Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

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Haywood Pemberton: ‘unquenchable thirst for knowledge’

(Editor’s NOTE — The following article is reprinted from the book Profiles of Scott Countians by the late Esther Sharp Sanderson, published by the Scott County Historical Society. The article was first published in the October 9, 1964 edition of the Scott County News, Oneida, Tennessee).

The life history of the late Attorney H. K. PEMBERTON resembles an Horatio Alger story. He was a rugged individualist, who through his ambition and determination, came up from a wandering waif to a place of distinction. In pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, he encountered many hardships, but young HAYWOOD was the type that would never say die. His youth and early manhood was marked by one long uphill struggle to keep soul and body together, and in the meantime, move ever forward toward the goal he had set for himself. He had confidence, courage and capacity earned the hard way.

HAYWOOD PEMBERTON was the son of George Pemberton, who was the father of twenty-one children, by three different marriages. Large families, especially sons, were necessary in an agrarian society where most of the work was done by hand. Mr. PEMBERTON recalls that his father was a hard task master. After his mother died and his father brought home a step-mother, life was never the same. In fact, it became almost unbearable at times. "Spare the rod and spoil the child was no part of my father’s philosophy," recalled HAYWOOD in his later years. "I didn’t mind the hard work on the farm, but as I grew older I resented the frequent beatings. On the last occasion that I was threatened with a beating by my father, I got up enough courage to run out of the house and sit down out of his reach on a hill. Angrily, he bid me return, but I stubbornly refused. Temperamentally, he was not a man to be outdone. I could return and take the unmerciful flogging or pack up my belongings and leave. The choice was mine, and I chose the latter course."

Packing for him was not hard, for he had only a change of shoddy clothing that he tied in a bundle and hung on the end of a pole. Then he started out in the world at the age of fourteen to make his own way. At his age, he was lucky to find a place with relatives where he could work for his board and lodging.

According to Mr. PEMBERTON’s own story, he ended up at his Aunt POPPY (Pop) SEXTON’s near Huntsville. His uncle promised him room and board, a suit of clothes, and a pair of shoes to wear to school in winter if he would help them make and harvest the crop. So anxious was he to get an education, he willingly accepted the offer. When they were caught up with the farm work or the weather was unsuitable for farm work, he spent his time cutting up a huge pile of wood to study by that winter. That fall his uncle bought him a suit of clothes so thin that you could see through it, and when winter came you could almost count the chill bumps beneath it. He bought him a pair of brogan shoes with brass toes, but no socks to go with them.

That fall HAYWOOD entered school at the Presbyterian. Academy. Those dedicated teachers found him to be a youth with great potential and a burning desire to learn. They gave him the inspiration to lift himself up by his own bootstraps. He worked hard in school each day, for he knew that after the long walk home in the afternoon and all the farm chores were done, lessons would have to be studied at night. Late one cold winter evening, he was carrying in a load of his wood to build a fire to study by, when his uncle said, ‘What do you mean by burning up my winter’s supply of wood?" HAYWOOD threw the wood down and went to his cold room to study. However, he made up his mind to find a place to live where the atmosphere was warmer and more hospitable.

He worked for his room and board in and around Huntsville and continued his education at the Academy. The more he learned, the more he found out there was to learn, and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge led him to enter school at Williamsburg and later at Maryville College. By working through the vacation periods and at any odd jobs while in college, he managed to continue his education, he was no longer a gangling, insecure youth, but a handsome, congenial young man with poise and confidence. He had fought a good fight; he had kept the faith, by persistence he was moving toward his goal.

Like many other ambitious young men of his time, HAYWOOD PEMBERTON used the teaching profession as a stepping stone to his career as a lawyer. It was while teaching school in a one room school near Oneida, that he fell in love with a beautiful young pupil, CORDENA SMITH. Haywood was as persistent in matters of the heart as he had previously been in matters of the head. After a whirlwind courtship, they were married and made their home in Huntsville. To this union was born seven children, namely: OLSON, OSCAR, JOE, DEFOE, WALTER, ELMA and ALTHEA. Mrs. PEMBERTON was a wonderful mother and a good homemaker. Unselfishly, she devoted her entire life to her husband and family. She lived to share with Mr. PEMBERTON the love, devotion and sacrifices necessary to put their entire family through college. They were all grown and married except ALTHEA, when she passed away.

Even though Mr. PEMBERTON was a successful attorney and businessman, it was a struggle for him to put his large family through college. OLSON received his M.A. Degree from the University of Tennessee. JOE and OSCAR received their degrees in dentistry from the University of Louisville Medical School. DEFOE graduated with high honors from Maryville College. ELMA graduated from Duke University and ALTHEA from E.T.S.T. College. OLSON, DEFOE, ELMA and ALTHEA all taught a number of years in the public schools of Scott County. All four are still teaching: OLSON in Georgia; ELMA in North Carolina; ALTHEA in Knoxville; DEFOE in the Huntsville High School. The late Dr. OSCAR PEMBERTON was operating a dental office in Oneida at the time of his death, and Dr. C. J. (Joe) PEMBERTON lives in Sparta, where he began practice soon after his graduation.

DEFOE was the only son who followed in his father’s footsteps. After returning from the armed services, he studied law and put up a law office in Huntsville. He served as assistant attorney general, retiring a few years ago. Prior to DEFOE’s enlistment in the armed services, he successfully served as principal of the Huntsville High School. WALTER is a rural mail carrier and a surveyor. Both he and DEFOE and their families live in Huntsville.

OLSON married ANNICE THORNTON and they have two sons, Olson, Jr. and Sam. JOE, OTHELO PHILLIPS; DEFOE, MAMIE PETERS. They have one daughter, ANGELA. ELMA married Charles Lee Griffith, now deceased. They have one son, CHARLES LEE, Jr. WALTER married BERNICE McDONALD and they have two daughters, ELMA RUTH and JOANNE. ALTHEA is still single.

It is no wonder that HAYWOOD PEMBERTON became interested in the practice of law when a very young man. He and many of his closest associates attended courts and were members of the famous Huntsville Debating Society. According to the following notice taken from the Cumberland Chronicle issue of September 20, 1893, some of the lawyers who received their first forensic training in this Debating Society were Judges HENRY POTTER, BEATY CECIL, J. C. PARKER, JAMES F. BAKER and W. H. BUTTRAM. Others who became prominent lawyers were HAYWOOD PEMBERTON, GAYSON and SANDERS FOSTER, J. J. NEWPORT, DAN JEFFERS, WILLARD KEEN, HARRISON REED and many others.

These budding young lawyers studied the law book. Most of them were self-educated men who "combed the law books with a fine-tooth comb." They worked at other jobs while they studied law during their spare time. But it was not in keeping with HAYWOOD PEMBERTON’s philosophy to trust the trial and error method. Long after he was married and had a family, he entered Cumberland Law School where he received his degree. When he took the bar examination in 1907, under the late Judge GRAFTON GREEN, Judge GREEN remarked that Mr. PEMBERTON had the best paper that he had hitherto examined. He continued his successful law practice in Scott and adjoining counties for almost fifty years. He was register of deeds 1898-1906. He served one term as County Attorney.

With the passing of Mrs. CORDENA PEMBERTON and the marriage of all her children, except the youngest who were away in school much of the time, the walls of the large, rambling, old house resounded with a sort of loneliness that only those who have loved and lost can fully realize. Mrs. SADIE BOSHEARS, wife of the late EUELL BOSHEARS, found herself in the same predicament. She and Mr. PEMBERTON married. They continued to live in Huntsville until Mr. PEMBERTON’s health failed him and he retired from a long, successful career as an attorney at law. They moved to Helenwood where they were living when he passed away in 1954 at the age of eighty-four. Mrs. PEMBERTON still resides in Helenwood.

There was never a kinder or more considerate father than the late Attorney H. K. PEMBERTON; there was never a father who was more interested in his children’s welfare and education. No sacrifice was too great; no price was too dear. It seemed that he always tried-to-make up in full measure-for the many things that he was denied in his youth. His entire family graduated from the Huntsville High School. I recall the cold winter mornings while I was teaching in the lower grades in the Huntsville School. Mr. PEMBERTON would bring JOE and DEFOE to school wrapped from head to toe. He would shake the cinders out of the pot-bellied stove, fill it up with coal and leave with a look of contentment on his face, knowing that his boys and other children would have a warm fire to sit by.

Mr. PEMBERTON was a friend of education. During his long public career he worked to improve the schools. He served as County Superintendent of Education in 1893-94. He served as a member of the Huntsville Independent School Board and later served terms as a member of the Scott County Board of Education. His administration was marked by improvements in buildings, transportation and teachers’ salaries.

With Mr. PEMBERTON’s passing, Scott County lost a civic minded citizen whose long colorful career had earned for him the respect of the bench and bar and his friends who were numbered by his acquaintances. He was a member of the Masonic order. For many years he and his children were regular attendants at the Presbyterian Church. HAYWOOD PEMBERTON’s gradual rise to the top round of the ladder of success was marked by self-sacrifice, courage and determination that should be an inspiration to others. Perseverance was the difference in success and failure.

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
But we build the ladder by which we rise
From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies
And we mount to its summit round by round.

FNB Chronicle, Vol. 7, No. 3 – Spring 1996
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841

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