South Knoxville’s Molly Gilbert is one active lady. This wife and mother of two is active in many neighborhood and community organizations and proud of her community. Her efforts are recognized by all who know her.
Like the Titanic’s “Unsinkable Molly Brown” Molly Gilbert successfully forges ahead and her efforts stretch far beyond her Lake Forest neighborhood.
She’s held various positions with the Lake Forest Neighborhood Association, the Junior League of Knoxville, the Dogwood Arts Festival Chapman Highway Trail, the East Tennessee Quality Growth Board, the Chapman Recreation Center, the Ramsey House board, the Chapman Highway Garden Club, the Candora Arts and Heritage Center, the Neighborhood Advisory Council, the Knoxville Council of Garden Clubs, the Public Relations Society of America and the American Marketing Association.
How is your position working for you?
When I started looking for volunteer opportunities out of the neighborhood I focused on South Knoxville. I decided that if I was going to dedicate time and energy to volunteering then it would be best to try to make a difference close to home.
Can you comment about your South Knoxville involvement?
Being involved in the South Knoxville community has given me the great joy of meeting and working alongside of so many people who are all so special. The renaissance of South Knoxville over the last few years that is still unfolding is due to the consistent dedication of some key business owners and volunteers who have donated countless hours to making the vision of what South Knoxville could be, a reality. Members of groups like the South Knoxville Alliance and the South Knoxville Neighborhood and Business Coalition have supported local businesses and neighborhoods. Exemplifying community leadership, the volunteers in these two organizations have worked in conjunction with former Knox County Commissioner Mike Brown and now Knox County Commissioner Carson Dailey and former Knoxville City Council Representative Nick Pavlis and now Knoxville City Council Representative Stephanie Welch. Knowing that everyone is working towards the same goal of a better, stronger, more inclusive South Knoxville is encouraging.
Tell us a bit about your family.
In 2018, I celebrated 22 years of marriage to Scott Gilbert, who is a native of South Knoxville. He has taught English for more than 20 years on the college, high school, and middle school levels. He is currently homeschooling our two children (now ages 12 and 14) and teaching dual enrollment classes for college credit at River’s Edge Christian Academy and Bryan College. He also teaches several homeschool middle and high school co-op classes at Thursday Connection. He is a freelance writer for several small business website blogs.
In 2007, we moved into my husband‘s childhood neighborhood (Lake Forest Neighborhood), just around the block from his parents who were thrilled to have their only grandchildren so close by. Scott is an only child. His father, mother, grandparents and Gilberts for several generations back are also native Knoxvillians.
His father, David Gilbert, is a well-recognized local graphic designer who created the World’s Fair logo and just recently retired from Pellissippi after 30+ years of teaching and leading in the graphic design department. His mother recently retired as an elementary education teacher, who has worked for Knox County, private schools, and most recently for homeschool co-ops. They moved to Lake Forest Neighborhood as a young married couple, more than 45 years ago. His grandparents also lived in the neighborhood at the time, and they were equally excited to have their only great-grandchildren in the neighborhood. When we moved, the kids were only 1 and 3 years old and the extra helping hands were a true blessing.
My two children, Audrey and Finnian, who are now in their teenage years, have a real sense of home and have benefited from being surrounded by so many people who love them. The idea of living so close to family was a concept I hadn’t experienced because I grew up in a military household. My father was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years – we moved every three years of my entire life – even after I had gotten married, Scott and I still moved about every three years because of job changes. We met in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, before deciding to move to Knoxville. To be completely honest, at first I was afraid that moving into the same neighborhood as his parents and his grandparents was going to turn out like the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond” but my in-laws are the greatest people on earth and it’s nice to know there’s someone you can count on when you are wrangling two toddlers.
How did you become involved in Tennessee Pink Marble?
We had been living in our house for three or four years before I discovered that it was made from Tennessee Pink Marble. I attended a special workshop at Ijams where Dr. Susan Knowles of Middle Tennessee State University was interviewing anyone with connections to the industry. She was doing research on the marble industry because she was trying to get the quarries listed on the National Historic Register, which she was eventually able to do. I had a stone from my retaining wall that used to stand near my driveway and asked if anyone could tell me whether or not it was Tennessee Pink Marble. An elderly gentleman who used to be the quality supervisor at one of the quarries licked his thumb and swiped it across the rock sample I brought and said, “Yes ma’am. That’s the good stuff. That’s deep rose.”
It was at that moment I realized how unique my house was. Although there are houses all over the city made from Tennessee Pink Marble, each one is special because they are all one-of-a-kind and no one is building like that with that stone anymore. We just don’t have the level of craftsmanship that we used to – literally, they don’t build them like that anymore. The story I heard from an older resident in the neighborhood was that a man named Roy Perry was a local builder and he would go over to the quarry. The workers would have pushed aside the crumbly leftovers from the larger chunks that were destined to be the lions in front of the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., or the Tennessee Supreme Court Building in Nashville. He built houses, retaining walls, patios, and more. So, I don’t know exactly which quarry the rock from my house came from – we had over 35 in the area during the peak of the industry, but anything made from Tennessee Pink Marble is special because the stone is unique to East Tennessee.
This connection inspired me to start volunteering at places I knew I would learn about Knoxville’s history as the Marble City, such as the Ramsey House. And, in 2015 I created the Tennessee Pink Marble Trail brochure, website, and Facebook page.
Aside from your volunteer work what else do you do?
While I worked part-time, from home as the director of the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council for the first nine years I lived in Knoxville, I was able to take on several freelance projects throughout the years and eventually transitioned to full-time work as the owner of Molly Gilbert Marketing. At the beginning of 2018, I took a full-time position as the senior marketing and communications specialist with a global company based in Knoxville, Dura-Line Corporation. While this has been a big change, every day I see how the projects I did as a volunteer provided relevant experience and connections that are serving me well in my new role.
Where were you born?
I was born in Tampa, Florida, and my parents almost immediately were transferred to Germany. Apparently I spoke German before I spoke English, but I don’t remember any of it. My early childhood years were spent in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Mountain Home, Idaho; and Columbus, Mississippi. When I was a teenager, my family moved to Madrid, Spain – even after four years of Spanish, I only remember a little of it, but I have wonderful memories of Spain and really appreciated the opportunity to see another culture. We lived there during Desert Storm and the Gulf War, and it was fascinating to see how little impact the events made on my stateside friends when it was so very intense on the American Air Force Base, called Torrejon.
The father of one of my good friends was taken as a prisoner of war and the base was under intense security as it was one of the major stop-through points for soldiers coming over from the East Coast. As the Gulf War was winding down, we got news that Torrejon would be closing and my father was transferred to Sumter, South Carolina, just in time for my junior year of high school. I finished high school in Sumter and then went to college at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I got a BA in journalism and a minor in speech. Scott and I met while I was getting my undergraduate and he was working on his master’s at Winthrop University.
What are your hopes for the city or county?
My hope and dream for Knoxville has been the same since I moved here and understood what it meant to put down roots. I started volunteering because I wanted Knoxville to be a great place for my children as they grew up. It takes all of us working together to help Knoxville be the best version of itself and to grow into a city for the future. I want Knoxville to continue to be a friendly, safe, vibrant city with lots of opportunities for employment and entertainment.
What is your main hobby or interest in your private life?
I have always loved classic movies from the 1930s and 40s like the Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Shall We Dance, Follow the Fleet…anything Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Humphry Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, or any of the big band musicals and anything by Alfred Hitchcock.
I love to garden, but I don’t have quite as much time as I used to, so now I love traveling to botanical gardens across the Southeast.
I love family time – lots of fun traveling in the Southeast with my kids – we love to go to small local history, art, and science museums.
We got two new puppies in 2018 – they are small and fluffy (a million photos available upon request). Inky and Cotton are both a Bichon Frise and a Shih Tzu mix.
My mother was a professional backup singer from 1968-1978ish. She was part of a backup group called Southern Comfort and also as the Holladay Sisters (because her younger sister joined her). She sang with many well-known artists like Elvis Presley, Sonny and Cher, Ella James, Etta Washington, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, Ray Stevens, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Milsap, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez (and more!) and recorded regularly with the American studio musicians known as the Memphis Boys, who played on more “hits” in Billboard’s top 40 charts during a six-month period than any other rhythm section in history.
One of my favorite hobbies or side projects over the last several years has been doing research on the now defunct studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Memphis and Nashville. I have gotten to tag along to Elvis Week at Graceland a couple of times when she was a guest speaker/performer. I also helped her write a book and coordinate an interview with the BBC.
What do you see as your main accomplishments in life?
It goes without saying that I love being a mom to Audrey and Finnian – they are my absolute pride and joy. Beyond that, all I can do is my little part. I just try to fit in and help out where I can. I really don’t see that I have achieved any major legacy, but a neighbor of mine said that getting and moving the 5-ton Tennessee Pink Marble entry sign for Lake Forest Neighborhood was definitely an accomplishment. That project was a team effort by the City Public Works Department employees and many volunteers were involved (including my father-in-law who did the logo). I do feel pretty proud of the sign every time I enter and leave the neighborhood and see that monumental giant stone. I love that it honors the special architecture in the neighborhood.
If you had to do one thing over in your life what would that be?
I wish that when I was in my 20s and 30s I had made more of an effort to get to know my neighbors. I was so focused on my life that I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on a sense of community by being more involved than just going to work and church and hanging out with people who are already my friends. Having kids definitely gave me a new perspective on how valuable it is to know your neighbors.
What’s your favorite meal or place to dine?
As a family, we don’t tend to eat out as much I would like, so we try to rotate when we do indulge. We love the friendly service at Szechwan Garden, a staple in South Knoxville, family dinners at Chop House and Ruby Tuesday’s, and you cannot beat the dessert case at Gondolier’s. SoKno Taco Cantina and Cancun have been the site for Candoro executive board meetings for the past year and a half.
How would you like to be remembered?
I hope that people will remember me as someone friendly enough to invite them to be involved and encouraging enough to inspire them to participate and join in making Knoxville a better place in whatever style suits them.