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Johnny Vardeman: Blind writer was an institution with stories of community
Johnny Vardeman

Corinne Tanner for many years wrote a column of “personals” for the weekly Gainesville Eagle and its successor, The Times.

In the weekly paper it was called  “The City Locally,” and in The Times “Queen’s Court.” She compiled thousands of local names into the column from when she started it in 1926 until just a few months before she died in April 1976.

Corinne Tanner
Those were the days when newspapers carried columns by mostly “rural” correspondents, who wrote about who visited whom, who had a party or who was sick in their particular communities.

For instance, from one of Corinne’s “Queen’s Court” columns in October 1952, these items: “Rives Carter left for Atlanta last week to be a member of the student body at Georgia Tech.” “Mr. and Mrs. Malone Roberts spent the weekend in Atlanta with mother, Mary P. Roberts.”  “Miss Ruby Falls of Atlanta was the guest of friends in Gainesville.”  “Mr. and Mrs. Jim Hood with brother John Hood have located on Cleveland Road.”

Though blind, she had no trouble with a typewriter, and she sent the newspaper envelopes stuffed with items typed on strips of paper. Sometimes, her news would fill three or more columns in the paper. Friends would let her know if her column didn’t appear in the paper, and Corinne would be on the phone to the editors prodding them to keep up with her prolific offerings.

Corinne spent hours on the telephone gathering the news. She listed her telephone number, 420, at the top of her column in the early days. Regulars would call her with bits of hometown trivia.

Born in Talmo in Jackson County, she started school at age 5. Friends, teachers and family recognized early on that she was extraordinarily bright with an unusual memory. By age 11, she was a sophomore in high school. That was when she became ill with excruciating headaches. During her seven years in school, she had never taken a final exam, her grades always high enough to exempt her.

Her illness caused her parents to remove her from school, and she began to undergo various tests to determine what caused the chronic pain. They consulted several doctors to no avail. A minor operation provided some relief, but pain continued, her sight eventually failing. Sometimes, she wrote, she was miserable all day and night. Some doctors didn’t expect her to live. 

Corinne continued studies as she could in the home, her devoted mother reading to her, teaching and discussing current events. Other family and friends helped, and she was able to travel some.

Besides writing the column for the newspaper, Corinne wrote an autobiography, detailing her struggles with what she called “my handicap.” While she was discouraged early and described herself as miserable, she eventually adapted to her condition. 

She immersed herself into the story of her life, researching her ancestors, who included her grandfather David B. Tanner Jr., who operated Tanner’s Mill in south Hall County. Other Tanner descendants ran the corn and wheat mill for generations. It burned several years ago.

Corinne’s other grandfather was the Rev. W.H. Bridges, a noted minister who founded and built Mountain Creek Church. Some of her fondest memories are visits to the Bridges ancestral home, a rambling, two-story plantation house in the middle of several hundred acres near Pendergrass in Jackson County. In childhood, she would spend weeks there during the summers playing with other children. Corinne writes vivid descriptions of old-fashioned Christmases in the Bridges home, some told to her by her mother.

Romance didn’t escape Corinne, although her blindness caused her to stay close to home. She began seeing a male visitor, who professed his love to her, and she to him. He wanted to marry, but Corinne declined, afraid her condition might hold him back.

During World War II, she wrote to many servicemen, some from her community, some she didn’t even know. Often she would stay up at night almost till dawn, writing letters or working on the story of her life.

After both parents died, she eventually moved into a boarding house, later a nursing home. She described making many friends and the good times they had.

Of her blindness, Corinne wrote in her autobiography, “Imperfect vision taught me many facts, to enjoy the little things and appreciate people every day.”

While in the early months of her illness, life was frustrating and hard, she described herself as a happy person. Deeply religious, she wrote, “Never did I think life was cruel and unfair.” That is evident in the title of her unpublished book, “Darkness into Light.”

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, Ga. 30501; or by e-mail.

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