September has stepped in just in time for the Labor Day
weekend and to usher in more high school football for our hometown, basking in
the continued end-of-summer heat wave but far from Hurricane Isaac's rain.
When I noticed the two full moons in August I had no idea
that my friend and yours at National Bank of Tennessee, Walter Allen Freeman,
would be retiring on the last full moon of the month. So I had the good fortune
to interview him last week and present this story here. So I will take a detour
from where my last column left off talking with Von Smith of Bybee. Saturday a
week ago I also stopped by the Tanner building and chatted with folks at the
farmers market and you will be hearing about and seeing these folks soon.
Growing up off Rag Mountain Road
He could not have foreseen a 46-year banking career,
being a father, and grandfather, but Allen Freeman stands at the pinnacle of a
life well-lived and worked as he eases into retirement.
Whether you are a customer of National Bank of Tennessee
or not, chances are you know him, perhaps he loaned you some of the bank's
money or gave you a free bit of advice. His work has always been about
"people" whether with those he has worked alongside or those he
served as bank customers. And all the skills he gained and utilized came from
his desire to learn and to assist.
Born March 29, 1944, he was one of two sons of Charles
and Pearl (Self) Freeman, who farmed, raising tobacco, in the Big Creek
community, more specifically Rag Mountain Road. I have only this past year
discovered and driven the road connecting to Gulf Fork.
Walter Allen Freeman and brother, Gary Freeman, who lives
in Parrottsville, lived the typical rural mountain lifestyle in an era when
electrification only arrived about 1950. Cocke County was still heavily
populated with one-room schoolhouses so the brothers attended New Prospect:
"one teacher, two rooms." But there were multiple teachers during the
New Prospect no longer exists but was located at the
convergence of Gulf Fork, Raven's Branch, and Bull Mountain roads. Some people
refer to this as Big Creek. There were plenty of forest acres for hunting and
fishing in creeks that flowed from the Gulf and mountains into Big Creek that flows
into the Pigeon River.
Allen walked a mile to catch the county school bus for a
ride to and from Cosby School where he graduated in 1962. At the time E.G.
Bryant was principal and another man who made an impression on young Freeman
was Bill Hartsell. The small school had, perhaps, 100-plus high school
You didn't get to waste much time on television as
reception in the mountains was poor to none and that went for radio too. The
Plain talk arrived in the next day's mail. I recall that during the 1970s Boyd
Freeman, who lived at the upper end of Del Rio started a drive to raise funds
for a tower to receive and retransmit TV signals. He is a first cousin to
The Vietnam conflict was beginning to perk in the early
1960s as America ratcheted up its involvement. Allen decided to enlist in the
Marines and undergo the rigorous training at Paris Island. It proved to be an
economical way to see the world. He served in Cuba, Dominican Republic, the
Philippines, and Vietnam.
"It was a valuable experience. I would recommend it
to all young men and women," he said. Most of his four years, at least
half of it, was spent stateside, including training in California.
Perchance, a wife and a good job
By October 1966 he was back in Newport, about 22, and job
hunting. Sonoco Products was hiring and he was on his way to apply when he
happened to stop by the new bank in town, and then named National Bank of
Newport, established in 1957 and across the street from Merchants &
Planters Bank. Allen happened to see J. Creel Helms, who apparently knew the
Freeman family and their good reputation. Helms asked Allen if he had ever
thought about working at a bank. Of course, Allen had not but filled out an
application and left.
He never got to Sonoco and kept waiting for word from Mr.
Helms, who was general manager. So Allen contacted him and Mr. Helms told him
to report for work on Monday. He has missed few days ever since with the
exception of his kidney transplant. We will talk more about his kidney
transplant and how Allen overcame a major health problem.