Peggy Groce McDaniel Bevels, former Lincoln County mayor and a longtime dedicated public servant, passed away Tuesday, April 5, 2022, at Donalson Care Center. She was 84.
A trailblazer, Mrs. Bevels was a native of Lincoln County, a longtime resident of the Boonshill community and member of the Cyruston Church of Christ. She began her professional career working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA-MSFC) where she was an administrative manager responsible for presenting budgets to Dr. Wernher von Braun. She received many honors from the late Dr. von Braun, who was one of the most important rocket developers and champions of space exploration of the 20th century.
Mrs. Bevels, Lincoln County’s first female county mayor, is credited with several achievements, and perhaps foremost among those was leading the way for the establishment of the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Museum and Civic Center, of which she would serve as president for its first 22 years. The idea, she once told The Elk Valley Times, came from several women in various Home Demonstration Clubs, today called Family and Community Education Clubs.
“Billy Bob Carter and Peggy Bevels have done more for this community than most anyone,” said attorney Ray Fraley, who she brought onto the museum’s founding board in 1986. “It took him donating the building and her ramrodding it through.
“She was insistent that the museum would succeed,” he continued. “Peggy was persuasive, energetic, dedicated, and smart, and she loved Lincoln County. She had many wonderful qualities, but those I appreciated most.”
“When I think of Peggy, I think of the hard work she put in with the museum from the very beginning,” said Carolyn Denton, executive director of the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “I recall her working with Daddy and other members of that founding board to see to it that our heritage would be preserved.”
Ms. Denton’s father was James Buchanan, a founding museum board member who long served as its vice president. He was also a dairy farmer and manager of the Agricultural Conservation and Stabilization Service here, lending insight and connections as the museum went on to develop the second largest agricultural exhibit in the state.
“Together, that founding board along with their families and friends did everything from cleaning up the former Borden Milk Plant to replacing the plumbing and wiring,” she said. “They also worked to collect donations for the exhibits and secure grants with the help of then State Sen. Jerry Cooper and State Rep. Pete Phillips.”
Mrs. Bevels was also known for introducing tax increment financing as an economic development tool here, securing state and local support for extending public water to more difficult to reach areas, and helping start Hamburger Day on the Hill, a tradition since 1986.
“The story Peggy always told was that she and Margie Solomon, then executive director of the Chamber, had put their heads together and thought this would be a great way for Lincoln County to showcase itself before members of the Tennessee General Assembly … Just last week we held the 33rd Hamburger Day on the Hill.”
Mrs. Bevels’ time in local politics spanned nearly 30 years. She was first elected in August of 1986 as a county commissioner representing District 2, a position she would go on to hold for 21 years until being elected by the Lincoln County Commission as county mayor in January 2007 after Jerry Mansfield resigned to become executive director of South Central Tennessee Development District.
After completing Mansfield’s unexpired term, Mrs. Bevels was re-elected in 2008 and then again in 2010. She was seeking re-election to her third term in 2014 when she suffered a severe stroke.
“One of the first things I remember when Peggy joined the Lincoln County Commission is her interest in state organizations and training,” said Commissioner Steve Graham. “She was one of the first commissioners to attend classes, and she urged the rest of us to attend as well. It helped make her a very effective commissioner.”
Bevels was the first Lincoln County commissioner to become certified as a public administrator by the University of Tennessee.
“When she became county mayor, she continued to have training and preparedness on her mind,” Graham said. “She also had the best interests of Lincoln County at heart. She was very dedicated, and together, with her help and leadership, we did a lot of good. She is missed by everyone, from commissioners to so many others in our county.”
On the state level, she served as president of three key organizations, the Tennessee County Services Association (TCSA), the Tennessee County Commissioners Association (TCCA) and the Tennessee Association of County Mayors (ACM). In addition, she served as Tennessee’s representative to the National Association of Counties and as chairperson of the area Homeland Security Council.
“Any time I’m at a statewide county mayors’ meeting, people still ask about her,” said current Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman. “She made so many contributions to not only our county but to our state as well. It is with heartfelt sympathy that I extend our deepest condolences, not just mine but those of mayors across the state, to her family and those who stood with her in county government.”
“When I was first elected, Peggy really helped me,” said State Rep. Pat Marsh. “I felt honored that she helped me as she did … She loved Lincoln County and the citizens there, and she loved Hamburger Day on the Hill – she was the leader and always at ease with making speeches and introductions. I was always amazed at how many people she knew and how she could call upon them for the benefit of Lincoln County – she would not ever take no for an answer.”
Among her closest friends and oftentimes a traveling partner to state meetings and events was Commissioner Shirley Dangerfield, who spoke of her integrity, kindness, tenacity, and love for Lincoln County.
“Mrs. Peggy Groce Bevels was one of the nicest people I have ever known,” she said. “Was she perfect, no, but not any of us are … One thing about it, Peggy loved her county and worked hard for its betterment, always wanting to make sure we could have all that was possibly needed or all that was offered.”
Mrs. Dangerfield went on to recall ways in which Mrs. Bevels worked to resolve issues, such as sewer improvements at Highland Rim and Unity schools, and make way for growth, including the acquisition of Runway Centre, groundwork that would help draw Hampton Inn to Fayetteville, and support for the Motlow College Fayetteville Center.
“There were rough battles along the way, but it never stopped Peggy,” she said. “She just kept right on pushing … and if you needed help, she would do her best to help, whether it was money or advice.”
In 2013, Mrs. Bevels was selected as the recipient of the Robert M. Wormsley Outstanding County Official of the Year, an award presented by TCSA. At the time, she was only the 10th county official and the first woman to have been awarded the honor.
“Mayor Bevels was a sweet and caring individual with a charming and engaging personality who loved Lincoln County,” said Commissioner Anthony Taylor, who nominated Mrs. Bevels for the 2013 award. “During her time as a county commissioner and later as county mayor, she was well prepared to take on the awesome responsibility as the lead county official.
“Mayor Bevels was able to clearly see the needs of the future and successfully implemented a host of strategic initiatives that laid the foundation of many of the accomplishments we are seeing today,” Taylor added. “To the family, may the memory of Mayor Bevels and God’s promise bring comfort to you and peace to your heart.”
In 2014, Mrs. Bevels was honored by the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce as its Individual of the Year. It was an honor bestowed upon her with a vote by Chamber members.
“Peggy contributed greatly to our community, and we were so glad to be able to honor her in that way,” said Ms. Denton. “She was a person who could take an idea and make it happen, and that’s a rare gift.”
In addition, Mrs. Bevels was a graduate of Leadership Lincoln, a member of the Boonshill Family and Community Education Club, Petersburg Lions Club, Fayetteville Rotary Club, an honorary member of the Boonshill Fire Department, and a charter member of the Lincoln County Humane Society and Lincoln County Area Crime Stoppers.
Mrs. Bevels is survived by her son-in-law, Dean Bevels of Fayetteville; grandchildren, Courtney Norris (Derek) Englett and Justin “Bert” (Chelsey) Norris; great-grandchildren, Weston Englett, Brantley Englett, Beckett Norris, and Lucy Norris; stepsons, Mike (Nancy) Bevels, and Kim Bevels; and stepdaughter, Sandy Bevels DeVaney.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Robert Lee and Lula Buntley Groce; husbands, Billy George McDaniel and Virgil Bevels; son, Mark Edwin McDaniel; daughter, Rhonda Bevels; brothers, Ray Gene Groce and Glen Groce; and sister, Jewell Groce McNatt.
Services will be Saturday, April 9 at 1 pm at Higgins Funeral Home with Bro. Greg Wiser, Ray Fraley, and Lucy Carter Williams officiating. Burial will follow at Wright’s Cemetery. Visitation with the family will be from 10 am until the time of the service.
Memorial donations may be made to the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Museum, P O Box 54, Fayetteville, TN, 37334.
Higgins Funeral Home is honored to serve the family of Mrs. Peggy Groce McDaniel Bevels.