Irish Street with his own hands, and was practicing law in a prominent local firm.
The couple had become the parents of a son and a daughter: Alexander Elbert Susong, now deceased, and Martha Arnold Susong, now 101, known throughout her life as “Arne,” pronounced Arney.
Later, through her marriage and then through her writing, she would follow in her mother’s footsteps in advancing the family’s journalistic legacy.
Marriage Was Collapsing
By the summer and early fall of 1916, though, Dave Susong was in the grip of a serious alcohol problem that was wrecking not only his promising legal career but also his and Edith's marriage and their young family.
As his career and family life began to spiral downward, he had somehow come into possession of The Greeneville Democrat. One story said he had taken the newspaper in as a legal fee. Another story had it that he "won" the newspaper in a card game with a prior owner eager to rid himself of an unprofitable albatross of a business.
Susong had to borrow money from a sister in order to run the newspaper he suddenly owned, but newspapering was something he cared little about, and it proved difficult for him to focus on it.
Edith did not want her sister-in-law to sign her husband's note for the Democrat's expenses.
Many years later, however, on the 50th anniversary of her own entry into the newspaper business, she wrote that she did not realize at the time "that I was flying in the face of Providence and trying to prevent myself from having a means of livelihood."
Newspaper Was Near Failure
Soon Edith, a non-drinker, began to step in and help out when small tasks were left undone at The Democrat, or when copy had to be written. It was her first real taste of workaday journalism, and probably the start of her awareness of her own latent skill at newspaper-writing.
When Dave Susong failed to live up to the terms of the loan bargain he had made with his sister, likely failure loomed for the little weekly.
The meager staff of The Democrat, concerned about their jobs, began trying to nudge Edith toward fully taking over the newspaper.
For her part, with her marriage deeply troubled, Edith had begun to look for a way to provide for herself and her children in case her husband vanished from the picture.
It proved to be a prescient notion; she and Dave soon separated, and she and the children moved to her parents' home on South Main Street. The Susongs divorced by the mid-1920s.
But that would be years away.
In the early fall of 1916, simply providing a dependable living for herself and her children, not any lofty scheme of building a publishing empire, was Edith Susong’s single, driving ambition and concern.
'WINGS ON MY FEET'
With her need for self-sufficiency becoming ever more evident, Edith talked to her sister-in-law and arranged to have Dave’s debt for The Democrat transferred to herself, together with the ownership of the newspaper.
Her actions led to that bright October 1916 morning when she walked up that Greeneville street — "with wings on my feet,” she later recalled — and into a career that would occupy her the rest of her days.
That career would provide a living not only for herself and her children, as she had hoped, but also for grandchildren still to come, and to scores of other families who would find their livelihoods as employees.
Initially, however, her paper's employees numbered only two, and worked with press equipment — a flat-bed Country Campbell press — that was far out-of-date even in 1916.
Her odds of success: not good by most local estimations at the time.
In fact, the editor of the larger of her two competitors promptly declared that a woman had taken the reins at The Democrat and added that her enterprise "will not be alive when the roses bloom again."
Edith was determined to prove such negativism wrong, though, five decades later, she would confess in writing: “If I had fully realized the impossibility of the task I was undertaking, I’d have turned at the door and fled. But since I had no comprehension of what I was trying to do, I breezed gaily in, greeted the two employees, and prepared to take over.”
Did Just About Everything
Driven by her urgent need to succeed at her new business and armed mainly with sheer determination, her natural abilities, and her strong Christian faith, she launched into her work and simply would not let up, no matter what.
She wrote news stories, designed advertisements and sold them to local businesses, dealt with suppliers, addressed the newspapers to her subscribers each week, and took them to the post office for mailing. Sometimes, she recalled later, she even operated the antiquated flat-bed press.
Her parents were glad to give her much-needed assistance with the care of her two children, the O'Keefes' first grandchildren.
When Edith could find time, she recalled in later decades, she sometimes loaded her son and daughter into her car and drove up and down the roads of Greene County selling subscriptions to The Democrat door-to-door.
The people of the town and county understood the challenge she faced, and were kind to her, she said. Many became her good friends, and friends of her little newspaper.
Combined All Three Papers
No doubt to the surprise of many, The Democrat did survive, and began to grow significantly as the World War I years passed. In fact, by 1920, with some financial help from her parents, she had been able to buy both of the other newspapers — first The Searchlight, and then The Greeneville Daily Sun, the paper which had immediately predicted her professional demise.
That year (1920) she combined the three newspapers to create The Greeneville Democrat-Sun, a daily paper. Meanwhile, even as she was entering her new career, and unknown to her, Providence was busy a few counties over, quietly molding into toddler-hood a child who would grow into a key figure in Edith’s future professional and personal life, and that of her beloved community.
In December 1914, that little boy in the Monroe County town of Sweetwater had been christened John Martin Jones, III. In later life he would be referenced by most, including future wife Arne Susong, simply as “John M.”
His own destiny would lead him on a long path that would traverse locales as remote and grim as wartime Burma. But his journey would eventually meld the two families, and forge between him and Edith a remarkable business partnership that would change both their lives, and the life of this community.
DAUGHTER, PARENTS WORKED TOGETHER
By the time John M. Jones became the son-in-law, and then the professional colleague, of Edith O’Keefe Susong, she already had established a pattern of collaborating with her kin in a way that successfully blended the dynamics of familial and business relationships.
Though “mixing family and business” proves a famously precarious mode of operation for many who attempt it, Edith and her parents somehow pulled it off without losing shared respect and affection.
Faced in 1920 with a need for financial assistance to buy the Sun, her larger and more formidable competitor, she turned to her mother and father. They gave her aid not only in helping her finance the purchase but also in helping her operate the resulting daily newspaper.
Will O’Keefe, her father, drew on his background in banking to oversee the dollars-and-cents side of the business as its business manager.
Her mother was the unforgettable Quincy Marshall O’Keefe, a petite fireball born in 1866 who feared only God and possessed the proverbial “way with words” (some of them a touch salty). Quincy was happily drawn into the important role of editor, or, more accurately, editorial page editor.
Already in her mid-50s by 1920, Quincy taught herself to type and, working from a table in her bedroom/office on a large black manual typewriter, she wrote for the newspaper's editorial page until a few years before her death in 1958, at the age of 92.
An ‘Unlikely Pair’
In an article published in the May 2000 edition of media-focused Brill’s Content magazine, Edith’s second grandson, Alex Susong Jones, provided a personality-revealing word portrait of his great-grandmother, describing her place in her family’s South Main Street household and her contrast with the warm-hearted, witty man she went on to marry.
“The household was dominated by Quincy, who at her full height was barely five feet tall, and seemed to relish warring with the neighbors. Her philosophy of life was derived from reading — again and again — Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and she was firmly of the belief that anyone who thought differently than she did was ‘a damned fool,’ an expression she applied to virtually all women and to most men.
"Eventually, Quincy Marshall married William Henry O’Keefe, who had come to town to manage the railroad station and gone into business and banking.
"He was her exact opposite in temperament: sweet and gentle, even-tempered, and with a whimsical sense of humor. [The son of] an immigrant from County Cork, Ireland, he would introduce himself to strangers by saying, ‘My name’s O’Keefe. I’m French.’
"It was to this unlikely pair that my grandmother Edith, who was later to lead us into newspapering, was born, in 1890.”
Fiery Editorials, Almost Lyrical Columns
Quincy Marshall O'Keefe became well known for both her strong, sometimes fiery editorials, which did not carry bylines, and her eloquent, sometimes-almost-lyrical personal columns. In the personal columns, she typically used her initials as a kind of pen-name, so the broader community knew her best as "QMO."
Her editorials dealt with topics of the day, such as her strong opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his policies, including the Tennessee Valley Authority project and the large-scale flooding of Tennessee farmland it would require.
She also warned against this country's selling large quantities of scrap iron to the Empire of Japan prior to World War II, and she opposed prohibition, foreseeing that it would lead to the rise of large-scale bootlegging and organized crime.
Her personal columns, by contrast, typically focused on subjects from nature, or her strong Christian faith, or memorable experiences from her childhood, or people in the community she admired.
THREE INTENSE DECADES
The 1920s were a time of intense work, and growing prominence, for Edith Susong and her young daily newspaper, which began as The Greeneville Democrat-Sun, transitioned to The Greeneville Daily Sun, and ultimately settled at The Greeneville Sun, as it has been known for more than 80 years.
The staff of the daily was, of course, larger than the staff of The Democrat, but Edith, as publisher, continued to lead and drive the newspaper, doing much of the news reporting and writing as well as handling or overseeing many other functions.
A "people person" herself, she believed strongly in the importance of human interest newspaper content, and always devoted considerable time and attention to short, very popular, and name-rich "Personal Mention" items about subscribers' children, family trips, honors, visits to one another, etc.
But she also covered "hard news" for her young newspaper, such as major criminal cases and the actions of the 51-member Greene County Quarterly Court, the county's legislative body and most powerful political agency. She covered the "County Court" as her personal "beat" for more than 50 years.
She also participated in state and regional newspaper associations, and gradually became known widely as one of the nation's few female newspaper publishers, a status that led to many invitations to speak to newspaper groups and other professional groups, in Tennessee and other states.
Significantly, she was elected in the early 1920s to represent Tennessee on the board of directors of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
She also served as a president of the Tennessee Woman's Press and Authors Club.
Leadership Role In Community
At the same time, she was taking a growing leadership role in community life, despite her relatively youthful age and the fact that she was a woman in business.
A gifted and effective public speaker, she became one of the main leaders in the intense uphill effort to persuade local dairy farmers to borrow money to upgrade their herds in order to attract the Pet Milk Company to the county.
The goal of the campaign: to provide a new, badly needed source of income to local farmers and, at the same time, stimulate the overall economy of the county.
The effort was successful, and, when the new Pet Milk processing plant — the county's first non-tobacco-related industry — opened in Greeneville in 1928, she and Greeneville businessman James H. Rader were honored by being asked to pour the first can of milk.
After World War II, when The Greene County Foundation was formed in order to grow local jobs by buying potential industrial property and offering it at cost to companies looking for sites for new plants, she was one of the original members/contributors.
‘A Man Of Peace’
QMO and daughter Edith established a good working relationship, though Edith was of much less combative temperament.
Known widely and affectionately in the community as “Miss Edith,” she was prone to call herself a “man of peace,” using “man” in its classic, humanity-referencing sense rather than as a gender identifier.
She was active in state Democratic Party affairs, and served as a Tennessee delegate to four Democratic National Conventions, including the 1932 convention that nominated Franklin Roosevelt. (She strongly supported him; her mother just as strongly opposed him!)
Active In Civic Life
Edith and her mother were devoted, highly energetic members of St. James Episcopal Church, which was a small, often-struggling congregation during the early decades of the 20th century.
Both women were also very active in what was then known as the Greene County Library (now the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library), and in other areas of local civic life.
Edith in particular immersed herself in women's civic activities and organizations, including the Cherokee Club, the leading local women's organization, which she had joined at age 19.
She helped establish Greeneville's Andrew Johnson Women's Club, a federated organization of which she was a president, and also served as president of the Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs from 1927-29.
At the state level, she served in the early 1930s as a member of the Tennessee Educational Commission, an appointive position.
A New, Needed Partnership
With the Great Depression, some opposition newspapers, and then World War II and its economic dislocations, she and her parents and staff often struggled during the 1930s. Will O'Keefe died in 1937. Edith, QMO and their loyal and capable staff persevered and survived, but the strain took a toll on Edith's health.
Although she was highly skilled at multi-tasking, by the mid-1940s she realized that she needed more help, particularly on the business side. Her solution was found after World War II in the person of John M. Jones, who had married Edith’s daughter, Arne, in 1940.
The close partnership that emerged between Edith and Jones re-energized her, and brought fresh vitality, new ideas and additional leadership strength and depth to the company.
With Jones focusing mainly on business-related aspects of the newspaper, Edith focused mainly on news-related aspects, especially the very popular "micro" news about the daily lives of members of the community.
In the late 1940s, she also began writing "Cheerful Chatter," an unsigned weekly potpourri column of a mainly social, human interest nature that emphasized names and positive news and quickly became the most popular feature in the newspaper. She would write it weekly for 25 years.
Her close partnership with Jones thrived, as did the Sun, from late 1945 until her death in June 1974.
Newspaper Hall Of Fame
When she celebrated her 50th anniversary in the newspaper business in 1966, associates from across the county and state made the trip to Greeneville to add their congratulations and good wishes.
In 1981 she was inducted into the Tennessee Press Association-University of Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame. Two years earlier, in 1979, Quincy Marshall O'Keefe, who had died in 1958, had become the first woman ever inducted into the Newspaper Hall of Fame.
They remain the only mother-daughter to have received that distinction.
In 1949, what was then the Washington, D.C.-based Women’s National Press Club honored Edith and four other non-capital U.S. newspaperwomen as Newspaperwomen of the Year. She was the only female publisher in the honored group.
She has been profiled in at least three books focusing on notable Tennessee women: Tennessee Women, Past and Present, in 1977, by the late Wilma Dykeman, a publication of the Tennessee Committee for the Humanities and the Tennessee International Women’s Decade Coordinating Committee; Tennessee Woman: An Infinite Variety, in 1993, by Dykeman; and Tennessee Women of Vision and Courage, in 2013, a publication of the Tennessee Women Project, edited by Charlotte Crawford and Ruth Johnson Smiley.
A MAN OF MANY TALENTS
John M. Jones, like his mother-in-law, had had no original intention of entering the newspaper business.
He had come from a large family with numerous business interests including textile manufacturing in Sweetwater and the Chattanooga-based Gilman Paint Company. He could have followed either of those paths and was, in fact, strongly urged by his father and uncle to do so.
In addition, his U.S. Army service during World War II had been noteworthy, and he might well have built a successful professional career in the Army had he chosen to continue there.
His Army service began after Jones, who held a reserve commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, was called into active duty in December 1941 or January 1942, after the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He went on to serve as an infantry officer for the next four years, including combat and combat-related duty in the China-Burma-India theatre of the war during 1944 and 1945.
In the CBI theatre, he served during the early months of 1944 as an intelligence officer on the regimental staff of Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill in the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), which became widely known as "Merrill's Marauders."
The 3,000-man all-volunteer regiment was the first American infantry unit to fight in Asia during World War II, and, after the war, provided the modern model for the U.S. Army Rangers and the U.S. Army Special Forces.
A journal kept by then-Capt. Jones during several months of the Marauders campaign became a very important record of the campaign and has continued to be a major source of information on the regiment's service.
In the 1990s, Jones also collaborated with Dr. James E. T. Hopkins, a battalion surgeon with the 5307th, in a 772-page book on the campaign that was published by Dr. Hopkins, the principal author, in 1999 under the title of Spearhead: A Complete History of Merrill’s Marauders Rangers.
After the Marauders campaign, Jones became aide-de-camp to U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Wheeler, India-Burma theatre commander; he also became American aide-de-camp to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, of Great Britain, commanding officer of the Southeast Asia (Allied) Command.
Captured By Newspapering
Jones told one of his sons a few years ago, in answer to a question, that he did not expect to survive World War II. But, despite harrowing circumstances in Burma, he did survive the Marauders campaign and the war, and left active duty in December 1945 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After returning to the U.S., he joined his wife and son in Greeneville, where they had been living with her mother and grandmother in their home on South Main Street.
Realizing that Edith Susong wanted and needed assistance, he agreed to accept her request to become business manager of the Sun on a trial basis. He had never worked in the newspaper field, although he had worked in other areas of advertising before being called up after Pearl Harbor.
John M. officially joined the Sun near the end of December, anticipating a short stay. To his surprise, however, he discovered that newspaper work provided both an enjoyable business challenge and an excellent platform for public service, including community economic development.
Within months, newspapering had captured him, and he would never leave. In his last year of life, he told one of his sons in answer to a question that not once had he regretted his decision to forego his more promising post-war opportunities and become a newspaperman in Greeneville.
John M. and Arne soon bought a half-ownership in the Sun, and, after almost three decades of close, harmonious partnership with a mother-in-law he came to love dearly, he succeeded her as publisher at her death in 1974. She had been in her mid-80s, and still working hard.
A Profound Impact
During the late 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and into the 1990s, John M.'s impact on the family newspaper business was profound.
Under his leadership, and as the local economy grew, the Sun's circulation and advertising sales increased dramatically.
In addition, beginning in 1960, the company gradually acquired non-daily community newspapers in Newport, Athens, Loudon/Lenoir City, and other East Tennessee locations.
That growth continued in the 1980s, 1990s, and subsequent years with John M.'s support but under the primary leadership of Gregg K. Jones, one of three sons of John M. and Arne, who had become co-publisher of the Sun in the early 1980s.
Besides John M.'s impact in business aspects of the company, he reported effectively on some of the biggest news stories in Greene County’s modern history and sometimes wrote articles based on international trips of a journalistic nature related to his service on the Associated Press board.
In his later years, he also became a much-respected editorial page columnist, writing signed commentaries under the heading "One Man's Opinion."
Professional Leadership Roles
In addition to his role with the family company, during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, he took an increasingly significant leadership role in state, regional and national newspaper-related and news media-related bodies.
Among other responsibilities, he served as president of the Tennessee Press Association, as a board member of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, and as a key committee chairman and board member of the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America).
He was also elected to three three-year terms, the maximum, on the board of directors of the Associated Press, the world's largest news organization.
He continued to hold the title of publisher until his death in July 2016 at age 101, although, for health-related reasons, he had not been able to be active in the business since about 2000.
A Force In Economic Development
In the local community, he played a particularly important volunteer role in economic development.
He became one of the community’s most active and effective volunteer industrial recruiters, usually working behind the scenes, and was very influential in the decisions of several industries to locate plants in Greeneville/Greene County.
Over the years he often worked with others through the Greene County Foundation. He was a strong supporter of the foundation from its earliest days in the mid-1940s and served as one of its early presidents.
He was also active with what were then the Greeneville/Greene County Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greene County Economic Development Board, and, in the 1990s, with the Greene County Partnership. And he chaired the Greeneville Industrial Development Bond Board for many years.
His major role in bringing Greene Valley Developmental Center to Greene County was recognized in December 2000 when, as a surprise to him, the GVDC Administrative Building was renamed in his honor.
Active In Politics
Beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jones was active as a citizen and volunteer in the more conservative wing of the Tennessee Democratic Party, although the newspaper itself has always been politically independent.
He was a strong backer of the reform candidacy of former FBI agent Frank G. Clement when Clement ran successfully for governor in the early 1950s. Jones continued in future years to support the political career of Clement and also that of Buford Ellington, a Clement ally who twice succeeded him as governor.
Jones attended the 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 Democratic National Conventions as a Tennessee party delegate, and became acquainted with prominent state and national party leaders including future U.S. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
He was not active in Democratic Party political activities after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
During the same years, through his local, state and national newspaper activities, he became acquainted with a number of leading Republican figures as well.
His wide network of friendships with political leaders of both parties helped him achieve goals — such as the state's decision to locate Greene Valley Developmental Center here — that benefited Greeneville and Greene County.
He was one of the original members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and also served for many years as the vice-chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission. Both were appointive positions.
‘Father Of The TBI’
John M. Jones himself stated to family members and friends, if asked, that he considered his most important public achievement to be his key role in helping establish, then improve, what became the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
After the shocking murder of James Lutz in western Greene County in 1949 and mistakes by local law enforcement agencies that led to the murder's going unsolved, Jones concluded that Tennessee badly needed an FBI-type agency at the state level to assist local law enforcement agencies in the investigation of serious and/or complex crimes.
Under his leadership, the Tennessee Press Association campaigned successfully for the creation of such an agency in the early 1950s.
Originally known as the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Investigation when established under the administration of then-Governor Gordon Browning, the agency was over the years removed from the Department of Safety and professionalized as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
In recognition of Jones's leadership in the creation and professionalization of the TBI, when the agency moved into a new headquarters in Nashville in 2000, he was asked to be one of the featured speakers at the dedication of the building. The other speakers included two Tennessee governors.
His role in the establishment of the agency is recognized in the lobby of the headquarters, and he is unofficially considered within the agency as "the father of the TBI."
Civic Leadership Also
John M. also served as the first president of the Greene County Heritage Trust and took a major role in a number of its projects, including the restoration of the Doak House at Tusculum College.
He was one of the founding leaders of the United Way of Greene County in the late 1950s, and served as its board of directors president in 1959, the local United Way's first campaign year. He continued to be a strong supporter of the local United Way and has served as a co-chairman of the UW's Pillar Society since that program was initiated in 1995.
In keeping with his preference, much of his community service work was carried out behind-the-scenes, as was the case with his major role in helping raise the money for the building of the "new" Greene County YMCA in the mid-1970s, and then the retirement of the organization's indebtedness a few years later.
He was the recipient of numerous awards for community public service and in 1994 was also named one of the five charter inductees into the Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame, which honors regional leaders for outstanding achievement in business and public service.
He was also honored in 2002 at a unique Greene County Partnership event at the General Morgan Inn titled "An Evening To Say Thank You." The event was co-chaired by longtime local business and civic leaders Scott Niswonger and Terry Leonard, in cooperation with then-GCP Chairman Rebecca Cutshaw.
Voice Of ‘Cheerful Chatter’ Stilled
On Monday, June 17, 1974, Edith Susong died, at the age of 84. As she had very much wanted to do, she died "with her boots on."
She wrote "Cheerful Chatter" for Saturday, June 15, and placed it on its hook in the Sun newsroom on Friday morning, then went to an appointment with her physician. The doctordecided to hospitalize her for more observation.
In the hospital, however, she began coughing, and the coughing triggered internal bleeding that the medical staff could not stop.
Over the weekend, from her hospital bed, she and John M. discussed plans for a new press.
But she grew weaker, and at 7 a.m. on Monday morning, her life's journey ended peacefully.
Her family was heartbroken. They were joined in their shock and grief by many others who mourned the unexpected passing of the woman they had over the years come to respect and love not only as the publisher of their hometown newspaper but also as a trusted friend.
Arne Jones Picks Up ‘CC’ Baton
No one experienced the loss more painfully than her daughter, Arne, to whom she had always been extremely close.
Sometime before she died, Edith had asked Arne, a "people person" like her mother, to take over "Cheerful Chatter" when she herself could no longer write it. Out of love and loyalty to her mother, Arne reluctantly consented.
And so, late in June 1974, still early in grief, Arne Jones became the new writer of the column her mother had originated and made so greatly loved and followed for a quarter-century. Arne felt inadequate to the task, and insisted on changing the name of the column from "Cheerful Chatter" to the lower-case "cheerful chatter."
It was very hard in the beginning, but almost every Saturday for the next 25 years, she wrote the column. Her "cc" was a bit different in style from Edith's "CC," of course, but it had the same cheerful, upbeat spirit, and expressed the same love for Greene Countians, and the same enthusiasm for what they did and what they achieved.
She continued to write it virtually every week for the next 25 years, when she herself was 84. After that, she dropped back to once a month, and often she had help with the column from her younger daughter, Sally Harbison.
Finally, in 2007, at the age of 92, she retired from her "job" completely, leaving her many fans with a painful — and often-lamented — gap in their Saturday routines.
In the 1990s, Arne also wrote an eloquent essay on community newspapering at the request of Presstime, the magazine of the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now News Media Alliance). The essay was published by the magazine, and struck a strong chord with many community publishers throughout the country.
The Fourth Generation
Meanwhile, by the late 1960s and the early 1970s, members of a fourth generation of the family — the three sons of John M. and Arne Jones — were beginning to take significant places in the company alongside their father and grandmother.
It had definitely not been a foregone conclusion that a fourth generation of the family would become involved in the business. But it was a very welcome development to Edith Susong and John M. and Arne Jones.
For Edith, John M. and Arne, and the five Jones children, The Greeneville Sun had always been a constant presence within the family, regarded not just as a business but as a family trust coming down from Edith, and Quincy and Will O'Keefe.
Alex Jones wrote in later years that, as he was growing up, the paper seemed almost like another family member around the dinner table.
Mrs. Susong and the elder Joneses knew all the Sun staff personally, and regarded them as friends, and to a large extent, the Jones siblings did also.
John, Alex and Gregg Jones, the first three of the five in birth order, carried newspaper routes in their elementary-school years. As they grew older, they sometimes worked in the composing room, pressroom or other departments of the paper during summer vacations.
While the two Jones daughters, Edith and Sally, did not have paper routes or train on the press, they often worked at the newspaper office in various other capacities during summer vacations.
Although never pressured to come into the family newspaper, the five siblings were always encouraged by their grandmother and their parents to consider doing so.
And, by the late 1960s, it was beginning to look very much as though the low-key campaign about newspapering was "taking."
John Joins ‘Sun’ News Staff
All three Jones sons chose to work on their college newspapers, with Gregg, the youngest son, serving a term as top editor of his college paper in the early 1970s.
John, the eldest of the three, worked at the Sun in the mailroom and pressroom during one or two summer vacations while he was a college student, and interned as a reporter at The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville during another college summer to get a sense of what journalism was like on a metropolitan daily.
After college graduation in 1964, John worked in the Sun newsroom for much of that summer, including on-scene coverage of the tragic crash of a commercial airliner on a rugged hillside not far from Greeneville, killing all 39 on board.
As a result of the Sun’s fast and extensive coverage of that incident, led by both John M. Jones and John Jones Jr., The Greeneville Sun received a coveted Associated Press Managing Editors Association National Citation of Merit, and, reportedly, very narrowly missed winning a Pulitzer Prize.
In the fall, John entered Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he earned a master's degree with honors before entering the Army in late January 1966 as a reserve officer.
After completing his tour of duty in Germany in early May 1968, he wrote a few news articles for the Sun from Paris concerning the almost-successful student revolution there during May and June. Later in the summer, he traveled and interviewed extensively in Israel and Lebanon as a freelance journalist.
Returning to Greeneville in late 1968, he turned his notes from the Middle East trip into a series of articles for the Sun, which the newspaper combined into a prize-winning special section, “Israel Notebook.”
Sometime in 1969, almost to his own surprise, he concluded that he believed in and enjoyed community journalism and wanted to stay in Greeneville and join the Sun news staff. Over the next nine years he would become associate editor of the Sun, then editor.
As a sign of Edith Susong's strong approval of her eldest grandson's decision, she presented him with her own office at the newspaper, moving her own writing headquarters to her home next door, and to the office and manual typewriter that her own mother had previously used for more than 30 years.
Probably more significant still, Edith, then 79, also allowed her 27-year-old grandson to take over coverage of the Greene County Quarterly Court, her personal "beat" since 1916. (Court members were skeptical of her decision but eventually accepted John's more aggressive style of reporting, and honored “Miss Edith” with a handsome plaque of appreciation for her decades of good work!)
Alex: Magnavox, Travel, Athens
During Alex Jones's Navy years in the late 1960s and very early 1970s, he was named communications officer for the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, with responsibility for handling media relations in ports of call as well as numerous print and broadcast functions onboard the huge floating city.
During the period of his service, the Vietnam Conflict was underway, and the Coral Sea, as part of the Navy’s Task Force 77, operated between Australia and the staging point off the coast of North and South Vietnam known as “Yankee Station.”
Although admitted to Columbia Journalism for the Class of 1972, he opted instead for several weeks of travel, visiting friends around the country, and "winding down." (Columbia would have begun almost immediately after his discharge from the Navy.)
In the late fall of 1971, he returned to Greeneville and agreed to take on the task of producing a huge special edition of the Sun to mark the 25th anniversary of the coming of The Magnavox Company to the community in May 1947.
After the very large and impressive special edition was published, and he had been paid by the Sun for his work, he and a college friend set out on a months-long backpacking trip through Europe and Africa.
To cover his costs, he wrote and air mailed "from the road" a series of what became extremely popular weekly columns on his adventures. The heading for the columns: "Give My Regards to Broadway."
When he returned to the U.S., he was ready to go to work in earnest, and accepted the position of assistant managing editor of The Daily Post-Athenian, a sister newspaper of the Sun.
Gregg: Trained For Management Role
At about the same time, following his college graduation in 1972 and some self-directed international travel in Greece and Egypt, Gregg Jones, who was unable to serve in the armed forces because of knee injuries suffered during his school years, accepted a position at the Sun designed to train him in a variety of departments from advertising to circulation to overall management.
What he began that year would lead him not only to a key leadership role at the Sun itself but also to the presidency of a much-expanded Jones family media company that would become known as Jones Media, Inc.
From the late 1960s-early 1970s until around 2000 the three brothers would take on increasing levels of responsibility within the company under the mentoring of their father, whom all three deeply loved and admired.
In addition, along with their two sisters, they would also become not only highly-engaged board of directors members of the company but also its co-owners with their parents.
Eventually, as John M. and Arne's health problems mounted along with their age, the five would become the company's primary owners.
California ... And Back
Within the company and the newspaper field, each Jones brother followed a path different from the others.
After almost a decade as senior reporter of the Sun, then associate editor, John gave his parents a year's advance notice in August 1977 that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence in mid-1978 to enter full-time Christian work in response to what he said had been a persistent sense of "call" to such work.
In the fall of 1978 he accepted a volunteer position as director of communications — essentially, news media director — of Campus Crusade for Christ International (now known as Cru), with headquarters in San Bernardino, Calif., reporting directly to the organization’s co-founder and then-president, the late Bill Bright.
John continued in that role until mid-1986 when, again in response to a sense of calling, he wound down his responsibilities at Campus Crusade and agreed to return to the position of Sun editor, which was vacant. He brought with him his wife, Helena, an experienced journalist herself, whom he had married in 1984.
Led ‘Sun’ News Staff
John continued to lead the news staff at the Sun for the next 29 years, an exciting, sometimes-turbulent period of many news-related challenges and controversies in Greeneville and Greene County.
The period saw the newspaper and its staff, including Jones himself, receive numerous state-level honors for news reporting, investigative reporting, editorial writing, photography, feature writing, sports coverage, website excellence, and other contest categories.
During the 1970s and again following his return to Greeneville from California in 1986, he was active in the Tennessee Press Association, of which he is a former president. He continues to be active on some TPA-related committees and boards.
In the 1970s he helped organize and lead the East Tennessee chapter of The Society of Professional Journalists, and served as a committee chair with the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
He has also been active over the years in local church work and in leadership posts with the Greene County YMCA, of which he is a former president, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Junior Achievement, and other civic and service groups.
He stepped down from the Sun editorship at the end of October 2015 after a total of 39 years at the newspaper, but he continues to serve as a consultant to the Sun and write particular articles that draw on his institutional knowledge.
Editor, Then NYT, Pulitzer
Alex Jones had come to Greeneville in mid-1978 to succeed John as editor of the Sun, a role which Alex very successfully filled for the next several years. It was early in his editorship — January 1979 — that the newspaper moved to its current building from the longtime former building at 200 S. Main St.
The same year, the Sun celebrated its centennial, dating from the establishment of The Democrat in 1879, and in 1983, the Town of Greeneville celebrated its bicentennial.
Alex oversaw highly-acclaimed one-of-a-kind publications of the Sun for both events.
In 1982 he took nine months' leave from the Sun editorship to accept a prestigious Nieman Foundation fellowship at Harvard University; he returned to Greeneville and the editorship at the conclusion of the one-year fellowship.
The following year, however, he accepted a position with the Business section of The New York Times, and moved to New York City. His "beat" for the Times became the communications industry, including the newspaper business.
In April 1987, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Specialized Reporting for his Times coverage of the break-up of the extensive Bingham family communications interests in Louisville, Ky., including their widely-known Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper.
Variety Of Media Roles
During the next 12 years Alex Jones and his wife, the late Susan E. Tifft, a Time magazine reporter/writer for years, co-wrote two highly-regarded biographical books: The Patriarch, in 1991, concerning the Bingham family and its journalistic history, and The Trust, in 1999, concerning the Ochs-Sulzberger family and that family's world-famous newspaper, The New York Times.
He had resigned from the Times to write The Trust so as to avoid a real or perceived conflict of interest.
In addition, Alex was from 1993-97 the weekly host of "On the Media," a live, two-hour National Public Radio program broadcast from New York focusing on news media-related issues.
For several years in the 1990s he was also the host and executive editor of the media-related television documentary program, "Media Matters," on the Public Broadcasting System.
In 1998, he and his wife were jointly named Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism at Duke University.
In 2000, he accepted the post of director of what is now the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Media, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He was also a lecturer at the school, occupying the Laurence M. Lombard Chair in the Press and Public Policy.
After 15 years in that joint position, during which he also wrote a third book, Losing the News, in 2009, he stepped down from the Shorenstein Center directorship at the end of June 2015. He continues to be involved in innovative news-related ventures.
In 2011, Alex was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, based at Middle Tennessee State University.
Gregg Jones was named co-publisher of the Sun in the early 1980s by John M. Jones and has continued to hold that title until very recently although he has served, in effect, as publisher of the Sun since his father limited his own involvement somewhat in the mid-1990s for reasons related to age and health.
In addition, Gregg played the key leadership role during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s as the company grew, diversified, and restructured, first as Media Services Group Inc. and then as Jones Media, Inc.
Now publisher of the Sun, he has also served for 16 years as president and CEO of Jones Media, which consists of daily newspapers in the East Tennessee communities of Greeneville, Maryville and Athens, and non-daily newspapers in Newport, Rogersville, Lenoir City, Sweetwater, and Dayton, as well as non-daily papers in several communities in the High Country of western North Carolina, including Boone.
Jones Media also includes a digital media company, High Road Digital, and several tourism-related media enterprises.
Top Industry Leadership Posts
Gregg has over the last several decades also been elected to top leadership positions in several newspaper-related and media-related organizations, including serving as president of the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Press Association Foundation, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, and PAGE Cooperative, a national non-profit purchasing cooperative whose members represent almost three-fourths of all privately-owned daily newspapers in the U.S.
Like his father, Gregg Jones was elected to the maximum three three-year terms on the board of directors of the Associated Press.
In 2004-05, he served as chairman of the Newspaper Association of America (recently renamed the News Media Alliance), the largest and most influential daily newspaper organization in North America.
Among numerous other professional honors, Gregg in 2013 received the prestigious Frank W. Mayborn Leadership Award, a coveted public service distinction presented by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
The following year, he was presented with the Ralph D. Casey/Minnesota Award for Distinguished Leadership and Service, presented by the Inland Press Association.
Key Civic Role
Gregg Jones has also taken a major leadership role in civic life in Greeneville/Greene County ever since the early 1980s.
Among other civic contributions, he served in the early 1980s as the first president of Main Street: Greeneville.
He also conceived and led the 1987-96 public-private downtown revitalization effort that resulted in the $15 million nonprofit restoration of the 1890 Hotel Brumley and contiguous other railroad hotels and other adjacent buildings of the same period.
The hotel, a Historic Inn of America, is now known as The General Morgan Inn, and has become a center of local civic and social activity.
It is also considered to be a major local economic development asset, and has become widely known as a small but elegant venue in the southeastern United States for tourists and other travelers.
Gregg also played a key role in the successful locally-based effort, against what seemed overwhelming odds, that led to the 1989 decision of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy to name a Los Angeles-class U.S. Navy nuclear submarine for Greeneville.
Edith Jones Floyd
Other family members, and in some cases their spouses, have also taken roles in the family newspapers, especially The Greeneville Sun itself.
Edith Susong Jones Floyd, of Atlanta, worked briefly as a writer at the Sun following her college graduation in 1975, then moved to Nashville to accept a position as a news reporter with what was then The Nashville Banner.
She continued in that post successfully for about a year, then decided to enter graduate school to earn a master's degree in Business Administration, and follow a business career in Atlanta.
A decade later, Edith left the business world. She went on to earn a doctorate in counseling psychology and has practiced in that field.
She, her husband, and their two sons continue to live in Atlanta.
Sally Jones Harbison
Sally (Sarah) Jones Harbison worked in the News and Advertising departments at The Greeneville Sun for a year after college graduation in 1979, then moved to Nashville and worked for the business publication Advantage Magazine.
After working at Advantage for two years, she accepted a position in public and media relations with the Tennessee State Museum.
She then moved to Nashville and took a position in public relations and media relations with the Tennessee State Museum.
She continued to hold that post until moving back to Greeneville in 1986 with her husband and young daughter, when she shifted her focus entirely to her roles as wife and, eventually, mother of three children.
Steven K. Harbison, husband of Sally Harbison, an accomplished and widely recognized freelance journalistic and commercial photographer in Middle Tennessee for years before he and Sally were married in 1985, agreed to join the family newspaper business in 1986.
He has held a number of key roles including the position of founding publisher of The Business Journal of Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia (now The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Southwest Virginia): a regional business magazine established by the family in 1988.
Based in Blountville, The Business Journal was owned and published by the family for 18 years before being sold by Jones Media to Mountaineer Publishing Company of Waynesville, N.C., in 2006.
Steve Harbison has since 2002 served as general manager of The Greeneville Sun.
Helena Z. Jones, wife of John Jones Jr., was a prize-winning metropolitan newspaper journalist in her native state of Georgia long before she and John were married in 1984.
In 1989, she agreed to become Lifestyle Editor (called Living Editor here) of The Greeneville Sun.
In 1990, she created Accent, a completely new women's-interest section of the Sun whose content she planned and edited for the next decade. She also wrote virtually all of the primary cover features for the section, as well as her own weekly column, Food Talk.
Published weekly, Accent was an immediate hit with both readers and advertisers, and continues to be the most popular regular section of the paper with women.
During her tenure at the Sun from 1989-2000, she also received a prestigious state-level Associated Press honor, the Malcolm Law Award, for excellence in feature-writing.
God’s Grace, And Great Staff
From Edith Susong's earliest days in the newspaper business, family members have always believed — and often stated — that, apart from God's grace and help, the company's greatest resource has been the outstanding character and ability of its staff members.
Speaking for the family, Sun Publisher and Jones Media President/CEO Gregg Jones emphasized that view in a statement this week.
"Some of the many, many individuals who have been part of the Greeneville Sun and JMI staff family have filled crucial leadership positions," Jones said.
"There could be no better example than the late Ken Hood, who handled a variety of key leadership roles at the Sun for more than 50 years, and always did so superbly.
"But literally all of our employees, whatever their department or job title, have played vital roles in making possible the extremely complex process of starting with blank pages and producing, within a matter of hours, a unique and valuable product — that day's newspaper!
"To accomplish that feat each publication day, year-round, requires very special, very talented men and women performing a huge variety of tasks with excellence and, often, with speed and under pressure. Anyone who has worked at a newspaper understands what I mean.
“Beginning with Edith Susong, we in this family and company have been extremely blessed to have been able to work with hundreds of such special people for four generations, right up to and including the present. As we look back over the years and decades, our appreciation is overwhelming.
"Perhaps even more important, though, the impact of those many individuals will be forever reflected, in various ways, in the work in which their efforts have played some part.
“Whether obvious or less visible, the impact is there, not only in the printed newspaper but, for some years now, in digital form as well."
A Very Difficult Decision
As was announced in the Sun and other JMI newspapers on Sept. 1, for a number of reasons, including the fact that no fifth-generation family member is currently or prospectively involved in the company, the five Jones siblings came to the very difficult decision in 2015 to sell the company if an appropriate buyer could be found.
Almost a year later, following some nine months of discussions, the assets of Jones Media were purchased on Aug. 31 by Adams Publishing Group, a division of a long-established, highly diversified family-owned company based in Minneapolis, Minn.
Under the terms of the agreement, Adams Publishing Group has hired all full-time employees of Jones Media. Gregg Jones is continuing to serve as president and CEO of this company, and he will also take on oversight responsibilities related to other Adams-owned community newspapers in the eastern U.S.
A letter from the family published in The Greeneville Sun on Sept. 2, the day after the sale was announced, acknowledged that the announcement was accompanied by a significant measure of pain by the family, after four generations and 100 years of Susong/O'Keefe/Jones ownership and hands-on management.
But, as the letter also pointed out, the family is profoundly grateful to the hundreds of excellent staff members, and the thousands of readers and advertisers, who have been such an essential part of the many challenges and accomplishments of these years — and who share this century of the family's own memories.
Twenty-six-year-old Edith O'Keefe Susong could not have dreamed how far the ripples would spread as she walked briskly up Greeneville's Main Street that bright Oct.1 morning in 1916, full of confidence and hope, on the way to her new life as the owner and publisher of a newspaper.
At the request of the Jones family, these special feature pages are being provided to the Sun’s readers without seeking advertising support. The narrative and photos are intended, above all, to be a deeply affectionate and admiring tribute to the remarkable EOS: the beloved grandmother of the current generation of the family, and the courageous and dynamic woman who set it all in motion a hundred years ago this day.
Editor’s Note: The primary writers of this memorial feature were Greeneville Sun Staff Writer Cameron Judd, a former Managing Editor with the newspaper, and former Editor John M. Jones Jr.
In writing it, they drew on their own knowledge, information from additional Jones family members, and information from other published sources.
Others who played major roles in producing the feature include Sun Editor Michael S. Reneau, Greeneville Sun Director of Online Operations Brian Cutshall, and Graphic Designer Rebecca Garay-Leon. The timeline was designed and provided by High Road Digital.
For those who may be interested, supplementary material is posted on GreenevilleSun.com, the website of The Greeneville Sun.