NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Longtime Tennessee State Senator Thelma Harper died at the age of 80 on Thursday. Friends are now remembering the North Nashville icon who transformed politics in Tennessee.
It was her stylish, wide brimmed hats that she became known for. A signature trademark backed by tenacity, compassion, courage, and a commitment to community.
“I mean — you couldn’t find a better advocate for this community than Senator Harper,” said former Nashville councilmember Jamie Isabel.
Isabel says he was like a son to Senator Harper and her husband Paul Harper. First coming to know them while he was a student at Tennessee State University.
Harper then called Isabel to manage her historic campaign to become the first African American female state senator in Tennessee.
“She was very impactful— my issues were the same as Thelma’s, Senator Harper, we care more about our constituents, and that’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day those people punch you a ticket and she understood that those who she had to represent,” he said.
From putting her body on the line, to end landfill dumping in her district.
“She and several community people actually stood in front the dump trucks to block them from continuing to dump in that area,” Ed Kindall, a former Nashville councilman and Board of Education member said.
To facing forces of inequity, friends say Harper never backed down from a challenge.
“Thelma Harper was the first black female Senator in Tennessee, state Senator, that takes bravery,” said Rev. Enoch Fuzz, pastor at Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church, “You have to be bold.”
While finally having a seat at the table for nearly three decades, Harper worked tirelessly to advocate for the 19th senate district.
“One thing that Senator Harper did in those early years is that she represented this community in the white community and that took boldness and bravery.”
And throughout her public service, she had a focus on children both in education and a famed Easter egg hunt thousands of kids participated in.
Her legacy, according to those who knew her, will undoubtedly live on.
“That’s the hat lady they called her, so I’m going to say hats off to Senator Thelma Harper.”