Perhaps best known for her advocacy for Nashville neighborhoods in the face of unprecedented growth, longtime Nashville trailblazer Betty Chiles Nixon has passed away at home following her battle with cancer.
Nixon, age 80, was a former City Councilwoman; mayoral candidate; Vanderbilt University assistant vice chancellor for community, neighborhood, and government relations; trailblazing community leader; and widow of Thomas Henry Clark.
She is survived by her daughters Mignon Elizabeth Nixon (Gregory Douglas Smith) and Anne Trice Nixon; her children with Judge John Trice Nixon; her brother John Garland Chiles (Beth); her nieces Emily Chiles Dresch (children Jonathan, Katherine, and William), Laurie Chiles Barnes (husband Mark and daughter Caitlin), and Katherine Chiles McGlasson (husband Joel, children Clayton and Emme); her cousin Lynda Simmons; her stepchildren Susan Lynn Clark, Thomas Henry Clark II (Tiffany Lee Clark), Rebecca Clark-Fuller (Brian Fuller), grandchildren Maren Lee Fuller and Flynn Fuller; and brother-in-law Don Clark (Janis) and step nephews Evan Clark (wife Lisa Gutowsky-Clark and daughters Natalie and Carly) and Ben Clark (Ashley).
Betty Nixon was the first woman elected to the Metropolitan Nashville City Council (1975-1987), representing the Hillsboro Belmont area; the first Council candidate elected on a neighborhood improvement platform; and the first woman to chair the Budget and Finance Committee of the Council.
She also became the first major female candidate to run for mayor of Nashville/Davidson County. Throughout her time in Metro government, she was a tireless advocate for the preservation of Nashville neighborhoods and historic architecture, including the Customs House on Broadway.
Following her career in politics and government, Nixon began working at Vanderbilt University, from which she retired as assistant vice chancellor in 2007. She continued an active life in public service, including chairing the Board for the Metro Election Commission, and campaigned vigorously for the election of Mayor Megan Berry.
She rejoiced in a community of friends, colleagues, and fellow community activists and advocates for justice, equality, and education. She is remembered for over four decades of commitment to Nashville’s neighborhoods, schools, and universities; for her leadership in preserving its historic buildings; and for bringing communities together to strengthen Nashville’s civic life.
According to Gary Bynum, chair of the Davidson County Democratic Party: “Betty Nixon led our community with admiration and dedicated her career to fostering good government with an enhanced dedication to the political process.
Those of us who had the honor of working with her will miss her friendship, her wisdom and her love of this city.
It was infectious to anyone who served the community alongside her. Though we mourn her passing, we should all strive to carry her example forward.”
Beth Roth, Nixon’s niece, remembers her as “a mentor, a trailblazer and a strong woman who always reminded me that there was nothing that I couldn’t do. That’s very powerful for me. She was definitely a mentor for all women who were interested in getting into politics, but especially for those who were progressive. If she believed in the candidate, she would throw her full weight behind them.”
“What a wonderful person,” Congressman Cooper said. “What a good influence in Nashville, often behind-the-scenes, sometimes out-front, but always on the right side of history. She was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.”
Nixon donated her body to the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
A memorial service in celebration of her life will be held later in the year.