It was election night, and the early returns did not look good for Paige Brown.
It was election night, and the early returns did not look good for Paige Brown.
Just after the polls closed and the early vote and absentee vote totals were released, she was down to incumbent Jo Ann Graves by 27 votes."Okay - well, that doesn't look good," she recalled thinking to herself. "So I went and told my mother and went around the room and started telling people, and then I called my father. I told them all, 'Look, we've lost early voting. I think that doesn't bode well for the rest of the election. I just wanted you to be prepared."But then she got a text message from a friend who just happened to be at First Baptist Church, where voting had been taking place."I didn't even know she was there. She sent me a text message with a picture of the first machine that came out of First Baptist Church, and I won by 40 votes," she said. "I couldn't believe it. I really thought early voting (results) would follow through all the precincts, so...I was thinking that I would lose by a little bit."But, as the results from the precincts rolled in, the lead held. Brown, however, said she was still "trepidatious.""I wanted some 'official' word," she said. "I wanted the county to say, 'final results,' or something like that, but it didn't happen. I don't remember how we decided to go with it, but we did."Next month, she will be sworn in as the mayor of Gallatin; a town she once could not wait to leave."I was a kid who was working all the time and trying to go to school," she said. "I didn't really get to participate in high school like I wanted to, and I just wanted to 'go.' I wanted to go and get out of here and get an education and be able to make a living."Brown was discouraged from doing so in many circles, but her high school English teacher, Eva Jane Johnston, pushed her."She was the only one that said, 'You can do it,'" Brown said. "Everybody else was like, 'You can't do that. It's an affront to your school; it's an affront to your community.' I knew what I needed to do; I knew what was right for me at that time. She was the one that said, 'Paige, you know what you're doing - go on and do it.' And she's always been one of my biggest cheerleaders ever since then."So off to Florida State University, Brown went, with the hopes of making television a career.While she said she enjoyed it, she admitted the money was not the best, and that fact - and a little parental urging - brought her back to Middle Tennessee."I was in Florida - in the panhandle - I was in Tallahassee and then Panama City to do news and I liked it," she said. "I think my parents kind of forced me back up here because I was making like eight bucks and hour anchoring the news at the NBC affiliate in Florida, and my parents were like, 'Seriously? You think you're going to make a career out of this?' So they kind of forced me back up here, and then I got a job at The Nashville Network. I actually waited some tables and did some bar tending in there, too."Over my time there, I probably worked on 14 different shows there, which were all canceled, and eventually I was canceled, and ultimately the station went under, but then I went to Channel 5."It was one of her favorite jobs, though."I did everything. I produced shows, I was talent, I was a reporter, I did live shots for 'Nashville Now,' I did a game show," she said. "I reinvented myself about every eight months, according to who needed somebody somewhere. I did food shows, I did music shows, I covered awards shows. I flipped through boxes of cassettes for a talent show."
A calling for 'home'
She was living in Hendersonville then, but Gallatin still tugged at her heart."I think other people identified (that) for me more than I did for myself because everybody always laughed at me because I worked in Nashville," she said. "They'd say, 'You need to go work for the chamber,' or, 'You need to go be mayor,' or something because you're always 'Gallatin, Gallatin Gallatin.' I was just so full of it and just didn't realize it.""The more I rejected it, the more I cherished it. It's like - I didn't ever listen to country music until I moved to Florida. I wanted to be something I wasn't, I guess. So then I became more embracing of it, and you know, as you get older, just having those connections and realizing your best friends are the friends you've had your whole life."Brown said it was not necessarily that she needed to leave in order to come back, but rather, "I wouldn't have appreciated like I do" if she had not done so. So much of it is being comfortable in who you are, and what you know, and what you can do, and then don't have people who tear that down, and I've been fortunate to have people around me who were encouraging and supportive, and believed in me - or at least didn't doubt me."
Her battle with Leukemia also played a role in her realization that Gallatin is where she felt she needed to be."I was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1999," she said. "They basically told me I had about a year to live. I heard them say it; I didn't really believe it."Cory Lewis, often remembered as a football player, was also diagnosed with Leukemia around the same time."They had a bone marrow drive at Volunteer State, and at the time I was real embarrassed by it - you know, I was 32 years old, I was used to having fun and going out and doing things - I didn't want to be the sick person and all that attention on myself," Brown said. "But I remember going to Vol State when they were having this bone marrow drive, and there were hundreds of people there having their blood tested - like classmates of mine, and friends of my parents, and classmates of Cory's, and it was really overwhelming and it made me think, 'That's pretty wild. That's a pretty amazing community.' It made me wonder if it happens everywhere, and it made me kind of think about it."No match was found for neither Brown nor Lewis, and Brown went to a clinical trial in Portland, Oregon, after almost dying from chemotherapy."I was one of probably the first 100 to try a new leukemia drug, and it worked and the drug was approved a year later. It was the first over-the-counter chemo that worked."And the memories of the community outreach during that blood drive fueled further passion for Gallatin."For me, it holds so many memories, but I think if I were an objective observer, I think I would like the community," she said. "I like the fact that we really care about each other. There are times every month where just something will happen - and it doesn't even involve me - and I'll just be crying, and I don't cry. It's just I see people do things for each other or look out for each other and care about each other, and I just love it.""It doesn't happen everywhere, and I know that because I work in this job (with the Chamber of Commerce), and I have people come in this office, and they tell us stories - they tell us about living in Hendersonville or living in Williamson County or living in Chicago, or wherever they were before, and they're just like, 'This community is just so caring.'
A run for the race
"I love that Gallatin for me reflects our country - you know we're a diverse community - we have different faiths, different ages, different races; very diverse socially and economically, and we really work together as a community. Now, not that there's a lot of room for improvement, but..."And then she decided to run for mayor."It felt like it was a huge risk for me, because, my God - it's my hometown," she said. "I had to explore it before I did it. I actually prayed about it for a whole year, which, I've never been that prayerful of anything in my life. I always prayed, 'God, if I should not be doing this, then you need to make it really clear to me.' And every day that I would do that, I would get some kind of weird affirmation. I would get somebody who would say, 'Are you really going to run for mayor? I want you to.' And it was somebody who I never thought would have supported me."Even then, Brown said, it was not easy."The first couple of months saying I was going to run was hard, because it was so uncomfortable and unnatural to me, and somewhere after those first couple of months, I got a lot of peace...and so I knew there was a reason for my running, and knew that win or lose there was a reason," she said. "Most of the time I was positive, but that's just my nature. That's why I would say to people, 'I'm feeling optimistic, but I might be delusional.'""I went into it after having done a lot of strategical analysis and I knew what I was doing in that, and I absolutely had a strategy and a plan, but one person would tell you something really encouraging and it would really bolster you, and then you'd hear that somebody had said you didn't have a chance in Hell and you'd just be like deflated, so there was a lot of that up-and-down kind of stuff, but generally I was pretty optimistic about the whole campaign."There was one really bad day, though, Brown said.The worst day was the Sunday before the election, she said."I was looking back and everything was done," Brown said. "All of a sudden, there were no more mailers to prepare or call lists. There were no more signs to put out. It was just the longest, most 'in the dark' day there was. That was really the only time I questioned my decision to run."But, for Brown, now is as much a time to look forward as it is back.She said she has already been trying to meet with city department heads and other employees, and she wants input from everybody. "I've always loved - and not for sports sake - but, I've always really enjoyed debate," she said. "Not because I like the discourse, but I like the ideas that it creates. I think it's really, really healthy. I've always handled disagreement well."What's hard for me - and the campaign has really helped me with this - is getting criticism I don't deserve. I've kind of learned to let that be their problem and not mine. There are a lot of ideas - there are a lot of things that I think might be good ideas - but I have to have conversations to know if they actually are or not - to know if they're doable or not and know about the potholes that I don't know about."I hope I'm good. I hope I'm as good as I think I can (be)," she said.