Published: October 4, 2009
What makes a person a role model, a hero? Each of us has an idea. Let me share about one – in my opinion – that I met over 20 years ago. Aubrey Weatherly was a small man, unassuming, with a jovial attitude and a heart that appeared to be as big as the sky. I met him inside the Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro. Aubrey was born on July 4, 1917, and at the age of 20, discovered his major purpose in life. He became an entrepreneur. Blind, and with only modest means, he opened a concession stand inside the Courthouse lobby. Minor Bragg and the Murfreesboro Lions Club helped him to secure a used display case. Aubrey borrowed $25 to stock the shelves with candy, chewing gum and other snacks. Of course, $25 bought a lot candy and chewing gum back in 1937. He became a fixture at the Courthouse, rarely missing a day of work, and never complaining about his circumstances. Each day was a red letter day, a day worth celebrating. Many would never guess that he was sightless as he went busily about his small business. Aubrey even mastered the ability to exchange money based on the touch of both the greenbacks and coins, rather than see them. In honor of his 50th anniversary of entrepreneurship on Oct. 15, 1987, the chamber of commerce held a ceremony in the Courthouse near his concession stand. Many pillars of local public service and commerce were on hand to offer congratulations, including County Executive John Mankin, Mayor Joe B. Jackson, insurance legend and philanthropist Tommy Martin, banker Ed Loughry, Jr., attorney Tommy Smith, Elections Administrator Amy Williams, and Larry Kirk, manager of Murfreesboro Electric, who at the time was volunteer president of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. County Executive Mankin and the Board of Commissioners declared Oct. 15, 1987 as “Aubrey Weatherly Day”. Tommy Martin said that Aubrey was an avid sports fan, especially University of Tennessee football. Tommy told how two Murfreesboro supporters of the Big Orange wanted to treat Aubrey to an experience at Neyland Stadium by attending a game in person. They volunteered to drive Aubrey to Knoxville. Keep in mind that this was prior to the Interstate Highway system. The route was primarily Highway 70 with a few detours. The first restroom break was in Woodbury, where one man announced that he would purchase them a Coca Cola. Aubrey’s keen sense of hearing detected what sounded like the car trunk being opened and closed before the two men got back into the car. When they were driving through Smithville, one man said that he needed to stop again for a restroom break and that he would get everyone another Coca Cola. Aubrey became suspicious, thinking that maybe his hosts were adding an extra ingredient to their soft drinks; possibly some Uncle Jack. Aubrey then told his hosts that if they made another stop for a Coca Cola, he would do the driving onto Knoxville. They never stopped again until arriving at Neyland Stadium. Ed Loughry, Jr. said that whenever he became stressed with banking and business, he only had to walk over to the Courthouse, sit down and talk with Aubrey to be reminded that life is really good and that every person should count his or her many blessings. Loughry also said that he admired Aubrey because he never took a dime of government support until he began receiving Social Security payments, choosing to make his own way rather than looking for a handout. Attorney Tommy Smith also had an interesting story. He said that Aubrey was being driven home one evening when the car was involved in a traffic accident. No one was injured, but the driver of the other vehicle took the case to court, alleging that the car Aubrey was in caused the accident. Both parties defended their respective positions. Then, someone suggested that Aubrey be allowed to testify. The judge agreed. Aubrey said that he knew every bump and pothole in that particular road since he had ridden over it for many years; that his driver was truly on the right side of the road, and just could not have caused the accident. The judge concurred, banged his gavel and dismissed the case. Yes, in my humble opinion, Aubrey Weatherly was a good role model, and a true entrepreneur.