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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bell Buckle garden honors Maggi Vaughn

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Tennessee Poet Laureate Margaret Britton Vaughn was honored Sunday as this year's Leadership Bedford Beginnings Class dedicated a "Poet's Garden" at the Bell Buckle Park. Present at the event were class members (left) Emily Winnette, Megan Crowell, Courtney Ray, Elizabeth Caskey, Hannah Kay Hunt, (seated) Omar Tamula and Vaughn.
(Submitted photo)
A small crowd gathered at the Bell Buckle Park last Sunday to honor one of the town's and the state's most unique individuals, Tennessee Poet Laureate Margaret Britton "Maggi" Vaughn. 

The Leadership Bedford Beginnings Class of 2007 was there to dedicate their "Poet's Garden" to Vaughn. This group of eight high school students planted the garden at the park for a community project designed "to benefit the greater good of Bedford County and the state of Tennessee."

The students were thanked by Bell Buckle Mayor Dennis Webb for their efforts and leadership in organizing and implementing the garden. Webb was also grateful for the garden to honor Vaughn and her distinguished career as a writer and speaker.

Vaughn was clearly touched. She thanked the crowd and emphasized that being recognized by her hometown was the greatest honor she had ever received.

Speaking briefly on her accomplishments, Vaughn related how much it meant to her when people approached her in public to tell her how much they enjoy her poetry.

The perennial garden consists of over 79 plants including several iris, which is the state's official flower, boxwood, Shasta daisies, lithium, coreopsis, sage, balloon flowers, verbena, bachelor buttons and Stella De Ore Daylillies. Funds were raised by the students through private donations.

Two concrete benches with leaf motifs were made and donated by former Bell Buckle Fire Chief James Elkins. A Swamp White Oak was donated to the garden during the town's recent Arbor Day ceremony by Duck River Electric. There are also plans to erect a sign commemorating the garden and Vaughn.

According to an interview with Bell Buckle Alderperson Jenny Hunt, Vaughn's story began in Tennessee: Murfreesboro, in fact, where Vaughn's father was a firefighter. He was killed in a fire when Vaughn was 9 months old. Three months after her father's death, Vaughn's brother was born and it wasn't too long after that when their mother remarried and the family moved to Gulfport, Miss., where Vaughn grew up.

Vaughn's successful writing career bloomed at a very early age and she recalls writing even as a little girl growing up in Mississippi. Vaughn's education began at Perkingston Junior College and then she transferred to Mississippi Southern where she "failed Biology 10 times."

While living in Mississippi, Vaughn worked for the Daily Herald in Gulfport, earning the opportunity to become the first woman in an outside sales position for a Mississippi newspaper. She finally earned a B.S. degree at Middle Tennessee State University. 

Vaughn moved to Nashville her first year following college and started writing songs for the Wilmer Brothers. Soon afterwards, Vaughn and country music legend Loretta Lynn began writing songs together with the star recording several. Vaughn and Lynn still meet and write songs or just spend time together.

Vaughn's best reflection is of a recording she made in 1961 while overseeing an exclusive woman's clothing store. While working, Vaughn wrote 12 recitations about mamas for Minnie Pearl and Lynn. Several became big hits for Lynn, but the original tapes somehow were lost.

The tapes contained Vaughn's voice with Betty Jean Robinson and Lorraine Mann as background during the recording session. A saxophone player had been recording before Vaughn's session and offered to stay and play for free just to be a part of the event. When the tapes resurfaced in the early 2000's, Andy Landis took them to Tennessee Arts Council where she received a grant to publish the tapes as a document of historical significance.

Vaughn has gone on to write tunes for other country greats such as Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, Charlie Louvin, and Peggy Sue just to name a few.

Vaughn's "discovery" began in 1975 when Minnie Pearl sent some of Vaughn's writings to the Grand Ole Opry. Later that same year, The Tennessean published Vaughn's "50 Years of Saturday Nights," a book about the 50th anniversary of the Opry. The book was later updated to Grand Ole Saturday nights.

Vaughn has written 12 books and was appointed Poet Laureate of Tennessee in 1989 by Gov. Ned McWhorter. Vaughn is quick to point out that the Tennessee House of Representatives makes the appointment for life, however, the Tennessee State Senate has to vote to renew her appointment every 5 years.

Vaughn also wrote the inaugural poem at Gov. Don Sundquist's inauguration and Gov. Phil Bredesen had one of her poems printed in his inauguration program. As Sundquist was leaving office, he selected Vaughn as one of the handful to receive his designated "Outstanding Tennessean Award". Another one of the highlights of Vaughn's career was writing Tennessee's Bicentennial poem and being recognized on the Tennessee Bicentennial coin.

Vaughn thinks her greatest personal accomplishment was being selected as the only poet to receive the Mark Twain Fellowship from Elmira College, where Twain spent 20 summers writing some of his major works. During the Fellowship program, Vaughn wrote Foretasting Heaven.

While living in the same house Twain had stayed, Vaughn pretended as if Twain were there with her . Her writings evolved from there. Vaughn returns to Elmira frequently to speak and read her poems.

Vaughn's books are taught at colleges and universities around the world and, at the re-opening of Thomas Wolfe's boarding house, Vaughn was invited to write the official poem for the historic event.

Of all the memories, Vaughn notes her ability to reach out and affect students. While visiting Buffalo State, Vaughn substituted at the last minute for a sick professor. She read two poems about the Vietnam Wall and followed the lesson by playing George Jones' "50,000 Names on the Wall." The students loved it.

Vaughn's love for writing and country music are evident in all aspects of her life

"You know," she says, "Country music is the best poetry ever written. It tells it like it is. It's life."

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