The Marshall Theater and Mrs. R.T. Hill

Ed Winton

The Marshall Theater and Mrs. R.T. Hill

The Marshall Theater was a very distinctive landmark on the corner of Grundy and Wall streets.

For me, there are many, mostly military, definitions of Marshall. One that jumps out is “lead or guide ceremoniously.”  It seems to follow, considering the theater’s owner, Mrs. R.T. Hill, and her leadership style.

Hill was as distinctive as the building bearing her maiden name. Hill was also a sizable real estate holder of rental homes in the area and was known for her fair and honorable administration of that business. There are no known accounts of children being held ransom for rental fees. Over the years, Hill was honored by various community service groups for her civic-minded contributions to Tullahoma and the surrounding communities.

While these activities were important to her, she enjoyed playing bridge with her “buds” on a regular basis in her home and elsewhere. The game would sometimes get competitive and intense and even elevate to name-calling. Fortunately, all sidearms were checked at the door, cooler heads prevailed and no shots were fired.

Her favorite place to be was her usual seat on the second level of the theater. She was always impeccably dressed and looked quite regal in her nice chair. One was reminded of general order number one of the orders for guard duty at military installations: “Take charge of this post and all military property in view until properly relieved.”

I also believe she lived the spirit and intent of the last verse of William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis.

She and Christine Hunt ran a smooth but tight entry system to ensure the safety of the moviegoers. A pleasant smile, but well-trained eyes, ensured that submachine guns, stick horses, cap pistols and moonshine were kept out of the theater.

Hill usually tried to have entertainment on Saturdays prior to a doubleheader Western. The programs focused on education, art and light comedy. Despite this well-intentioned effort, there was a huge dichotomy – 10 minutes into the first feature, 17 Indians were shot and an equal number of cowboys had fallen from their horses full of well-placed arrows; far more exciting though than some monotone artist drawing pictures, etc.

Hill would do her walk-around as she exercised the requirements of general order number one. No doubt, on occasion she observed a first kiss for those daring enough to execute such a bold move and probably observed the roving moves of clandestine hands trying to hold something hot other than a bag of popcorn.

As she sat in her regal chair and watched the lines of aspirants for future combat engineers, smoke jumpers, nurses, doctors, secretaries, accountants, librarians and such, she watched us make our small tracks through the deep valley of life as the journey impacted our hearts and behavior.

While she observed us coming and going, we were scarcely aware of her care and concern for us. She contributed to a host of ways to support the social fabric and growth of the Tullahoma community.

The Marshall was, in many ways, a symbol of the diversity of the thriving metropolises of Flowertown, Fairview, Normandy, Estill Springs, Lynchburg and the many business giants, brokerages, firms and other financial empires surrounding Tullahoma.

It would have been easy for her to rush through her routine watchfulness without pondering the people and events, but she took the time to let us know we counted. A soft pat on one’s head pretty much made one “king for a day” and caused one to strut in a certain way after such special attention. Her pats were given with love, as were Rebecca Thompson’s at the church next door where Hill was also a real presence as a friend to the First Christian Church. She was loved by the congregation for her benevolence and good will. Back in the ’50s, pats on the head conveyed special approval when it was needed most.

Particularly important to her was her love for, and devotion to, her Jessie Billingsley Circle of ladies at First Christian Church. On one occasion, she orchestrated the burning of a mortgage on a church property in front of the church congregation. Mrs. Aileen Owens served as the “torch lady.”

Additionally, she delighted in taking a ride north of 41A with other church ladies to enjoy a nice, and mostly unannounced, visit for conversation, culminating in having home cooked vittles at Miss Ada’s house. These heartfelt visits buoyed up the household of the hostess considerably.

To borrow from an old poem about Christians, this account has caused me to rejuvenate in age, has driven away the cares of maturity and has brought a rich, warm glow to my aging heart. I add this comment unapologetically because it is too close to home not to have it encapsulated in the many tiers of emotions surrounding this time as I remember it.

A Tullahoma native, Ed Winton graduated from Tullahoma High School in 1956 and was a star football player for the Tullahoma Wildcats Football team.  He attended college at Tennessee Technology University in Cookeville, but then transferred to Auburn where he was a part of the ROTC program. Upon graduating, Winton was commissioned into the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.  He graduated from MTSU with a Master of Arts in industrial technology.  He is also a graduate of the Command and General Staff College.  He and his wife, Wendy, now live in Houston.