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Four inducted into Dobyns-Bennett Alumni Hall of Fame

Rick Wagner • Oct 25, 2019 at 3:30 PM

KINGSPORT — It’s a small world, especially if you are a Dobyns-Bennett High School graduate.

Educator and health care leader MaryLee Davis, the late U.S. Rep. “Jimmy” Quillen, broadcast journalist Calvin Sneed and attorney Jo-Marie St. Martin, who spent time as counsel for the speaker of the U.S. House, were inducted into the Dobyns-Bennett Alumni Association Hall of Fame on Thursday.

Funny thing is, Davis once worked as a congressional staff assistant for the Washington, D.C., office of Quillen, Sneed interviewed Quillen multiple times for television news and St. Martin got her first taste of Washington as a paid intern for Quillen, who was a cousin to boot.

The association’s 11th annual hall induction ceremony highlighted the life and career achievements of the intertwined four. 

MARYLEE DAVIS

Davis’ husband, fellow Ph.D. Mark Rinella, introduced Davis, Class of 1961. Art Williams nominated her. The University of Tennessee bachelor’s and master’s graduate earned a Ph.D. at Michigan State, where she became the first female administrator and won numerous awards and did civic and community work before returning to Kingsport in 2015. 

Davis said her time at D-B, Robinson Junior High and Lincoln Elementary shaped her life by “instilling in me a genuine love of learning” in the fields of education and health care. She went on to teach fourth grade at Kingsport’s James Madison Elementary before leaving Kingsport in 1970.

“I’ve always loved teaching and I enjoy coaching others to be their best,” Davis said.

She said one of her most endearing high school memories was being one of two lead sopranos in an a cappella choral ensemble. Even while in Michigan, she said her “heart has already been here in Kingsport.”

JAMES H. “JIMMY” QUILLEN

Tom Williams said the late Quillen was named “class clown” in the Class of 1934 but went on to a career in politics and business.

He also told how Quillen was fired from a sales job at the Kingsport Times News, purportedly for not being dressed well enough, but went on to found his own newspaper, the Kingsport Mirror. He later sold it to the Times News before going to serve in the Navy in World War II.

He returned home to work in real estate, building and insurance before winning a state House seat in 1954, defeating fellow future D-B Hall of Fame member Bobby Peters, and the 1st Congressional District seat in 1962, which he held until he didn’t seek re-election in 1996.

He helped get the medical school in Johnson City at East Tennessee State University in 1974 and pushed for funding of Interstate 26 to the North Carolina line. Williams said Quillen worked for constituents’ problems.

“Whatever could be done toward that, you know it was going to be done,” Williams said.

District office field representative Joe White, a 22-year employee of Quillen, accepted the award on the late congressman’s behalf.

CALVIN SNEED

Van Dobbins, a neighbor of the Sneed family in Riverview and son of a former Douglass High School principal, introduced Sneed, Class of 1972.

Randy Still nominated Sneed, who said he accepted the award in honor of thousands of graduates from the black Douglass High School “who came with me or before me” in school. “It’s not just Riverview history, it’s Kingsport history,” Sneed said. “The only way I was going to be on TV was to work with white people,” said Sneed, who went to Douglass, Sevier Junior High and D-B.

After D-B, where he worked with video, Sneed became the first African American student to be accepted into a then-new communications program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After UT graduation, he worked in television in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Ohio before returning to Tennessee in 1992 as the main news anchor at WTVC in Chattanooga, where he retired in 2017. He recently took an interim position at a rival Chattanooga station but said he may return soon to live in Kingsport, the adopted hometown of the Cleveland, Ohio, native.

His journalism awards include one for being a consumer watchdog for illegal telemarketing, and another for an investigation that resulted in a 2016 Tennessee law protecting innocent motorists whose property was seized during traffic stops. 

JO-MARIE ST. MARTIN

Jeanne St. Martin Cline, sister of Jo-Marie Martin from the Class of 1978, presented and accepted the award for her sister, who attended Jackson Elementary, Sevier Junior High and D-B. 

“Mother taught us to respect our elders,” the sister said, adding that working for Quillen is “where she got the Potomac fever bug.” Also, she said her mother was a cousin to Quillen from their Scott County, Virginia, family roots.

She attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to get her law degree after getting an undergraduate degree in math and physics from Mary Washington College. 

Jo-Marie Martin, as general counsel and chief of legislative operations for House Speaker John Boehner, helped write the No Child Left Behind legislation and advised lawmakers of both parties. 

“She has tried to live her life with honor, with ethics, with morals,” her sister said. She is vice president of federal government relations for W.R. Berkley Corporation in Washington and was unable to attend Thursday’s ceremony.

She also once worked for the Kingsport law firm of Wilson, Worley, Gamble and Ward.

In other attorney positions serving Congress, she helped in passage of No Child Left Behind, school lunch, vocational education and other federal laws.

To nominate someone for the hall or get more information, visit D-B Alumni Association & Reunions at dbhs.k12k.com.

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