ORAL HISTORY OF PATRICIA RUSH
Interviewed by Amy Fitzgerald, Ph.D.
Filmed by Keith McDaniel
April 14, 2010
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Well, today, we’re interviewing former Councilwoman Pat – Patricia – Rush, and Pat served on Oak Ridge City Council from June 1987 until June 2001. Pat, I wanted to start out by asking you a little about your background. We’re going to talk about your role on City Council, but first wanted to talk a little bit about what brought you to Oak Ridge. When did you arrive? Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Mrs. Rush: Well, I’m a genuine Kentucky hillbilly, born and reared in Middlesboro, Kentucky – Cumberland Gap, Middlesboro, you know? Been here since 1955 or 1956. Helen was born in ’58. Dick had a job at the Lab, and so that just kept us here forever, and still here –
Dr. Fitzgerald: What was his job at the Lab?
Mrs. Rush: – I followed my husband.
Dr. Fitzgerald: What did he –
Mrs. Rush: A chemist.
Dr. Fitzgerald: He was a chemist?
Mrs. Rush: Analytical Chemistry Division at that time, but I don’t know what it was when he finally quit.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Is that your background, as well? Where did you go to school?
Mrs. Rush: I went to Hollins College near Roanoke, Virginia. Majored in physics, but don’t ask me anything about physics. I don’t know, after that, it just –
Dr. Fitzgerald: Where did you meet Dick?
Mrs. Rush: I met him at Hollins. His aunt taught chemistry there, but he was going to the University of Virginia, so I might have dated him otherwise if it hadn’t been for his aunt, but that was nice.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay, so you moved to Oak Ridge when he took a job here?
Mrs. Rush: Yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Do you remember much about where you lived or what Oak Ridge was like when you first moved here?
Mrs. Rush: We lived at 212 Alder Lane, A-L-D-E-R, which I thought was very nice at the time. Of course, things like this didn’t exist then, but Oak Ridge was a wonderful, lovely place to live. It had all kinds of interesting things to do and it seemed like I was always into something. I started out through music, Oak Ridge Chorus, and all of that, and the church music choir, so I guess music has always been a thread, too.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. What church did you –
Mrs. Rush: First Presbyterian, and still go there –
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay.
Mrs. Rush: – if they don’t kick me out.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Do you still sing in the choir?
Mrs. Rush: No, I don’t sing anymore.
Dr. Fitzgerald: What other types of organizations – when you were first here, you were here a couple years and then your daughter was born. Were you involved in other organizations besides the church?
Mrs. Rush: I think I was on the Arts Council, and I was in the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association Chorus, ORCMA Chorus, until I couldn’t sing anymore. I was always in the Chorus and always active with ORCMA, and served on the Chorus board and ORCMA board, and Arts Council, various things. I was always busy.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. What was it like raising children in Oak Ridge? What types of things did Helen and John do when they were growing up?
Mrs. Rush: Well, Helen was running away with boys, and got married at fifteen and all that, you know? Anyway, I’m awfully pleased that she has a nice husband now, and settled down and living here in Oak Ridge – and back to my house – but things did turn out well. Dr. Fitzgerald: Great.
Mrs. Rush: I wasn’t sure there for a little while.
Dr. Fitzgerald: What elementary school did they go to? Do you remember?
Mrs. Rush: Woodland.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Woodland?
Mrs. Rush: Mhm.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay, and was that a good experience? What was Woodland like? Do you remember much about that?
Mrs. Rush: It was just a very nice school. It had the usual school things and all, but I was very, very pleased with all the experiences there, and they went then to Jefferson, of course, high school.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Well, tell us a little bit about what got you interested in running for City Council? Your first term began in June 1987. Do you remember how you initially got interested in running for City Council?
Mrs. Rush: I grew up with my parents, and the parents of friends were all interested in Middlesboro, Kentucky and how things were run and not run, and so I just grew up in that environment. My dad served on the school board in Middlesboro. I don’t know, just being involved in the community was always a part of life. You did that. You didn’t consider otherwise.
Dr. Fitzgerald: So, your father was a public servant, so it’s kind of in your blood?
Mrs. Rush: Yes, but you were supposed to serve.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Was there any particular issue? Do you remember at the time when you were running for City Council, was there a certain platform you ran on, or were you just interested in helping provide direction for the city?
Mrs. Rush: There was no specific issue, no, but I was willing to be as good a City Council member as I could, and study and not shoot from the hip, but have it with backup information.
Dr. Fitzgerald: When you came, one of the I guess important dates for the City of Oak Ridge was in May of 1959, when the citizens voted to incorporate as a city, and then some of the early efforts at that time and afterwards to establish city government. Do you have any thoughts about that period in the city’s history, and what that was like having been a city born out of World War II, and then the community working to try to establish local government?
Mrs. Rush: My general impression of the period, and don’t ask me about specifics, but everybody was truly trying to do the best they could and to create something that had substance and continuation, that would be something that we would like to live in and be proud of. I didn’t ever see any hidden agendas. I always felt it was for the good of the city, for the good of the people, for the good of Tennessee, whatever. It was trying to form the best thing that we could. How can you aim at something better than that? I don’t know.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, the relationship of course now with the Department of Energy – I guess back then it was still the Atomic Energy Commission – do you recall any growing pains or any issues that occurred before you were elected to City Council that you were interested in or served?
Mrs. Rush: I’ve of course forgotten the issues that we had back then, but I always found that – I won’t say always. There must be exceptions. But, there was a great sense of cooperation between the citizens of Oak Ridge and those of us serving on Council, etc., and the people with AEC and later DOE, or whatever it might be, I never felt any antagonism or having to fight against them. It was just a real sense of cooperation, trying to figure out what was best, and that doesn’t mean rubber stamp by any means. It’s a lot of individual ideas and you select the best, if you can.
Dr. Fitzgerald: When you were on City Council, I know from my interaction with you that one of the committees that you served on was the – you were one of the first members of the Department of Energy’s Site-Specific Advisory Board, representing the city on that board.
Mrs. Rush: Yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: What do you recall from that experience? Was it –
Mrs. Rush: Again, it was not us against them or any of that. It was a strong spirit of cooperation, and looking at all angles and trying to figure out what was best. I never felt a sense of antagonism. It was cooperation and seeking good solutions. I hope it’s still that way.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the people that you served with at the city? I know, let’s see, I think at the time would it be Jeff Broughton that was City Manager? Do you remember –
Mrs. Rush: I think I started it was Lyle Lacey.
Dr. Fitzgerald: With Lyle Lacey?
Mrs. Rush: Yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Yeah.
Mrs. Rush: Lyle and I locked horns occasionally, which was interesting, but we always kept it on a good level. I did deliberately antagonize him occasionally just to get things going.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Do you remember over what particular issues or –
Mrs. Rush: No, I don’t remember. No. But Lyle was very, very conservative, and I’m probably conservative but none of the various – but we did have different perspectives, and I found that interesting. Usually we agreed, but we sometimes locked horns. That was fun. He won some and I won some, so that was okay.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Do you remember any of the mayors that you served with? I know, let’s see, you served with Ed Nephew. You would have served, I guess, with Walt Brown, with –
Mrs. Rush: Walt was vice mayor, or just a Council member, but –
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes.
Mrs. Rush: – I don’t know that he – he may have been mayor while I was out, but Roy Pruett –
Dr. Fitzgerald: Roy.
Mrs. Rush: Bissell.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes.
Mrs. Rush: I guess I started back with Bissell –
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes. Okay.
Mrs. Rush: – and whoever followed for the next thirteen or fifteen years, whatever. I loved serving on City Council.
Dr. Fitzgerald: How about, let’s see, some of the other city managers that you’ve worked with, or how about Jackie Bernard, City Clerk –
Mrs. Rush: Oh yeah.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes. What –
Mrs. Rush: I think Jackie disagreed with me a number of times, but that was okay. I did try to keep things in line and not get out of line, but we got along fine.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah.
Mrs. Rush: Jackie was a good city clerk.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes. Some of the other activities, were you involved with the National League of Cities –
Mrs. Rush: Yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: – and you attended some of those meetings and –
Mrs. Rush: Virtually all of them.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes. Yeah.
Mrs. Rush: I found it very, very profitable to go. I mean it was just a constant learning experience, and there were some on the Council who seemed to not care at all whether they went, and I usually found them rather narrow in their thinking. I wished that they would go to NLC or even Tennessee Municipal League, and things, but a few of them just were set in their ways.
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s a great learning experience –
Mrs. Rush: Yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: – in terms of your tenure on City Council, being on there for about fourteen years. Did you see any significant changes in the way the city was run during your tenure in terms of the growth, I guess, of the professional city staff?
Mrs. Rush: I’m sure it was just an ongoing evolution. So many things. Nothing is popping up right now. No.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Do you remember some of the discussions about the transfer of properties from the Department of Energy to the city for economic development and the self-sufficiency?
Mrs. Rush: Yes. I tried very hard to keep things very professional, and yet trying to get things for the city, and most of the DOE people, or AEC or whoever they may have been at the time, were also leaning towards being as accommodating as they could for the city. I found that a good, positive experience. I didn’t feel any antagonism, or whatever. It was fun.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, good.
Mrs. Rush: But it really was great getting the city the lands that we did, and having them transferred. That was good.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, as you visit your old hometown or other communities around Oak Ridge, what types of differences would you say there are between Oak Ridge and other cities its size?
Mrs. Rush: Well, I haven’t been back to my hometown in so long, I wouldn’t want to make any statement there, but go to other towns that I’ve visited, usually via City Council boards, or whatever, and it seemed like I was just busy doing what I was supposed to do, the work and studying the issues that we were making decisions about. I didn’t get out much on the town. I was grateful for the different food and things of that sort, but it seemed like I was always studying or going to meetings.
Dr. Fitzgerald: You said – backing up just a little bit – when you first moved to Oak Ridge, you and Dick set up home on Alder Lane. Did you move somewhere else before you moved to Dana Drive, or was Dana Drive your –
Mrs. Rush: We went directly from Alder to Dana. When we moved here, you could not buy property, and our rental property, of course, was on Alder Lane, and we were looking at other things that we might. But then, it looked like they were going to be selling property, so we bought this big old vacant lot on Dana Drive and built there, and that was all fun. But it was interesting to feel like you were a part of something that was really growing, and trying to make it nice. So, that was a good time in history.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, great. Well, your husband being a scientist and yourself having a scientific background, I know many of the issues that we deal with here at the city have technical and scientific aspects to them just because of the nature of the community. I know that that must have been a benefit to have that background in your –
Mrs. Rush: Yes, it was. Not that I was very good in any of it, but yes, it did give me an additional perspective than if I’d just been, say, an English major, or whatever. I think that could have been much more limiting.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. Well, about the time when you were serving on the Site Specific Advisory Board, I know there were a lot of environmental issues that the SSAB dealt with, and at that time you probably had some of the more active environmentalists involved in the SSAB. Do you recall any of how that impacted your service?
Mrs. Rush: What recollection I have of SSAB, which isn’t too much, but it seems like we were all dedicated to studying and making the best decisions we could, and it was just a hardworking group. I don’t recall any playtime or anything else. It was just study and work, study and work, and I think all in all, we made pretty good decisions.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. How about some of the other city boards, you know, the Planning Commission. We have the Environmental Quality Advisory Board. Did you interact with them much, other than when they brought their recommendations to Council?
Mrs. Rush: Well, except for the Environmental Quality Advisory – EQAB is what we called it – I did serve on that some, so I had interrelation, but most of the relationship between boards and committees was, from my point of view, just their reports to us and our feedback, and just dialogue with them. I felt it was positive. I might give them a hard time and they might give me a hard time. We all had the same goals in mind, to make the best workable decisions that we could, so from that I felt it was very positive.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Well, one of the, I guess, issues, two of the issues, if you take a look at the history of the City of Oak Ridge, that kind of stand out for me in terms of the governance of the city was at one point there were actually twelve City Council members that served on City Council, and the various charter commissions that were established. That number is now, of course, down to seven. Do you have any suggestions –
Mrs. Rush: Yeah. I think going from twelve by district to however many – nine, seven, five now, I think – at-large was a very positive step. I found the district was not the best form of government. I tried to represent the district when it was that way, but I always felt I should think at-large. It’s the city; it’s not my little neighborhood. I’m really glad that we went to at-large. You may have everybody on the boards living within five blocks of each other. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean they think alike or react alike. They’re individuals, and hopefully that’s why they got – what they’re doing up here is why they got elected.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay. Well, great. And then, I guess the other major issue for the community, or one of the major issues during that time period was also back in 1986, when the Department of Energy offered, they call it the buyout, with the City of Oak Ridge and Anderson and Roane County. There was an agreement between DOE and the City that established I think about a twenty million dollar fund that was transferred or set up for the city to help in the annual assistance payments. So, that would have been about the time that you came on City Council. I was curious to see if you have any thoughts about that, or how you think that has worked out.
Mrs. Rush: My recollection is that we did get kind of annual lump-sum from AEC, and then, when we did have the buyout, it was a matter of planning, and we knew that by investing, and the staff figured up how much we could get annual income and things; it looked like we could manage okay. And I was very pleased that we had such dedicated staff and all to figure these things out and, in essence, guide us, so we had a lot of citizen groups that were very, very knowledgeable. I relied heavily on all of them. I was not a representative of any one, but kind of tried to pull all of the information I could get and make the best decisions. That was my goal.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes. Well, I know you’ve been very active over the years in different organizations, and I know you were very involved with Altrusa.
Mrs. Rush: Yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Do you have any recollections that you want to share about your work in those types of civic organizations, or anything that –
Mrs. Rush: I loved being in Altrusa, and met very interesting people, because you were selected partly from your job, and we weren’t all alike and of varied backgrounds. I made very good friends and thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a good representation of the community at-large, or sometimes the region at-large, and I appreciated Altrusa. It gave me a direct link to Nashville, to Knoxville, to various communities, and a reason for going there and interacting with them. I found that was very positive.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. Well, and then one of the other things about the time that I came to work for the city, there was a lot of discussion when Bo McDaniel was City Manager about the economic diversification, and what other types of activities the city could be doing or the community could be doing to lessen its dependence on the Department of Energy. And, of course, there has been a lot of economic development, very successful over the years, and I know you were very involved with the Chamber and the different recruiting opportunities that were out there. Do you have any –
Mrs. Rush: No, other than it was an exciting period, and I felt like being a part of a growing institution, if you wish, and that was fun to help set the course and follow the actual course that did evolve. I found that interesting and really liked it.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. Well, what made you decide to step down from Council after fourteen years? Do you remember, in June? Let’s see. You would have –
Mrs. Rush: Well, I think I’d had enough and I figured the community had had enough of me, so I figured it was just time to quit.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yeah. Well, have you kept up? What have you been doing since you retired from City Council?
Mrs. Rush: I don’t know when I moved into the retirement center here, but it’s – I keep kind of involved, but not too much. I don’t know what years or whatever, but I love it here, and I’m still very, very glad I’m in Oak Ridge. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or that you think is important to talk about from the city government perspective or the community, or even the Laboratory, the relationship between the city and –
Mrs. Rush: I don’t know of anything in particular. I do think we have good people with the city, who represent us in communication with these organizations. I don’t think you’re going down the wrong path. I think you’re doing the right thing. You, in particular, with the city staff, and all, and the Council and everything, School Board.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Is there anything that you can think of that we need to be working on, or areas that need additional attention?
Mrs. Rush: No. I keep up with it but I don’t plan ahead of it. I don’t anticipate what’s coming. I guess I’ve kind of turned that off. I don’t have to do that anymore.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Okay.
Mrs. Rush: But, I do enjoy keeping up and being more or less aware of what is going on, and I guess if I had my feathers ruffled enough, I’d get involved, but you haven’t done too bad a job so far, let me put it that way.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, I certainly enjoyed working with you, and greatly appreciate you taking your time and talking to us about your experience.
Mrs. Rush: I’m glad I was on City Council when you got hired, and I think we made an excellent decision hiring you.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Thank you. Did you get that, Keith? [laughter]
Mrs. Rush: Yeah. Okay.
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well, thank you, Pat. We really –
Mrs. Rush: Well, thank you, Amy and Keith.
Dr. Fitzgerald: – do appreciate it.
Mrs. Rush: I appreciate it, and it is a great place to live and –
Dr. Fitzgerald: Well –
Mrs. Rush: – say yes.
Dr. Fitzgerald: – yes, it is. Yes, ma’am. Thank you.
[end of recording]