Activist for libraries honored

Bob Gregory (holding green shirt) was recognized during an event at Briceville Library in September. — Submitted
Longtime library activist Bob Gregory was honored on Sept. 20 for his years of dedication and service to the libraries of Anderson County.

The event was held at the Briceville Public Library — a library that was built in part because of his efforts.

Gregory’s first impact on libraries came in the form of equal pay for librarians. At the time, county library employees weren’t even making minimum wage.

“The library employees were separate entities up until that point,” explained Anderson County Library board member Katherine Smith. “They were not under the county classification. Many of those ladies had been making less than minimum wage for years.”

Gregory was not OK with that. He approached the county commission in hopes they could work together to get the employees on the county’s pay scale.

It worked.

Some library employees’ pay went up as much as 40-percent.

“They worked out job descriptions and classifications,” said Smith, “and got them under the regular system finally. The library pays separately but at least they were able to get a decent wage.”

Gregory received an award from the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association for that.

“I’ve always felt, perhaps because of my Boy Scout training, that I had an obligation to help my community,” Gregory said. “I’ve always done things or participated in things in one way or another. I believe in education, learning and literacy. I’ve always seemed to feel that I need to contribute back to my community.”

Then came the big project: the Briceville library needed a new building. Briceville has technically had a library since around 1910. It was housed in a lot of different places over the years, including people’s homes and — up until the new building — a small room in the Friendship Center, which belonged to the Clinton Baptist Association.

The late Marshall Hackworth, along with his wife Diane, had been working on getting a library, according to Gregory. The Briceville and Anderson County Library Foundation was formed as a 501(c)3 to allow for fundraising for the project.

When Hackworth started having some health problems, he asked Gregory to take the reins.

“I asked the county commission to fund a feasibility study,” Gregory said.

The study would determine whether it was financially feasible to build a brand new library. To his surprise, the county agreed to fund it. An architect drew up the plans pro bono, attorney Dail Cantrell served as their legal representation, and the community came together to raise funds for the project.

They hit some snags along the way, but between grant money, community fundraising and county funds, the dream became a reality in 2013.

“It provides great services for Briceville. It has WiFi, a number of computers where people can look for jobs and things like that,” Gregory said. “Kids come in after school. They have a vibrant homeschool program. It’s a great facility and very modern.” Gregory, who has lived in Norris with his wife Pat for 50 years, worked for the TVA as a forester initially, then as a computer specialist. He retired in 2005.

“So I did have some time on my hands,” he said. “I think that an educated citizenry is the bedrock of our country’s success and free public schools and libraries play a very important part toward literacy and education. Also, I made a commitment when I joined the Anderson County Library Board, and later to take over the Foundation and debt servicing from Marshall Hackworth; I felt obligated to try to do my best to fulfill those promises.”

Gregory has been active in many things over the years, including volunteering with the Boy Scouts, the Norris Food Pantry, Norris City commissions and the library board.