There are few negative things that could be said about Lebanon native Susie James…and several of her friends and colleagues took their best shots Tuesday night during a roast in her honor to benefit the Wilson County Library Board at Castle Heights Elementary School.
Through her career as a radio station owner and general manager for about 25 years, James, a lifelong Lebanon resident, mother, grandmother and active community leader, established a significant reputation in the broadcast industry across Tennessee and throughout much of the Southeast for her professionalism and business acumen.
Her role as owner and general manager of local radio stations WANT 98.9 FM and WCOR 1490 AM began in 1993 with a special emphasis that continues on community interests, local news reporting, local sports coverage and the broadcast of a "real country" format, which blends the traditional sound of new artists with the greatest country classics.
Including a special appearance from Batman himself, roasters for the 28th-annual event included Judy Cox, M.J. Lucas, John Bryan, Gary Whitaker and Frank Gailbreath, who each told story after story about James, lending a bit of insight into the “skeletons” in her closet.
“What I want to know is what lady would ride around town with a skeleton?” said Cox about James. “She rides around with this skeleton, if you’ve seen her. I’m going to pass around pictures so that you can see that I’m telling the truth. She rides around with this skeleton named Mr. Bones. She named the skeleton. Now, you see she needs someone to ride around with her. She’s a total wreck when she rides around by herself.”
Lucas shared several stories about James, one of which was a case of mistaken identity.
“Years ago, there was a group of us from the radio station who went to dinner at Fleming’s in Nashville,” Lucas said. “Of course, it was crowded, and we were waiting in the little lounge area to be seated…This guy walks in; he’s dressed in a fringe coat. He has a cowboy hat, boots, tight jeans. Susie leans over to me and says, ‘Look at that guy trying to be Alan Jackson.’ I lean back and say, ‘Susie, that is Alan Jackson.’”
James’ education began as a preschooler in the renowned Edna Bennett's Pixie School. She was an elementary student at McClain Elementary School, David Lipscomb Elementary and graduated from Friendship Christian School, where she was selected "Most Likely to Succeed" by her fellow classmates. She attended Cumberland College – currently Cumberland University – and received a degree from Middle Tennessee State University.
Bryan told stories about growing up with James, including a crush he had on her.
“It’s true. I inherited a girl’s bedroom when I was 12 years old,” Bryan said. “You see, Susie’s parents sold their house to my mom and dad. My brothers got Phil and Janice’s bedrooms. I got Susie’s. I’m not saying she was vain, but the whole left side of the wall was mirrors. That’s a hard adjustment for a young man who experienced puberty late in life.”
Bryan also revealed some items he found in James’ old room, including a poster from her teenage years.
Whitaker, who isn’t originally from Lebanon, said he sent out requests for information about James. During the roast, he revealed a large binder he said was full of information regarding James.
“Somebody told me that Susie has a lot of shoes,” Whitaker said, and then asked James how many pairs of shoes she owned. “Actually I found out. I was able to go over to Susie’s today and start counting. I’m a banker. I’ve never counted that high, Susie.”
Gailbreath said he had to do some research on roasts to be one of James’ roasters.
“I looked at a couple of them on YouTube to see what they used to be like, and I found out they were always roasting older people. I guess some things don’t change,” Gailbreath said, who then asked James if he needed to talk louder and later teased her about her original hair color.
At the conclusion, it came time for James to seek her revenge on her roasters of the evening. She told stories about her past, growing up in Lebanon, along with a few from her roasters’ past, as well.
Following her remarks, William Taylor with the Wilson County Library Board presented James with a plaque for her willingness to participate in the roast. Taylor also announced the annual roast has raised $205,775 in its 28-year history.
James is active in a number of community and civic organizations and programs. She is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Lebanon for more than 24 years, serving as a distinguished past president and a member of the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, serving as a member of the board of directors, holding several key committee positions and volunteering for a six-year stint as a "green coat ambassador."
A 1995 graduate and former board member of Leadership Wilson, James’ community interests were broad and included service as a board member with United Way of Wilson County, Wilson County Help Center, the American Heart Association and Prospect.
James was selected the business person of the year in 2003 by the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, and in 2016, she and her husband, Ed, were honored by Cumberland University with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, a prestigious recognition by selected colleges and universities in the Southern U.S. denoting excellence in character and service to humanity.
Susie and Ed James are members of College Hills Church of Christ and actively serve in a number of capacities with the church. Susie was a member of the church's project development advisory team for construction, when the church was built about 18 years ago.
James is the daughter of Joyce Bobo Barry and the late William O. Barry (stepfather). Her father, the late Richard E. Hunt, was a local commercial construction contractor.
She is married to Edwin Henry James, of Watertown in the Statesville community. The James are proud of their children and their children's spouses. Son, Christopher Bay, and his wife, Trish White Bay, live and work in Cincinnati. Daughter, Chelsea Bay Nyce, and husband, Greg, live in Lebanon and are both employed with Caterpillar Financial in Nashville.
In August, Susie and Ed James took on a new role and what they've since described as their "favorite role" as Grandy and Papa Eddie to grandson, Gordon Lee Nyce. James said she finds joy in spending time with Gordon daily, if possible. She hopes to cultivate a love of books by reading to him regularly and is thrilled he is in the Books from Birth program.