February 2014

Dr. Nat Winston, Jr., former Johnson City resident, leading psychiatrist, healthcare pioneer, previous Commissioner of Mental Health and a past candidate for governor of Tennessee, passed away peacefully on December 31, 2013. Susan Taylor Carson, a close friend of the Winston family, forwarded me several notes of conversations she had with Nat's widow, Martha Winston. She also scanned and sent a number of photos obtained from Mrs. Winston.

Susan is from a well-known Johnson City family. Her parents were Sam and Betty Taylor who owned and operated Taylor Furniture Co. at Boone and King streets in downtown Johnson City. Nat and Sam grew up across the street from each other on Welbourne and E. 8th avenues, went through school together and joined the Army together during WWII. 

Older area residents will likely recall Dr. Winston, who operated as a psychiatrist out of his office at 404 N. Boone near Watauga, launched a highly successful crusade in the healthcare field and enjoyed a long and rewarding career of doing what he did best – helping people.

Dr. Nat Winston in His Younger Years

Nat's star was already beginning to rise as a student at Science Hill High School. The 1944 yearbook impressively said it all: “Worthy, Courage, Honor, these indeed your sustenance and birthright are. College Preparatory and State: Madrigal Club; Reporter, Prayer Group; President, Glee Club; President, National Honor Society; ROTC, Major; Student Council; ROTC Metal; President, 10-B Class; President, 10-A Class; Reporter, 11-B Class; Reporter; 11-A Class; Reporter, 12-B Class; President, 12-B Class; and President, 12-A Class.”

In addition, Nat was voted “Most Outstanding Senior,” “Best All Around Senior Boy,” “Most Popular Boy” and “Best Executive” and received more senior superlatives than any student in the school's history to that date. 

According to Susan, “Nat was Tennessee's Commissioner of Mental Health under two governors: Buford Ellington and Frank Clement. Nat was so popular that a large contingency of supporters begged him to run for governor, in the Republican primary, which he did in 1974.

“Nat's contributions to our city, state and country should not be overlooked or understated. After graduating from Vanderbilt medical school, he came back to Johnson City and set up the first mental health clinic. From here, he went to Chattanooga to establish and manage Moccasin Bend Mental Health Hospital. He changed the way the medical profession treated mentally ill patients and, in the mid 1960s, Reader's Digest wrote a feature article about him, recognizing that he spawned the birth of a quiet psychiatric revolution.”

“Nat was a very popular and highly sought after public speaker and storyteller throughout the nation and he used his banjo to tell stories of the mountain folks of Appalachia, for whom he had a deep love.

“Nat, Jr. was a son of Nat, Sr., who was once president of Home Federal Savings and Loan Association and president and director of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce.

“Nat and his father together built a cabin deep on the side of Grandfather Mountain. It was there that he got to know and love the mountain people of rural North Carolina, deeply immersing himself in the study of Appalachian history. He made field recordings of the residents and recorded an album in 1966 entitled 'All the Good Times Are Past and Gone,' in which he included the recordings of the mountain-told stories of courtship, feuding, moonshining and others.”

In 1962, Nat wrote and recorded a banjo instructional record and course that was distributed through Sears, Roebuck & Co. It sold over a million recordings, for which he received a gold record. It was the first true how-to-play Scruggs style banjo instruction published.

Nat's mother, Mrs. Nat T. (Naomi) Winston, Jr. was a school teacher at Stratton and then Junior High School in the 1940s and 50s. Many students from that era may recall that she frequently talked about her son in class, usually discussing his love of old-time music and especially the banjo.

Susan indicated that Dr. Winston first met Earl Scruggs when he was a medical school resident at Vanderbilt University. Earl was in a serious automobile accident and was laid up in the hospital in Nashville. Nat and Earl quickly became best fiends, with the popular banjo picker becoming a frequent guest at Nat's cabin in North Carolina. When the doctor moved to Nashville in the mid 1960s, he was Earl's neighbor and became the go-to psychiatrist for the troubles of many country music stars.

In 1964, Winston made an 11-minute music video for a local television feature with Earl Scruggs at Nat's home. The video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDxHws7r6qs. The jam session is quite entertaining, even though the quality deteriorates toward the end.

Dr. Nat Winston in His Older Years (others are Earl Scruggs (left) and John Hartford (right)) 

In 1971, Dr. Winston was called on to appear on Ralph Edwards “This Is Your Life” nationally syndicated television program. That night the producers shined the big spotlight on country music singer, Johnny Cash. The entertainer was surprised during a filming of his hit television program, “The Johnny Cash Show.” He had just finished welcoming the studio audience when his wife, June Carter Cash, walked onstage unannounced and abruptly introduced Ralph Edwards to the bafflement of her husband. Between moments of laughter and sadness, the singer was overcome with emotion several times.

Ralph Edwards introduced Nat as the president of the American Psychiatric Hospitals, Inc. His brief portion of the show can be viewed at 4:15 on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEdU8KhNGuA). Nat told the audience, “I gambled on John and we both won.” Johnny, knowing that Nat was instrumental in helping the singer overcome serious problems at the peak of his career, said to Nat as he was walking away, “You're a fine banjo player too.”  

Martha Winston recalled that Nat often talked about the time he received a call from June Carter Cash urging him to treat her husband. Although Johnny would not agree to enter a hospital for rehabilitation, he was perfectly willing for Nat to come to his Hendersonville, Tennessee home for private therapy. Nat did this over a period of one year, visiting Johnny every day after work without accepting compensation. He did it out of friendship and love for Johnny and members of the Carter family. Also, since he was serving as Commissioner of Mental Health, he felt it would be a conflict of interest to continue to treat patients for a fee while he was serving the state.

“Johnny Cash credited Nat,” said Susan, “both in his biography and publicly on the Larry King Show for his medical treatments that restored his life and career.

“On one visit, “Nat told him of James “Tiger” Whitehead, a colorful Carter County mountaineer, mill operator and bear hunter (reportedly killed 99 bears during his lifetime). On another trip to Nat's cabin, he took Johnny to visit Tiger's grave on Tiger Creek Road between Hampton and Roan Mountain. Johnny was so impressed by the story that he wrote “The Ballad of Tiger Whitehead,'” which he later recorded on an album. Nat had no idea that Johnny gave him credit as co-writer until one day when he received a royalty check. Listen to Johnny talk about Tiger Whitehead and sing the song at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjcegbdjH5g.

Nat had a quite interesting ancestry; the famous Taylor brothers, Governors, Alf and Bob were his kin. Locally, Harrison Taylor is also his relative and is a fine historian as well.

Carson further iterated : “Nat helped many people from all walks of life, not just the famous. In later years, he headed up a Nashville facility to treat at-risk teenage boys and then later specialized in the treatment of sexually abused women while he worked at a hospital in Jackson, Tennessee and then wrote a book on the subject.”

I asked Susan if she played the kind of music that Nat loved. “As for me,” she said, “I chair the ETSU Development Council for the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies Program. It was Nat who started me playing the banjo and guitar in the mid 1960s. After my father's passing in 1974, Nat became somewhat of a surrogate father to me and I spent much time with him in recent years assisting Martha in the care of Nat's failing health. He was a great influence on my life, as well as upon the lives of many who knew him.

“Nat's family requested that memorials be given to the Council, which is a part of the ETSU's Department of Appalachian Studies. It is so fitting because he was passionate about the people and music history of Appalachia. In addition, he and his father have given many historically interesting documents and artifacts to the Reece Museum and Archives of Appalachia. It has been suggested that a room within the museum be named in his honor and legacy. We in the department would be very grateful.

“We are hoping to raise enough money through Nat's memorial to start a Winston scholarship. He would have been thrilled about that. He loved this music so much. I took one of our best fiddle students to his house and to visit him in the hospital where we entertained him. He was delighted and spoke of that often.”

In conclusion, Doris Cox Anderson, my aunt, who was in the same graduating class as Nat, recalled him by saying, “Not only was he a handsome man, he was also very friendly and highly intelligent. I am not surprised that he went on to have such a stellar career and life.”

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In April 1891, two years after being in office, President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), the 23rd President of the United States (grandson of William Henry Harrison, the 9th President) had begun what was widely regarded as a perilous 9,000-mile journey by train.  After the President rolled out of Washington Station, the next morning's newspapers were studded with quotes at each brief stop of well-expressed speeches for which he was known.

At Roanoke, Bristol, Johnson City, Jonesboro, Greeneville, Morristown and Knoxville, he was warmly received, not only by members of his own faction, but also by citizens of sundry opinions who wanted to get a peek at their leader. 

The president was recognized for his cleverness in making short, sudden, fugitive addresses, such as were well-suited for a hurried long railroad excursion across the vast country. In these addresses, he was not afraid of politics but talked unreservedly of thorny issues.

President Benjamin Harrison

Although his trip was deemed perilous, it was not assumed that anything might happen physically to the state-of-the-art vestibule vehicle that carried his entourage along the way. It was made of the best available rolling stock available and equipped with the most modern safeguards and luxurious components available. The chances were all together in favor of its carrying him comfortably over many miles without problems.

Although it was possible that the vehicle could encounter spread rails, which would cause it to leave the tracks, tumble through an open drawbridge, fall down a steep embankment or come upon a railway bridge too weak to support it, a transportation calamity of this magnitude was highly improbable.

What his supporters regarded as the real danger of the long trip was that the President might foolishly, by some careless words and actions, cause harm in his getting his party's future nomination at the Republican National Convention of 1892. In spite or his public speaking skills, he was especially vulnerable because his first term was anything but stellar. His detractors had a lot to talk about.

For those critics who said that the president, a brigadier general, was, figuratively speaking, riding along with full intention of acquiring the nomination, he was cautioned that even the ablest man was apt to make mistakes in circumstances far less trying than his. 

Then, assuming that the central figure avoided all blunders of his own, the unexpected was always likely to happen, events over which he had no control, but which could be embarrassing to him and hurtful to his political future. The rule which used to hold back the public appearance of an avowed candidate, one even whose name was already upon the ticket, was founded as much on good sense as on conventional correctness.

Mr. Harrison was a man of first-rate common sense, whatever might have been the measure of his other qualities. He was not usually at the mercy of his impulses. Perhaps he was not on his way to the next presidential convention as many suggested, but possibly the primary motive to his long journey was to see the vastness and beauty of the American countryside.

His critics would not accept such a theory, being convinced to the contrary. Yet there were those who believed that no other explanation could be found for the fact that a self-contained, cool, careful man seemed to fly flatly in the face of the old English axiom: “To stay at home is best.”

However, the President did not shy away from certain controversial subjects such as the McKinley Law that raised the average duty on imports to almost fifty percent, an act designed to shield domestic industries from foreign competition. He was equally explicit and emphatic in regard to the radical principles underlying the law.

No mention was made of where in Johnson City the train stopped, how long it remained there or the size of the crowd that assembled to hear their president. This was before the Southern Depot that many of us remember was located between W. Market  and N. Roan was built. 

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The recent passing of W. Hanes Lancaster, Jr. evoked my recollections and fondness of early television comedians whom I eagerly looked forward to watching every week. The following is an brief exercise to see how many of the funnymen listed below you can match with their corresponding descriptors. If you do well on it, you are likely on Social Security. 

Free Service Tire Stores Philco TV Advertisement, 1954

Here are the names: 1. Milton Berle, 2. Jackie Gleason, 3. Sid Caesar, 4. Red Skelton, 5. Bob Hope, 6. Jack Benny, 7. Jimmy Durante, 8. Ed Wynn, 9. Eddie Cantor and 10 Ernie Kovacs.

Here is the information about each one. The answers are revealed at the end.

A: Known as “Mr. Television.” Credited with boosting television sales with his brash and raucous comedy and zany guests. Hosted “The Texaco Star” program that was broadcast every Tuesday night from 1948 until 1956. 

B: Hit the big screen in 1952. Favorite expression when he became exasperated, was “Well!” Owned a Maxwell automobile. Kept his money in a heavily guarded and fortified underground vault in his basement. Good violinist but purposely played his violin poorly to incite laughs. Reportedly made provisions to sent his wife a single red rose long after his passing.

C: Evolved from the stages of vaudeville. Appeared on 1950s television on such shows as “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “All Star Revue” and “Four Star Revue.” Acquired the nickname, “The Schnoz” because of his particularly large snout. Played piano and sang. Theme song: “Inka Dinka Doo.” Concluded each show with the expression, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

D: Had a long and illustrious career in all aspects of show business. First became known to television audiences in 1950 on “The Colgate Comedy Hour.” Trademarks were his banjo eyes and outstretched hands. Served as host of  a TV syndicated comedy theatre that bore his name.

E: Signed on to television in 1951. Performing in several series that originated in Philadelphia. Usually seen holding a cigar. Acquired his own series in 1955. Became especially creative using cameras and other technical equipment to produce visual deception. Portrayed an exaggerated character, the lisping, half-soused poet, Percy Dovetonsils. 

F: Made folks laugh with his distinctive facial expressions. Journey to stardom included a 90-minute program titled “Your Show of Shows.” An accomplished saxophonist. He and co-star, Imogene Coca acted out skits with realism. Talented at performing on a bare stage without elaborate props or embellished costumes.

G: Successfully transferred from radio to television. Became an American institution. After starring in several shows, began offering monthly specials. Brought much attention each year by taking his Christmas program overseas to cheer lonesome servicemen. Became a pro at generating laughter with barbed comments on social and political issues. Died soon after reaching the age of 100.

H: Heavyweight who once fractured his leg during a show skit that allowed him to convert reality into comedy. Was chosen to be the first season's Chester A. Riley in the hit TV show, “The Life of Riley” (replaced by William Bendix). Began a series of highly-popular sketches known as “The Honeymooners.” Co-stars: Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph.

I: Became a television favorite after acting in two dozen Hollywood comedy and musical movies. Achieved popularity by using an array of madcap characters on his show. Brand of comedy could be characterized as more physical than verbal. Often injected a note of melancholy into his portrayals, such as a character known as Freddie the Freeloader at Christmas time dancing with a doll that briefly came to life to befriend and console him. 

J: Acquired the names, “The Fire Chief” and “The Perfect Fool.” Hosted a variety show in 1949-50. Wore bizarre costumes and displayed a high-pitched cackle. Later, became a situation-comedy actor. Switched to being a dramatic actor after a successful portrayal in a “Playhouse 90” program titled, “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”    

Answers: 1A, 2H, 3F, 4I, 5G, 6B, 7C, 8J, 9D, 10E.

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In 1921, an advertisement in a local Johnson City newspaper contained these words: “If  you are going to farm, why not sell out and buy where you can get every advantage for yourself and family?” The real estate ad was placed by Stanyarne Little of the Johnson City Development Company (later known as the Stanyarne Little Co.

The firm's office was at 108 N. Roan Street (later at 307-309 S. Roan). Little was president-treasurer; Thad Cox, vice-president; and H.M. Brown, secretary. Further research indicates that the company owned Cherokee Heights in Johnson City.

Interested parties were urged to write and inquire about the seven pieces of property listed in the ad. The farms, although not explicitly identified, were located close to Johnson City, “where the best of good roads had been built and where the best schools were to be found anywhere in Tennessee.”

Of particular note, mention was made that the new owners could educate their children from primary grades through the State Normal School. Another plus was that it was in the best market in the south for wheat, corn, oats, hay, cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry and vegetable products.

Mr. Little invited newspaper readers to visit Johnson City and let the company show them a highly industrious city where the $550,000 John Sevier Hotel was under construction, boasting that there was “nothing quite like it in the South.” Also, a new facility, Appalachian Hospital, was being built at a cost of $165,000; a $300,000 apartment house making it the sixth to be built; and other large improvements underway.

At that time, there were between 90 and 100 first class residences being built and a number of permits issued to others who were preparing to build. The estimated cost of total building in the city for 1921 had already reached the $2.5 million mark.

The announcement stated that there was no city in Tennessee twice its size that had half the business being conducted. The reader was urged to visit other nearby towns and compare what they saw there with what the people of Johnson City were doing. After duly endorsing the Johnson City area, the company invited the public to check out the seven farms they were selling in their ad:

“90 Acres/$10,500: Good farm four miles from Johnson City with first class improvements. House has six rooms with carbide lights, good cold storage house, good barn, rolling land and has large frontage on Southern Railway. About 30 acres in young poplar timber and worth half the price of the farm. Is in a high state of cultivation and well situated for trucking and the raising of poultry.

“71.5Acres/$8,500: Located 1.5 miles from railway station, churches, four year high school and county seat. 60 acres in cultivation. Balance is woodland. Spring branch running through farm. Five room house and suitable outbuildings. Attractive proposition for the price asked. Terms, one third cash, balance in one, two or three years with six percent  interest.

“57.5 Acres/$7,000: Good land, 20-acre creek bottom with fine stand of grass. Ten acres of timber. Large bold spring, good barn and granary. Located on good road, one-quarter mile from rock pike within a mile of the railway station, churches and 4-year high school.

“14.5 Acres/$3,750: Small farm of 14.5 acres just outside the corporate limits of Johnson City on old Watauga road and Southern Railway. Two story house, five rooms, convenient to market, stores, churches, schools. Land adapted to truck, fruit and poultry. Good terms.

“7 Acres/$5,500: In high state of cultivation with 7-room bungalow finished in no. 1 material, Has grates, mantels, porches, large concrete basement, metal roof. Good barn with 30-ton silo, six concrete stalls hay fork and metal roof. Other outbuildings include concrete spring house with smokehouse above, chicken house and wood house. Only seven minutes walk from car line. Has large grape arbor. Running water furnished by three springs.

“7 Acres/$4,000: Short distance from the city. Seven acres of good rich garden land with full equipment for poultry raising. Includes five room house, metal roof, with bored well under cover adjoining kitchen. On a graded road in a good community. Price is right, terms easy.

“5 Acres/$2,100: Located 2.5 miles from Johnson City on Elizabethton Pike midway between Johnson City and Milligan College. Excellent location for a suburban home. Good terms.”

What a treasure this represented – ample choice land available in East Tennessee in 1921.

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