Catherine S. May: A business legend for sure

Sandra ClarkObits

Old-timers will remember the Copper Kettle Restaurant on Western Avenue in West Haven. There’s still a Copper Kettle Street in the area. What I learned this week is that the restaurant was owned and operated by Catherine S. May and her husband, F. Kyle May. And after they left Knoxville in 1964, the couple moved to Athens, Tennessee, and starting building and operating Copper Kettle restaurants for 36 more years.

What a hard-working, risk-taking couple. And it was in the genes for Catherine. Her dad was Rufus H. Smith Sr. and her brothers were Kenneth, Rufus Jr. and Clarence Smith. It’s a home-building family now in its third generation with Southland Realtors and SmithBilt Homes.

Catherine Smith May died on December 12, 2023, at age 96, having outlived most of her generation. Survivors include a sister, Lucy Smith Caldwell, and sister-in-law Tommie M. Smith. Her full obituary is here.

But it’s her capacity for successful work that is her legacy. In 1984, Catherine started a 30-year career in Pigeon Forge as general manager of the Grand Hotel & Convention Center. According to her obituary, she was instrumental in bringing the rod run to Pigeon Forge.

She was general manager for Hidden Mountain Resort, then went on to oversee all construction of the Clarion Inn Willow River where she managed for 17 years.

At 85 years old, she went to work for Tennessee State Bank, flipping their repossessed hotels, completely renovating and reopening them and managing until they sold. She was recently named “The Legend of Sevierville Hospitality Association” for her dedication and work.

In semi-retirement, she volunteered on the Englewood Water Tower restoration project and got it listed on the National Historical Registry. On her farm, she mowed six acres a week and organized fund-raisers for Ducks Unlimited.

Family and friends said good-bye at services Dec. 15-16, 2023, with the funeral Friday in Englewood (McMinn County) and committal on Saturday at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville. Weaver Funeral Home, Western Avenue, Knoxville, handled arrangements.

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