Shelbyville Mayor Wallace Cartwright, known in most circles as simply “Wally,” is still leading Council meetings and serving on several boards and committees. By most standards, that’s pretty good for a public official about to turn 87.
But, after 10 years serving on the City Council and 15 years serving as City mayor, he will be bringing this phase of his life to a close at the Dec. 8 council meeting.
The mayor was first elected to City Council in 1997, elected mayor in 2007 and subsequently re-elected thereafter over the years. He’s confident now is the time to go out on a good note.
He’s served City government even through being diagnosed as diabetic and with colon cancer back in 1997, a heart attack in 2007, lung cancer, bad bacteria in blood and COVID-19 pneumonia in 2021.
Suffice to say few things get this Bedford County native down. Yet, he realizes his government days are about over.
He still plans to help a lot of people, when he can. It’s a fair tribute to the mayor to say that few people are likely as dedicated to Bedford County as he. His family, maternal and paternal sides, have a rich history of community involvement in Shelbyville and Bedford County.
The family history
Wally’s great-grandfather Cartwright was Confederate and his maternal great-great grandfather, Jacob Molder, wore the blue for the Union. This was not unusual during the Civil War, as the county was pro-Confederate and Shelbyville was mostly loyal to the Union.
He remembers the family stories of how Jacob Molder’s life tragically ended at age 57. Wally shares how “Grandpa Jacob” was discharged and considered unfit for service, following a broken leg. He was sent home to Bedford County.
Call them the home guard or bushwackers, there was apparently a group of men looking for Grandpa Molder’s son-in-law, Joseph Daniel Dry, who had been labeled a war traitor.
Dry, history reveals, was heading for home. When he heard the Confederate sympathizers searching for him, the family stories revealed is that he hid. The men passed him by.
Sympathizers went to the Jacob Molder house that December of 1863, which would have been in the Wheel community, better known as the 18th. When Grandpa Jacob opened the door, there was apparently a case of mistaken identity.
The men apparently hung Jacob in 1863 right there at home, likely thinking he was his son-in-law. Jacob’s wife and daughter (the wife of Daniel) reportedly cut him down from the noose and buried him. The stump of the tree from which he was hanged was said to still be on the property, under a house.
Despite that sad story, Wally notes several Molders, as well as Cartwrights, would later be born on down the line. He was obviously one of them.
Wally was the son of Ewing and Catherine Molder Cartwright. His Uncle Wayne Cartwright served as a city building inspector, City manager and a term as city mayor.
His aunt Ella married Joe Shofner and later Ralph Warren, after his Uncle Joe passed away.
His grandfather, Jacob Thomas “Jake” Cartwright, served as a county magistrate (now known as County commissioner) for several years. “He was on it when the courthouse burned. His name is on the plaque inside the courthouse . . . J.T. Cartwright.”
As a matter of fact, his dad was on the square in 1934, when a mob set fire in the sheriff’s office, which subsequently caught the courthouse on fire. “Dad was on the east side of the square when it happened and saw all of it going on. Best he remembered, Dad said, “there was a shot and the bullet hit above him.” “He said he was out of there.”
The courthouse was rebuilt. His grandpa Cartwright and dad went on to serve as county magistrates in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Wally’s Uncle Thomas Cartwright served on City Council. He remembers that was during the time the fire department got its first snorkel. That was a big deal in Shelbyville, he recalls with a chuckle.
His dad, Ewing, had worked as a draftsman in Tullahoma, at Northern Field, teaching drafting and blue print reading. After World War II, he operated a sawmill, buying tracts of timber from farmers and loads of logs from loggers. “When I was about 10 years old, he’d say, ‘come here, I need some help.’ He’d throw me a cant hook . . . . I’d work with him loading and turning logs on the carriage. I’ve been a hard worker, all my life.”
He remembers that his family lived in a lot of different areas of the City and County when he was a kid. It might be said that his dad was actually ahead of his time, flipping houses, not really flipping but building new houses where they would live for a couple of years then sell. He was a partner with his brothers Thomas and Wayne in their business of Cartwright Brothers, Complete Home Builders.
Wally is born in 1935
Wally was born in Shelbyville in December 1935, to Ewing and Catherine in a home located on what is now Colonial Avenue.
Many of Wally’s relatives lived here. His cousin, Euless Molder, ran the feed store then on the corner of West Holland and Jefferson Streets. The building was removed a few years ago to make way for the current bypass around the town square.
He remembers Euless’s farm as one which was always beautiful―with pastures covered over with red clover. His Granddaddy, C. A. Molder of Halls Mill, also had a beautiful farm, most of which is still being farmed today. It truly was “a wonderful life,” growing up here, he reveals.
Wally graduated from Central High in 1954 and later attended Middle Tennessee State College (now Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro) and took real estate courses at Motlow State Community College. He served his country for 10 years through the Tennessee National Guard, attaining the rank of sergeant.
He and Martha Gene Trolinger married on April 9, 1955, at Whiteside United Methodist Church in Shelbyville. They’re now members of Fair Haven Baptist Church.
Wally and Martha Gene have 3 daughters, Cindy, Debbie and Angela; 6 grandchildren; 6 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great grandchild, who is just a few months old. He has a sister, Carolyn Moore and a deceased brother, Charles Inman Cartwright, who was tragically killed at age 19, as the result of a head on collision in 1972.
The mayor’s profession
The mayor advises that his life-long profession has pretty much been construction work. He also helped his dad part-time at the saw mill, which eventually changed over to finished lumber and became Shelbyville Lumber Company.
While Wally was attending college in 1956, his dad asked him if he wanted to build some houses for a living. So, the family company, Ewing F. Cartwright & Son General Contractors, was formed and continued in operation until 1980.
Wally also worked a couple of years as a sales representative for Gold Bond Building Products, a division of National Gypsum Co.
He recalls the loyalty his dad had to his lumber customers. So much so, they moved their home building to Tullahoma in an effort not to compete.
Wally credits a man named Brooks George with teaching him about construction. Wally and his brother-in-law, Jim, and Brooks, would go on to build many houses together. There was no subbing out the hard work, with the exception of plumbing and electrical. They did all the painting and floor finishing.
“We dug all footings, septic tank holes and lines by hand and you broke the rock out of the ditches with sledge hammers. It was back before backhoes came about.”
In the end, the commercial work turned out to be a little more profitable than home building. They moved their business back to Shelbyville after a few years, building a lot of homes here, including three brick houses at Chestnut Drive near Edmond Road and three more brick houses on up the road near Fairfield Pike.
Wally remembers vividly that real estate during those days was a difficult market. “The one on each side would sell. The one in middle would sit. It would eat up the profit we made on the two. We ended up selling the one in the middle for just about what our cost was. We weren’t making any money, just building houses.”
Then they purchased and built up Claiborne Heights, which included what is now known as Smith Street. They finally got out of home building, upon the advice of their accountant, and began building commercial structures like East Side, Thomas School, Shelbyville Central High, Cascade High, Shelbyville Housing, nursing homes, churches, and several Texaco stations, one which was on the corner of Evans and Madison, which is a market now.
In 1997, Wally retired from construction. He decided it was time to continue the family legacy by becoming a City official. The rest is most certainly history.
Just a few months to go
Now, there’s just a few more months to go.
Mayor Cartwright’s down home demeanor and ability to tell people all about Shelbyville and Bedford County has served him well. “I could go up there and meet with people. They say I always want to sit and talk.”
He adds, “I’ve enjoyed the work. I’ve had great staff at City Hall to work with. In my opinion, we’ve had some good City managers, since I’ve been there.”
Still, he’s witnessed several City managers come and go. He’s not sure why some have been more successful than others.
But this the long-time mayor knows: Shelbyville is now growing at a rapid pace, so careful management is greatly needed at City Hall.
The thought of leaving City Hall does make him a little emotional, especially since his family is so tied to the history of the town. But he’s ready to serve the community in other ways.
He truly loves Shelbyville and Bedford County, he says. There are sure to be a lot of hugs and tears shed amongst staff, when he walks out of his for the last time.
He feels like he’s served to the best of his ability. The mayor says above all, he wants to be remembered in Shelbyville history as a City leader who truly “listened.” And he encourages the next mayor, whoever that’s going to be, to do the same.
He surmises, “You’re looking out for 25,000 people, not just one.”