At first glance, nothing in Edith O'Keefe Susong's early years indicates that she would become a success in a tough, financially precarious business that counted its failures in the thousands.
She was born in Greeneville and grew up in a gracious home where she was taught to be a lady. School was Miss Jenny Ellett's School for Girls (later St. Catherine's) in Richmond and Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. A charming, witty young woman, she was a social belle who organized dances and parties for her many young friends. She was, in the words of a contemporary, "the spark of the community." Her marriage to socially prominent lawyer, David Shields Susong, was one of the highlights of Greeneville's social season in 1911.
But within five years, at the age of 26, she moved into the male-dominated business world when she took over a dying newspaper. Over the next four years she combined it with two other failing publications to create a highly successful daily--the Greeneville Sun. And for more than 50 years she not only wrote for the paper almost daily, she managed its business operations as publisher.
She was one of the first--if not the first--female publishers of a daily newspaper in Tennessee.
Mrs. Susong had not intended to be a newspaper publisher. In fact, after college she taught public school for several years and cared for her own two small children. But in 1916 her husband had taken an almost defunct newspaper, the Democrat, as a legal fee. He cared little for the property and when she expressed an interest in it he gladly turned it over to her.
In 1919 she acquired the failing Searchlight and the following year, in partnership with her parents, she took over the failing Greeneville Sun. The combined newspaper was known as the Democrat-Sun but she soon realized that in Republican-dominated Greeneville, the prudent thing to do was to drop the word Democrat from the name.
Her mother, Quincy Marshall O'Keefe, reluctantly became editor and her father, William H. O'Keefe, the business manager of the Greeneville Sun.
For more than 50 years she championed every major project undertaken in her community from historic preservation to new industries. She became a recognized leader who used her newspaper's columns and her own charm and persuasive speaking skills to convince major industries such as Pet Milk to locate in Greene County. She also championed the cause of agriculture and devoted countless hours of her personal time to improve the cultural life of her community. Her public service brought her honors as Outstanding Newspaper Woman of the Nation in 1950 and for more than 15 years she was listed as one of seven "Notable Women in Tennessee History."
Consummate business woman, community leader, political activist--she was all of these and more. But most of all, Edith O'Keefe Susong was a writer who knew the power of words. She could use them with blinding clarity one moment to analyze a social or political wrong and then with charm and grace the next to produce a lighthearted paean to a pet poodle.
Edith O'Keefe Susong and Quincy Marshall O'Keefe are now the only mother and daughter both to be elected to the Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame. Mrs. O'Keefe was honored in 1979.