WILLIAMSBURG - Long time Williamsburg educator, Main Street director, and staple of the Williamsburg community, Nannie Hays, passed away at the age of 67 Friday.
Hays’ outreach as an educator reached far and wide at the small city school nestled in the heart of Williamsburg. As evident from the outpouring of love and support on Facebook, countless students were positively impacted by the person they lovingly referred to as “Nan.”
Jonathan Wyatt was a student of Hays’ from sixth grade until he graduated in 2009. He and Hays remained close even after he graduated college and landed his first band director job in Bell County. Wyatt says Hays visited and offered her support and guidance, and says Hays never asked for anything in return, except for the occasional dinner the two would share together.
“And nine times out of ten, Nannie ended up paying for it anyways,” he said.
In a written response, Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison says he and Hays had been friends for 45 years. He recalled Hays teaching him to play "Hot Cross Buns" on the piano and plastic recorder so he could pass his school music class while the two were students in college together.
Hays taught at Williamsburg for nearly three decades helping educate, raise, and direct students. Current Williamsburg City Council Member, Laurel Jeffries West, recalls Hays volunteering with then band director Bill Allison while earning her degree in music education from the University of the Cumberlands (then Cumberland College).
West says Allison put Hays in charge of the band’s rifle and flag corps, and that she and Hays worked together after West was named field commander during the 1980-1981 school year.
“She helped me develop my routines and salute and all that stuff you do in the band,” West said. “We became really good friends due to that, and because she was just a wonderful person.”
Wyatt said Hays made it a point to support her students and that she made it known that she was a safe space for them. He also remembers her ability to be stern and offer doses of tough love to her students, as well.
“That was just her personality,” Wyatt said. “A lot of people misunderstood Nannie, because she could come across as being rash and harsh sometimes, but if you truly knew who she was and her heart, there was no doubt in your mind where you stood with her,” he continued. “She would tell you something that maybe we didn’t want to hear, but needed to hear sometimes. But then she’d tell you, ‘I love you,’ and take you out to eat.”
“There are so many people that love her, and there are so many people she impacted,” West said. “I just send my prayers and condolences to everyone, because her out reach was so far for so many years, and in so many capacities.”
In the later years of Hays’ teaching career, she became Williamsburg’s Main Street director on a part-time basis. After retiring from teaching in 2011, she moved into a full-time position.
Harrison, who started teaching at Williamsburg the same year Hays did in 1984 and retired the same year too, said it was a “no brainer” when deciding who to hire as the Main Street manager.
“We collaborated on so many things and anything I asked for or thought about, if she hadn’t already thought about it, she would simply say, let’s do it, and it was done—and done in a classy way,” Harrison wrote.
West says her relationship and friendship with Hays transcended her time in the band at Williamsburg High School and that the two remained close as city officials.
“She was always traveling, and had lot of friends and ideas from other Main Street managers across the state. She had a wealth of connections and ideas,” West recalled. “It takes a while to build that respect with people in your area. She definitely had that.”
West remembers Hays’ determination and hard work in procuring grants for the city’s Main Street program, and credits those grants for the changes in facades and downtown buildings.
“She’s been an integral part of the revitalization, the revival of Main Street. I just can’t image life without her in our town,” West added.
Wyatt and Hays also worked together in her downtown manager capacity. Wyatt says she asked him to to join the board of directors, but that Hays handled most of the work.
“Basically, she did all the work and we were just kind of in-name only and didn’t really have to do that much with it,” he explained. “I know Nannie is laughing about this right now, just because that’s how Nannie operated,” he said.
When asked what he would remember most about Hays, Wyatt said it would be the legacy she left behind.
“Her legacy that she left not only on her students that she had, her family, her friends, but most of all, the legacy she left on the community to leave it a better place than what she got it,” he said.
“She really did stick to that slogan that Roddy [Harrison] created, that ‘Williamsburg feels like home,’ because it was her home,” West said. “She wanted everybody to feel that love and community.”
“You might not understand Nu’s (that’s what I called her) tactics, but you couldn’t question her motives,” wrote Harrison. “I think you could sum her up this way: In a text to Maria, another very good friend of ours said, ‘Nannie was always so kind to me.’ Then he quickly sent a follow-up text that said, ‘Well, in a Nannie sort of way.’ That made us chuckle because anybody who knew her understands this,” he continued. “I gotta say, this loss hurts deep. I will miss my Nu and everybody else will too.”
Funeral service will be 11 a.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church of Williamsburg with the Rev. Rob Powers officiating. Interment will be in the Highland Park Cemetery Davis Addition. Visitation will be 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ellison Funeral Home.
*In our original post and print publication, we included a photo of a Williamsburg fan that was misidentified as Nannie Hays. We apologize for this mistake.