Classy lady, dear friend Nancy Siler is gone

Marvin Westwestwords

This is not easy – unless you smile.


Telling you about the life and death of Nancy Siler, 94, is too much like saying goodbye to your mother. She wasn’t old enough for that but she was good enough.

Nancy, as wife to Tom Siler, took us in and treated us as family. She was to Sarah much what Tom was to me, really kind friend and tour guide. Nancy was a counselor when Sarah asked how to manage life with a driven, around-the-clock sportswriter.

Tom was a terrific boss. Besides giving me the newspaper opportunity of a lifetime, he told me what needed to be done and got out of the way so I could do it. When I stepped out of bounds, he emphatically reeled me in without extinguishing the fire.

Nancy shared so many adventures we would otherwise have missed. Unforgettable was a day in Dallas, 50 years ago, when she ceremoniously presented Sarah her first fresh strawberry dipped in white chocolate, not exactly on sale at Neiman-Marcus.

I told Nancy that she was leading my wife astray, that Sarah might develop a taste for the store and there were none in Powell.

Nancy wrote most of her obit and left it atop her dresser for son Charley. Dealing with the facts was so like his mom.

“A few days after my father died, we were sitting around the dining room table sharing memories. We took turns relating our favorite remembrances of dad, the compliments and tributes growing ever more effusive as we went.

“When it was mom’s turn, she said, ‘Well, c’mon now everybody, I loved Tom more than anyone, but he was no saint.’”

Charley says she approached the world with an insatiable sense of wonder. She was an obsessive chronicler. It started when she edited a pamphlet on dating etiquette in high school that included some genuine gems.

Her two most famous books, The Peculiar Miss Pickett and Miss Pickett’s Secret, were read by thousands of children. It was especially exciting when the Miss Pickett series was optioned by a major movie studio, prompting Nancy to buy a new car with a customized “MSPICKET” license plate.

Her interest in gardening started as a child of 5 when she tended the pumpkin squash plants that lined her family’s driveway.

She taught herself how to cook, but being good at it wasn’t enough. When she thought she had pretty good-tasting green and red relish recipes, she headed out to the Tennessee Valley Fair, and came home with two blue ribbons. Her reaction was surprise that her bread and butter pickles didn’t win top prize.

She didn’t ask to do things, she just did them. She prepared a lecture with slides about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the World’s Fair. When fair officials had no interest, she took the show on the road, to civic groups and schools. She made the presentation hundreds of times.

Later, she audited Shakespeare courses at UT. She had a wholesale plant business. She taught as a substitute at Webb School. She wrote for gardening websites and a magazine.

Nancy Julian Siler died March 11. She was the daughter of Ruth Martin Julian and Charles Nelson Julian of Roane County. She graduated from San Diego State College and did graduate work at Columbia University in New York and at the University of Tennessee.

In addition to her children’s books, she wrote histories of First Baptist Church, Baptist Hospital and the Knox County Baptist Association. She also edited Ask Emily, a gardening book for the Knoxville Garden Club.

She taught school in California, New York and Tennessee, as well as for the U.S. Army in Germany in 1948-49. She taught computer skills to seniors at the John T. O’Connor Center and at Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church. Her most recent volunteer activity was as a tour guide for school groups at the East Tennessee History Museum.

She was an active member of First Baptist Church and a Pink Lady Volunteer at Fort Sanders Hospital for more than 20 years. In 2001, she was awarded the Covenant Health Platinum Award, which recognizes active, productive seniors.

She is survived by Dr. Thomas T. Siler Jr. and wife Sarah Kerr Siler, of Olalla, Wash., and Charles J. Siler and wife Julie Flynn Siler of Ross, Calif. There are six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at First Baptist Church of Knoxville on April 3 at 11 a.m. Friends will be received at 10.

Marvin West welcomes reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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