A personal reminisce from the chapter Webmaster:
There’s no way I can top the recent piece by my friend and colleague Gail Kerr about the passing of longtime Tennessean “Horse Sense” columnist Miss Margaret Warden. But I wanted share some thoughts, too.
I don’t know how I got picked back in the summer of 1994 to write the story for The Tennessean’s Local News section that Miss Warden was retiring. I was an intern between my junior and senior years at Vanderbilt, and at not-quite-20, I had to be the youngest of the youngest on the news staff – a strange choice for a story about one of our longest-serving newsroom icons.
But they picked me, and off I went one day to Miss Warden's home near the Belmont campus to talk to the great lady herself. (I didn’t have a car; I think I had to borrow one from my editor, Tommy Goldsmith, to get there.)
Miss Warden was a little-bitty woman, nearly 90, but you could tell she didn’t need, or want, anyone’s help getting around – and, as I later learned, she’d lived her whole life in that independent way.
Books, books, books, my Lord, they were everywhere in the house. Everywhere. On the shelves and elsewhere. There were stacks of books literally on the left and right of every step going up to the second floor. Horse books, a lot of them, but not all. Miss Warden gave photographer Nina Long and me a tour of her home and talked to us at some length in her parlor about her life and career. I don’t think she even owned a television set; I don’t remember seeing one in her house.
She was gracious but not too gracious to be honest, such as when she talked about something that probably was only whispered about years ago, when her doctor-father left the family high and dry to run off with one of his female patients.
But much of what I learned about Miss Warden I learned back at 1100 Broadway, where two generations of staffers were eager to share their favorite Miss Warden stories.
I went back to see Jimmy Davy in his office in the Sports Department and ask him to share his thoughts. (He hollered through the open door to David Climer that Miss Warden was retiring. Climer asked if it were too late to hire the male stripper.)
Jimmy recalled that when Miss Warden came in to type her column, without fail, she slugged it “hoss.” One of the newspaper’s first computer systems had a habit of adding a letter at the end of the slug to any story whose slug was already taken. One day there was a computer glitch and the technical people happened upon all of Miss Warden’s columns in the computer's brain, finding her slugs had gone slam through the alphabet, twice over, from A to ZZ.
Prior to that, the newspaper had input copy for typesetting by scanning in typewritten stories; letters to be capitalized were, I believe, underlined so the scanner would recognize them. With such a system, some writers found they didn’t have to fool with making capital letters on their typewriters because they could much more easily underline the hard copy with a marker before it was scanned.
But not Miss Warden. When she typed her byline, Jimmy said, she capitalized “Margaret Warden.” This was someone for whom modern technology did not lighten one’s responsibilities for upholding accepted standards of decorum.
One of my favorite Miss Warden stories is one I did not hear until some years later. Miss Warden had turned in her column one week, but on one weekend day, the editors found they had a question about it. They called and called but couldn’t get her to the phone, so they dispatched a staffer to her Belmont-area home to bang on the door (I was once told it was one of the photographers, but Frank Sutherland once swore to me it was him, so I believe him). Miss Warden finally came to the door, mad as a hornet: “Damn you, Frank Sutherland, I’m listening to the opera!”
(As my colleague Colby Sledge pointed out in her obituary, Miss Warden had had two chickens, named Tosca and Carmen.)
A few days after my story ran about Miss Warden ran, I got a letter in the mail at the paper, addressed to “Ms. Jennifer Peebles, Ace Reporter.” The return address sticker bore a silhouette of a jockey on a galloping steed: “Miss M. Lindsley Warden/1806 E. Belmont Cir./Nashville, Tennessee 37212.” In it were several yellowing pages of typewritten material – a sort of Miss Warden CV -- that I’m excerpting from below.
Like Gail said, Miss Warden was a true character. I see her in the old black-and-white pictures in the newspaper library, almost always outside at some horse event with her hat on and her white gloves, looking the picture of primness and properness as she gathered with Tennessee’s horse-y set – often super-wealthy men and their ladies-who-lunch society wives – for events like the Tennessean-sponsored dressage competition. (Yes, The Tennessean used to sponsor an annual dressage tournament. And we had a company plane. No, I’m not kidding. This will surely surprise my co-workers who are disappointed we no longer get free coffee in the newsroom.)
But those pictures don’t tell the whole story.
Miss Warden was born to Nashville society – like her return address above, she often referred to herself by her whole name, Margaret Lindsley Warden, a descendant of the prominent Nashville Lindsleys. But money didn’t grow on trees when she was growing up, and owning a horse of her own was not in the cards. She compensated for that through her study of horses and her work as a journalist. Her expertise wasn't something that was just given to her; she earned it.
Those pictures also make her look fragile and dainty. She may have been that way on the outside, but not on the inside. It’s a cliché, but Margaret Warden really did live life on her own terms. In an era where women were largely defined by who they married, Miss Warden stayed single her whole life. Can you imagine what it was like to be the only woman sportswriter at The Tennessean in the 1950s? -- Heck, I know women who worked in that department in the '70s and '80s who had enough of a challenge. And even though she couldn't own a horse of her own, she found a way to spend her life around horses anyhow.
And when Belmont College/University came after her house, it was like that bumper sticker for the NRA: “They’ll take away my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.” Well, Belmont was going to have to pry Miss Warden's house from her in a similar manner.
The school was no match for Miss Warden. As Gail says, they got her house, but only after they built her an exact replica of it. She died there the weekend after Thanksgiving. She was 103.
I think we would all do well to have as full a life as she had.
And now, here’s Miss Warden, by Miss Warden:
In the late 1920’s Col. Luke Lea, the publisher of The Nashville Tennessean, and a first cousin by marriage, allowed me to write a horse column once a week for that paper.
It last 2 or 3 years, but the top brass were not much interested, and when I went to Europe in 1928 with the Ward-Belmont party, that was an excuse to end it.
I loved animals always, especially horses, and before this newspaper work had ridden not very much, i.e. on camp horses, a gaited saddle horse borrowed from Luke Lea and boarded a couple of months at Ward-Belmont, and that was about all.
While in Europe, I attended races at Longchamp near Paris, a horse show at Lucerne, and races at York, England, and stayed two weeks (after the party sailed for home) in England visiting stables of Thoroughbreds, including that of King George VI at Sandringham. There I was shown around by Edmund Walker, the caretaker and had tea with him (not with the King).
Returning home, I worked at the Presbyterian Book Store, earning $15.00 a week. Thinking I was rich, I wanted to buy a large pony owned by Ward-Belmont. Her name was Cigarette and she had been a lead pony at the Fair Grounds. My mother and aunt were disgusted. “Working to support a horse,” they said, so that ended that.
Early in 1939, Coleman Harwell was editor of The Nashville Tennessean, noticed the horse activity around Nashville, and was told by someone that I had written a horse column some years before. So he hired me to write “Horse Sense,” the weekly column still running in The Tennessean, Sports, Sunday.