Roberta “Bert”

Childress, of Tellico Plains, Tennessee, died at the age of 89 on Monday, April 5, 2021. Her last full day in her Earthly body was spent in celebration of Easter Sunday with friends and family at her beloved Center Presbyterian Church.

Roberta was born on May 14, 1931, and was meant to be called by an entirely different name, as chosen by her mother. But her daddy had other plans, and Roberta Louise Franklin was inked on the birth certificate. She was born into sisterhood, with two older brothers and a sister awaiting her at home. Two more brothers arrived in time, along with their adopted sister. This gaggle of Franklin siblings was tightly bonded and devoted to one another, holding decades of annual reunions every July that multiplied both in people and in love (and in mountains of corn, shucked and consumed under Roberta’s direction).

Roberta attended King College, where she met and fell in love with a handsome veteran named Bill Childress. The two were married in 1949. After Roberta received her bachelor’s degree, she and Bill moved to Atlanta, where she taught school and Bill attended Columbia Seminary.

In 1954, Bill and “Bert” settled in Tellico Plains. Following in Bert’s daddy’s footsteps, Preacher Bill served as pastor to four area Presbyterian churches. Bert settled into her role as pastor’s wife, helping in Bible schools, Christmas programs, and all manner of church outreach. Center Presbyterian became her church home, where Roberta remained the organist until her last Easter Sunday service.

Bert became “Momma” in 1956 when the couple welcomed a daughter. She was joined by a son a few years later.

Roberta joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1965, following in her mother’s footsteps. Her career with USPS spanned nearly 37 years until her retirement in 2001. Her role as postmaster gave her just the opportunity she was called for—getting to know people, lending a helping hand whenever and wherever needed, and spreading her generosity near and far. She never retired from keeping the flower pots filled and watered at the current Post Office.

One of Roberta’s more unusual names was invented by her grandson. She wanted to be called “Mamaw” and spent a day coaching the toddler on how to say the word. She thought he had it all figured out and asked him to announce it to the rest of the family. Legend has it that he loudly declared that she was “Mamemaw” and the name stuck like glue, both in her family and outside it.

Roberta, Bert, Mamemaw lived long and well, caring deeply for her church, her community and her family. She enjoyed her garden, books and quilting. She never met a stranger. At every holiday, her home was open to all; family members were often surprised to see the arrival of unexpected (to them) guests around the tables in her dining room. Christmas was a most “Mamemaw” affair, where she delighted in giving strange and silly gifts. The Dollar Store and a wide variety of curiosity catalogs will suffer greatly from her lack of patronage.

Roberta loved Tellico Plains—her community in the foothills of the mountains. She delighted in the Wagon Train and the Candlelight Walk. She supported the new library and the Cherokee Women’s Study Club. She brought all her visitors to the Charles Hall Museum and made sure her family received Tellico Bear Christmas ornaments for their trees. Sick and needy folks all over Monroe County were wrapped in quilts she pieced together with her friends in The Dorcas Ladies Ministry.

To many she will be remembered for her love of music. She was the organist at Center Presbyterian from the 1950s up until her final Easter Sunday service—the number of Sundays she missed over the years could likely be counted on less than 10 fingers. She instilled a deep love of music in her children and grandchildren, and she was never more proud than when they used their inherited musical gifts in church or on stage.

Roberta is preceded in death by: her husband, Rev. Bill Childress; parents, Rev. McCoy and Mary Steenrod Franklin; sisters, Mayme Glover and Alice Baker; brother, Bruce Franklin; sisters-in-law, Ola Mae Franklin, Pat Franklin and Becky Franklin; and brother-in-law, Drex Baker.

She is survived by: her daughter, Beth Briggs (Bill);

Son, Tim Childress (Sandy);

Grandson, Aaron Briggs (Ashley);

Granddaughters, Cierra Inman McRary (Justin), and Kenzie Riden (Mark);

Great-grandchildren, Ansel and Beatrice Briggs, Connor and Lucy Riden, and Crew McRary;

Brothers, Doug Franklin, Mack Franklin (Betty), and Rev. Coy Franklin;

Numerous nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held on May 15, 2021, at 11 a.m. at Center Presbyterian Church with the Reverends Jon Faraone, John Rogers, and McCoy Franklin officiating.

Roberta gave joyfully to a variety of organizations and causes. She embodied the lessons taught by Jesus by caring for others through her giving. In lieu of flowers, the family and Roberta would be grateful for donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Berea Fund at Berea College, The House that Mercy Built, the Presbyterian Church, or your favorite charity.

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