Quincy Marshall O'Keefe

 

 

Induction Year: 1979

Lived: 1866-1958

 

Paper:

The Greeneville Democrat-Sun

 

Quincy Marshall O'Keefe was born in Greeneville, Tennessee, just a year after the close of the Civil War and by the time of her death nearly 92 years later she had left an indelible mark on her community and east Tennessee.

 

She did it the hard way. First, as a self-taught school teacher whose gifts as a sensitive and imaginative instructor were recounted by hundreds of her students for years after they had left her classroom. And then, much later, as a newspaper editor whose gentle columns and nature stories were clipped and saved by many, just as her trenchant political stories and perceptive editorials were respected--even feared by some--and frequently quoted in larger journals.

 

Quincy Marshall did not start out to be either a school teacher or an editor. As the daughter of a former Confederate Army doctor who after the war was trying to eke out a living in a still highly partisan Union area, Quincy Marshall and her four younger sisters grew up in a family with little money and even less chance for a formal education.

 

Their mother taught them at home, in addition to giving piano lessons to help support the family.

As a young woman in the 1880s, when a college degree was not required, she became a teacher while continuing her own self-education. In 1888 she was married to William H. O'Keefe and they became parents of four daughters. It was one of those daughters, Edith O'Keefe Susong, who convinced her mother that, at the age of 54, she should become editor of the Greeneville Democrat-Sun.

 

Mrs. Susong had taken over a small weekly in Greeneville in 1916 without previous journalistic or business experience. Four years later she bought one of the two competitive newspapers in town. That same year the second suspended publication.

 

Eager to buy this paper also and combine the three, but without adequate resources, Mrs. Susong persuaded her parents to become her partners. Mr. O'Keefe became business manager and Mrs. O'Keefe, somewhat reluctantly, became the editor.

 

Her new career may have surprised some who did not know that the delicate, genteel, deeply religious lady was also a skilled writer with passionately held convictions. They soon learned that she could write with beauty of the forest and flowers one day and the next produce a graphically detailed, carefully reasoned, and often controversial editorial about local, national or international events that would leave the whole town talking.

 

She fought eloquently through her writings and numerous personal contacts in support of what she believed was right and just, until, at 86, her health failed and she was no longer able to write.

 

Her influence was such that a reader survey taken during her most active years to pinpoint the most popular feature in the Sun showed her "QMO" column--the initials she used to sign work--competed for first place with a very popular comic strip of the time.