The cold end of February will stretch out longer than usual for our hometown with an additional day referred to as Leap Day 2020, because of the calendar adjusting Leap Year that occurs once every four years.
My birthday took place February 29, 1944 in the dawn hours at Miami, Florida. Today we are talking with a much younger Leap Year baby, Tammy Ellison. Over the years I have interviewed a few such people born on the 29th but not many.
One of my favorites and well known to Cocke County was the late Illiff McMahan, former newspaperman turned politician and then Washington, DC resident where he was an administrator with the National Labor Relations Board.
He would host birthday celebrations at the Newport Holiday Inn and invite as many Leap Year birthday people as possible.
To see what was going on in Newport on and around Feb. 29, 1964, when Tammy was born, I pulled out the heavy bound volume of the Newport Plain Talk editions. There was a February 27, Thursday edition. The Plain Talk published only Monday and Thursday in the 1960s.
It was the year Merchants & Planers Bank celebrated its 75th year at its downtown location. And Elworth’s Shoes opened in Newport next to the W. R. Nease business. Elworth featured women’s shoes for $1 per pair.
In sports news Newport basketball dominated the pages because CCHS beat Bulls Gap Bulldogs 53-48 to win their third district title. Top scorer with 21 points was Mike Ramsey, whose photo appeared with other team members at Chuckey Doak High School.
The Feb. 27, 1964 Kiwanis Korner news featured this item: Ronald Haynes is the newest member of the Newport Kiwanis Club presented by Paul Williams on behalf of Charles Kickliter.
The March 2 Plain Talk announced New Arrivals, including three births on February 29, 1964: Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Ellison of 404 Melton Rd. are parents of a daughter born Feb. 29 at Valentine Shults; Mr. and Mrs. Doby Reed of Del Rio the parents of a son born Feb. 29 at Mims Clinic; Mr. and Mrs. John Miller of Rt. 4, Dandridge, parents of a son born Feb. 29 at Mims Clinic.
Tammy’s parents were Leroy Ellison of Del Rio, the son of Clayton and Lilly Ellison, and Orlevia Freeman Ellison. They had four children: Vickie Clevenger, who is married to Ronnie and lives at Green Acres; Tammy of Mulberry Street; Leroy Ellison, Jr., who died in 2014; and Clinton Darnell “Skip” Ellison, married to Rebecca.
The family moved from Melton to Knoxville Hwy and then Mulberry where Tammy still lives. She went to West End, Northwest and then Cocke County High School graduating in 1982.
Dad worked at Wood Products but spent most of his working years at Lea Industries in Morristown and at age 78 is retired and lives with his wife next door to Tammy. You might have known their neighbors: Nannie Hale, who lived to be 106, and the Hightower twins, Allene and Arlene.
After high school Tammy moved to Gatlinburg to work. She was at Ginnie in a Bottle, World of Illusions, and worked at many restaurants, many times holding two jobs at once.
She has a son, Garrett “Skip” Ellison, age 27, who is married to the former Kelly Johnson. There is also her pride, grandson Sam, age 6.
Today, Tammy is a junior supervisor with Ripley Attractions working many of Ripley’s various amusement locations in Gatlinburg. She said the most enjoyable parts of her job are “all the sweet people I meet and talk to.”
Life was not always fun at work and the usual school days. As a child she suffered with leg and bone problems but got treatment thanks to March of Dimes Easter Seals. A Feb. 1989 car crash further injured her left leg but it has not gotten in the way of her staying employed.
That same year in May, her brother Leroy Ellison, Jr. was seriously injured in a car crash near Chestnut Hill on Hwy. 411. He spent three months in a coma and became a quadriplegic because of head trauma. Prior to the crash he was extremely athletic. At age 23 he could no longer walk or move his arms.
I asked Tammy what she planned to do special on her 14th Leap Year birthday. On Saturday she planned to be in Townsend to attend the wedding of her friends Betty Lee Campbell and Seth Carter, who will have had a Leap Year marriage. I wonder if they will have an anniversary only every four years?