Conversation with ‘Ammie’

Judy Clabough finds new challenges, opportunities in new career

 Judy Clabough enjoys gardening in her free time.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Judy Clabough enjoys gardening in her free time.

Judy Clabough relaxes at home with a good book.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Judy Clabough relaxes at home with a good book.

For years Judy Clabough worked alongside her husband, Bill, at the family business that served customers in Wildwood.

Now both of them work for non-profit organizations that touch lives throughout Blount County.

That’s the conclusion she came to when asked how different her new job as community outreach coordinator with the Blount Memorial Foundation and Community Outreach compared to her former career. Since they closed the store five years ago, her husband also has taken a job with the Foothills Land Conservancy.

“It’s kind of ironic that we both ended up working with nonprofits. We’ve had this common ground in that we were working in a business to make money and then were working in a business where we raise money for our organizations. That been kind of a neat change,” she said.

Clabough grew up in Blount County and lived on one side of Porter School while the man she would eventually marry lived on the other side of the school.

“My parents moved there when I was 3 weeks old. That was the only home I ever knew. I have an older brother and sister who are 12 and 14 years older, and my younger sister is two years younger. Mom and dad really had two families. I grew up right here,” she said.

Her dad died 10 years ago, and her mother, four years ago.

“They were great parents and brought us up with good Christian values. It was a commonsense kind of upbringing. Of course I miss them a lot. We were able, my siblings and I, to take care of them in their old age which was very rewarding to give back to them what they gave to us,” she said.

Clabough said her dad was a 44-year veteran of Alcoa, Inc., and her mother was a homemaker. “She was legally blind her whole life. She and her brother had a genetic eye disease. She never looked at it as being a handicap. I always asked her how she could function in a normal way. She said, ‘If you’ve never been able to see any better than I, it’s much easier for me to deal with than somebody who has great vision and loses it,’” Clabough said. “She had a great attitude about her disability. She never felt sorry for her self and never let it hamper her.”

Clabough said she and Bill have known each their entire lives. “We got married right out of high school. I worked while he went to school, and he returned the favor when I decided to go back to school after our children were grown,” she said.

Clabough said her husband’s grandfather started the family’s store in Wildwood in 1919 and her father-in-law, Bill’s dad, went into the business after World War II. In 1956 he built the structure the store occupied until it closed. Bill went into the business when he graduated the University of Tennessee in 1971.

“I went to work in the business when our son was young on a part-time basis. As the children got older, I invested more time in the business and was able to help out a lot when Bill won his House seat and went to Nashville in 1994,” she said. “I pretty much managed the business while he was out of town.”

Clabough said it was difficult going from spending 12 to 14 hours a day working with someone and then all of a sudden she didn’t see him for four days at a time. “That part was really difficult. I don’t think folks understand the huge sacrifice families make for someone in the family to participate in public service. It’s a huge commitment of time and effort and really a commitment for the whole family,” she said.

Clabough said one of the things she and Bill had always prided themselves in was conversation with one another and talking things out.

“When you’re separated by that kind of space and time, you’re not able to bounce things off one another. There were times I had to make decisions at the business when I normally would have really consulted with him. But if he was in session, it was really difficult,” she said.

Bill had a passion for public service, Judy said, “and not all the times surroundings with being a state senator were negative. When Bill was sworn in, our whole family went down. That was a great day. Our daughter was able to sing the national anthem for the opening session,” she said. “That was a real treat for us. It was a really special day. Several times we did special things like that when we would go down and be involved.”

About five years ago the Clabough’s had the opportunity to sell their family store. The decision wasn’t an easy one.

“That was one of the toughest decisions. We really loved the business and loved the people and felt such a connection with the community,” Judy said. “But we had an opportunity to sell, and we were concerned since everything we had was invested in that business. If we got to the point where we were ready to retire, would we be able to recoup our investment in the business at that time? So, when that opportunity came, we couldn’t ignore it.”

Clabough said she and her husband chose to sell the 6,000 square foot store, but neither was ready to retire. “There are times in life you have to make really tough choices. It was especially tough for Bill. The business was such an integral part of his life and his family’s life. We still miss seeing people. I miss catching up with folks,” she said.

“We don’t miss the hours or long days, but we had great employees and a great connection with the community.”

While both their children worked in the store, neither wanted to pursue a similar line of work. “Both went on to get undergraduate and MBAs. We’re really proud of both kids. Both have done excellent and are very responsible adults,” she said.

Clabough said their children saw the long hours she and her husband invested to make the business successful. They also saw the fallacy that owning your own business means no one tells you what to do. When Clabough went back to school to earn her anthropology degree, she would often hear young people make comments that people who own the business don’t have a boss and don’t have anyone to answer to, she said.

“Running your own business is not being your own boss,” she said. “Everyone who walks in is your boss. You have to answer to somebody. It’s not like you get a free ride. It’s not as easy as people think,” she said.

The family has grown as both children married and grandchildren came into the picture. “Both of our children are married to wonderful spouses, and we love them dearly. Our son has two children. Jacob is 9, and Jewel, who is 6 going on 35,” she said with a laugh.

Clabough said that while Jewel doesn’t remember much about the store, Jacob does. “Jacob is always wanting to know when we’re going back to the store. What he remembers is getting movies to take home and watch. That’s his connection. He doesn’t understand about the whole concept of that investment in time and effort,” she said.

Clabough said her grandchildren call her “Ammie” because her intention was for them to call her Grammie. Jacob was first, however, and he couldn’t say Js or Gs, so she became Ammie.

“Bill used to call his Grandfather Clabough, Papa. We thought it would be great if his grandchildren call him Papa, and that’s what we are, Papa and Ammie,” she said.

When Clabough isn’t working she can usually be found playing with Matchbox cars or reading to her grandchildren. “My time is spent doing what they want to do. We spend a lot of time reading books or playing with Matchbox cars,” she said.

Clabough said she loves to read. “I’m an avid reader. I love historical romances. That’s my mindless reading, but I guess my favorite all-time book that I’ve read in the last couple years was the Colin Powell book ‘My American Journey.’ It’s an autobiography, and I think things like that are fun,” she said.

Clabough also enjoys gardening. “I just don’t get to do a lot of it,” she said.

While she has plenty of work to do with her new job, Clabough said Bill was excited by the new opportunity and has always helped her. “I went back to school when our children were almost adultsm, and he was always really supportive and picked up the slack when I had to be at school or studying,” she said. “He’s always been incredibly supportive of anything I wanted to do.”

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