New book tells story of Sevier County centenarian

A Gatlinburg chronicle
Aug. 30, 2014 @ 06:00 PM

Is Martha Whaley, 104, Sevier County’s most senior citizen?

“I don’t know of anybody who’s older,” she said.

Whaley is the subject of “A Lifetime in Gatlinburg: Martha Cole Whaley Remembers,” a new book by Gatlinburg-Pittman High School teacher Marie Maddox.

Published by the History Press, “A Lifetime in Gatlinburg” chronicles Whaley’s childhood in the Sugarlands valley, in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; her family life with husband Dick Whaley, who was Gatlinburg’s first mayor, and their children; and the couple’s work running the Hotel Greystone, which they opened in 1942.

“Her life is tied to the whole history of the town,” said Maddox, a North Carolina native who teaches Latin and journalism at the high school.

Maddox wrote “A Lifetime in Gatlinburg” in Whaley’s voice. “I was born in our family home on April 1, 1910,” the first chapter begins.

“I started writing it in my voice, and I got about six or eight pages in,” Maddox said. Something wasn’t right, she recalled. “It needed to be Martha’s story, in the first person.”

Four years ago, Maddox joined a group that met weekly for breakfast at a pancake house. That’s how she met Whaley.

“I started listening to her friends tell stories about her,” Maddox said. “People said, ‘Martha, you have to write this down.’”

Martha responded, with characteristic dry wit: “I hate to write.”

“I had always wanted to write a book,” Maddox said. “I never knew what about.”

Then, Maddox said, “All of a sudden, it was like God spoke from a cloud: ‘Write a book about Martha.’”

Maddox asked Whaley: “Can I write a book about you?” Whaley responded: “If you ask me questions, I’ll give you answers.”

They met for interviews, and Maddox wrote a manuscript in New Mexico. She printed it out, and Whaley’s daughter, Robin, read it aloud to her mother.

“They loved it,” Maddox said. “So we had a book.”

“I think she did a good job,” Whaley said. “She made me look pretty good.”

On a friend’s recommendation, Maddox submitted the manuscript to the History Press, which is based in Charleston, S.C.

“I sent a cover letter,” Maddox said. “I explained that (Whaley) was 104, and I wanted it published and in her hands while she was still alive to know about it.”

Five days later, Maddox said, she learned her book would be published.

“A Lifetime in Gatlinburg” is illustrated with many photographs. Throughout the book, Maddox has interspersed remembrances and tributes from Whaley’s friends, associates and family members.

Also included are what Maddox calls Whaley’s “most-requested” recipes, like the ones for lemon snowdrops and coconut cream pie.

In concluding chapters, Maddox presents Whaley’s views on topics such as traveling, gardening and aging.

“I think her philosophy of life is simple,” Maddox said. “Eat healthy, exercise, stay interested in things and go to church.”

In her long life, Whaley has seen much change. “Some of it’s good, and some of it isn’t so good,” she said.

Today, she said, “We hardly know our neighbor.” But when she was young, “Everybody helped each other if work had to be done. We all got along and loved each other. The world would be so much better if it was still like that.”

“A Lifetime in Gatlinburg: Martha Cole Whaley Remembers” is available on the web at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at local outlets including Books-A-Million, the Mountain Lodge, the Little House of Pancakes and Home Federal Bank. Marie Maddox will sign copies on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Old Timer’s Day, Starkeytown Cove, Pigeon Forge. For more information, visit