The Tullahoma News is mourning the loss of one of our own this week.
Betty Dement, who spent more than 50 years in the newsroom here, died Tuesday, Jan. 22.
“Betty was one of those rare individuals who dedicated her life to practicing community journalism,” said Lakeway Publishers President Jack Fishman. “She cared about her community and loved to write about the people and places in it. She loved to write the stories that make our lives better, and she was a master at sharing her skills through the years with younger interns. We will miss her. Tullahoma and Coffee County have lost a true patriot.”
Dement joined The News in 1962, just as the newspaper was converting from old typesetting methods to more modern offset printing. She was promoted to managing editor in 1977, a position she held until 2015.
She also at one time was the paper’s primary photographer and in 1964 she co-founded Tempo magazine, which remains a monthly supplement to all mid-state Lakeway Publishers newspapers. Dement served as Tempo editor until her retirement in March 2018.
Before coming to The News, Dement worked at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.
“Betty Dement’s determination, years of service and commitment to her readers, to this organization and to her craft are unmatched,” said Brian Blackley, publisher of The Tullahoma News and group manager of Lakeway Publishers of Middle Tennessee. “There’s no close second. It’s not only remarkable, it’s amazing. That’s a big part of the legacy she leaves behind – beyond the words on paper that affected so many people over the years. She was one of a kind in her devotion to her readers and to the community.”
Dement earned a journalism degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she was the editor of The Orange & White, the student newspaper. She also completed graduate work in English at Middle Tennessee State University.
In earlier days at The News, she was recognized for her black and white photographs, and a collection of them was featured in a showing at The Tullahoma Fine Arts Center. Dement said she loved black and white photography because the crispness and the contrast appealed to her the most. She won several photography awards in the annual Tennessee Press Association newspaper contest.
She also served two terms as president of TPA’s annual newspaper contest.
Susan Campbell, who retired as editor of The News in 2018, said Dement was a trailblazer.
“Betty began her newspaper career during a time when female reporters were rare and often frowned upon, and helped pave the way for the rest of us,” Campbell said. “She had a front-row seat to the evolution of the industry, from hot metal presses and dark rooms to totally digital newsrooms. Betty was demanding but fair, and kept in touch with many of the hundreds of young reporters she helped train who moved on to larger newspapers or into other fields.
“Betty hired me twice – the first time in 1986 for my first real reporting job,” Campbell continued. “Early on, I wrote a humorous column on ‘supermoms’ that a reader found offensive and wrote to let me know. I decided to respond to her personally with my reasons for writing it when Betty stopped me. ‘We don’t do that,’ she said. ‘Never take it personally.’ It was the best piece of advice she ever gave me.”
“Betty was remarkable,” said Andrea Agardy, current editor of The News. “She had an encyclopedic knowledge of the area and the people who live here and was generous with that knowledge and with her time. Betty deeply loved this community and that devotion was evident in her writing and her dedication to ensuring The News served its readers well.”
A resident of Normandy, Dement built a home on her family’s farm, overlooking the Duck River.
When not in the office or waving at kayakers passing by her home, Dement volunteered in the community, including serving on the board of the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center and supporting Tennessee Walking Horse Shows in Shelbyville and Wartrace. She said she wanted to be an asset to her community and preferred to work behind the scenes in her volunteer efforts.
Dement is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Ashley and Tonya Dement; and two grandchildren, Paige Dement Sebastian and her husband, Michael Berry Sebastian II, and Ashton Arthur Thomas Dement.
A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25 at Tullahoma First Presbyterian Church, 204 E. Grundy St., with Dr. Michael Bradley and the Rev. Stephen Yates officiating. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations in Betty Dement’s name be made to First Presbyterian Church of Tullahoma or the Coffee County Child Advocacy Center.
A full obituary can be found on page 6 of this issue.