Eric McAnly: Just help people

Beth KinnaneBearden, Our Town Neighbors

It pays to be kind to dogs, and the proof is Sequoyah Hills resident Eric McAnly. McAnly received this year’s city of Knoxville Diana Conn Good Neighbor of the Year Award. And he’s a person who achieved the admiration of those who nominated him through daily acts of kindness more so than large moments of grandiosity.


But back to dogs. On his regular walks in Sequoyah Hills, McAnly became acquainted with a dog named Rudy. Rudy’s owners took a liking to McAnly, just as their dog had, and a friendship developed. When they later learned that McAnly would soon be needing a new to place to live, they offered him the carriage house behind their home.

Eric McAnly, his mother L.J., and twin brother Michael

“I got to know them through their dog,” McAnly said. “I lived about a block away. Through Rudy, I was welcomed into their home with an invitation for Easter dinner. Then I started walking him for them. When they learned I would be needing to move, they decided they wanted to keep me in the neighborhood. I feel very blessed.”

The official proclamation from the city lists the reasons a group of his friends nominated him for the award: walks neighbors’ dogs (not just Rudy), gifts of homemade fig jam and local pecans, helped at a house that flooded on Christmas Day, reliably helps a neighbor dealing with Alzheimer’s, and rehomes gently used appliances to people who could use a thing or two.

The latter is born of McAnly’s frequent visits to thrift stores and his passion for a good potato masher or metal colander.

“I don’t really make a big deal of it,” he said. “It’s more just I see something that they need, usually something for the kitchen. I find it in a thrift store and then leave it where they can find it later. Like a good masher, with a metal handle, not those flimsy plastic things.”

Plastic. Therein lies the rub. One of the other things McAnly was noted for was his passion for environmentalism. He is known for picking up trash on roadsides and greenways, using his truck to haul off tires and rubbish, and supporting his neighbors’ gardening efforts with provisions of compost, seedlings and seeds. But plastic really gets in his craw.

“There really needs to be more effort put into eliminating single use plastics,” McAnly said, with exceptions for those areas where they are necessary such as medical. Suffice it to also say there isn’t enough room in this space for his considerable and studied thoughts on the environment.

While he said he is from “several different places,” McAnly mostly grew up in Manchester, Tennessee, and earned an associate degree at Motlow State Community College. He then moved to Jefferson City to attend Carson-Newman University where he earned bachelor’s degrees in religion and philosophy. Pursuit of yet another degree brought him to Knoxville, where he earned a degree in chemistry at UT. He then decided to stick around.

It took a bit of prodding from the friends that nominated him before he knew he had won the Diana Conn award.

McAnly reading up on the history of debt forgiveness while dog-sitting Henri.

“They had to force me, basically, to open the email,” he said. When asked what makes a good neighbor, he said the main things are offering to help without charge or expectation and to “always provide help the best way I possibly can with what I have. I have a truck, a wonderful gift my Dad gave me. I’m often the person asked to help move. If I can’t help move, I provide the truck if I can. Basically, just help people.”

He wanted to thank the people who put his name in the hat for this award: Richard Estey III, Janine Al-Aseer, Kara Strouse, Greg Simpson, Jade Flanigan, Ann Cooper, Danielle & Michael Ray, Sam Williams, Caleb Fristoe and Brad Curl.

At the time of this interview, he had just wrapped up walking a friend’s dog (no surprise there) in Salt Lake City while on a bit of a mini-vacation. He hasn’t travelled much since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and decided to stretch his trip out west for a wedding to a visit with old friends. He had taken the California Zephyr passenger train from Denver to Salt Lake City, which certainly warmed his environmentalist heart.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for KnoxTNToday.com

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