Former State Sen. Anna Belle Clement O'Brien passed away last night at age 86, according to her family. She was being treated at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville after falling at her home in Crossville a few weeks ago.
To those new to the area, she was known as the aunt of former Congressman Bob Clement and Court of Appeals Judge Frank Clement Jr. To Tennesseans of an earlier generation, she was known as "the first lady of Tennessee politics," coming from a family that was arguably the state's version of the Kennedys in terms of political influence.
In addition to being the sister of the late Gov. Frank Clement, she was also the aunt of Tennessee Regulatory Authority chair Sara Kyle and, by marriage, State Sen. Jim Kyle, currently a Democratic candidate for governor.
O'Brien herself ran for governor in 1982, one of the first Tennessee women to seek the post, but lost the Democratic Party nomination then Knoxville mayor Randy Tyree, who lost in the general election to Republican Lamar Alexander.
A member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1975 to 1977, and a Tennessee State Senator from 1977 to 1991, O'Brien was an always upbeat and inspirational regular at Democratic fundraisers and rallies where she began most every speech with her quote, "Politics is a beautiful word." She then explained that she believed it was how jobs were created, families were fed, and the less fortunate were given the hand needed to move forward and up in life.
During her twenty-two years of serving in the State Senate, she was the chairperson for the Senate Education and Transportation committees and the Democratic Caucus, the first woman ever to chair a senate committee.
She was the daughter of Dickson, Tenn. attorney and Mayor Robert S. Clement and May Belle Goad Clement. During her brother's second governorship, from 1963 to 1967, she served as his chief of staff.
In 1966, she married Charles H. O'Brien, who was a Tennessee State Senator at the time. He later became Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He passed away in January of 2007.
Anna Belle Clement O’Brien is survived by her sister Emma Gene Peery; stepchildren Heather O’Brien Hahn (Jan) and Diane O’Brien Soloman (David); nieces and nephews Bob Clement (Mary), Frank Clement Jr. (Lynn), B.Y. Peery (Deborah), Ann Whitis (Warren), Sara Kyle (Jim), Robert Peery (Carrie), and Betty Belle Peery; numerous grandchildren, great nieces and nephews; and dear and loyal friends Virgie Lotze, Randy Elmore and Barbara Caruthers.
She is preceded in death by parents Robert and May Belle Clement; brother Governor Frank Clement and sister-in-law Lucille Clement; brother-in-law Bruce Peery; stepson Steve O’Brien; and nephews Gary Clement and Don Peery.
Visitation will be Thursday, Sept. 3, at Hood Funeral Home, 2371 Highway 127 South, Crossville, TN, from noon to 8 p.m. (CDT).
Funeral services will be held on Friday, Sept. 4, at 11 a.m. at Tansi Community Church, 2067 Cravens Drive, Crossville, TN. Visitation will be held at the church at 10 a.m. (CDT).
Honorary Pallbearers include the members of the Frank G. Clement Museum Board of Directors, Crossville Fraternal Order of Police #163, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and former and current members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the: Governor Frank G. Clement Museum, 100 Frank Clement Place, Dickson, TN 37055, or to Tansi Community Church, 2067 Cravens Drive Crossville, TN 38572.