Nita Head’s Legacy: Nothing Left to Take Away

Mar 17, 2017

Nita Graham Head
Credit Photo Provided

  Nita Graham Head graduated from Florence State Teachers College, and earned a Master’s degree from George Peabody Teachers College, now part of Vanderbilt University. From there, she began teaching at Murray State, where she initiated a tennis program in the days before women athletes were an official component of college sports. She died on March 11. Head was 85. Here is a remembrance:

My favorite story about Nita Head concerns weaving, an art she honed in later life. When her husband, Bob Head, told me the tale, he prefaced it by mentioning Nita’s frugality and discipline, traits likely acquired when she was growing up in the mountains of North Alabama during the Great Depression.

This is how it goes: After spending about thirty-five hours on a weaving, following the meticulous process of weft and warp, Nita discovered a mistake in her creation. Instead of ignoring the minute flaw and continuing -- or just going back to the error and correcting it -- Nita took the whole thing apart and started again.

I can picture her now, leaning over the loom, taking as much care dismantling her work as she had in creating it. Always soft-spoken, she might have muttered a word or two of self-rebuke, but I imagine her taking up the task in silence, determined to pay proper attention, to get it right.

Twenty-nine years ago, I traveled to Murray for the first time because my husband was considering a job offer from the university. He wanted to make sure the move would work for me too, and we stayed with Bob and Nita Head for a few days so I could get acclimated to western Kentucky.  

The first night, she cooked an amazing dinner and made us welcome to their lovely house in the woods. Conversation lasted long into the night. Nita quietly described the things she appreciated -- the outdoors, gardening, participating in the annual bird count every winter. She explained why the local National Public Radio affiliate was always playing quietly in the background, emphasizing that WKMS was a link to the world beyond our rural region. In her understated but persistent way, Nita was an inspired advocate for women, the region and Murray State University. 

When I began writing this piece, Nita was resting peacefully, her husband by her side, at the Anna Mae Owen Hospice House in Murray. Earlier that day, Bob sat with me in that same room to provide details I had not known about Nita’s life. He emphasized her strong belief in the importance of cultural, environmental and physical education, and spoke of her travels to Europe, Asia, Mexico, and the United States, including Alaska. He also wanted me to know that she had donated her family’s farm to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, so the Graham Farm and Nature Center will be of use as a model farm and a center for environmental education and outdoor recreation.

Just one day later, when I thought I was about half-way through writing this, word came that Nita had died.  Much like her and her imperfect weaving years ago, I was compelled to tear my work up, to start over, to rewrite and revise every word until deadline.

Reflecting on Nita’s life, I was reminded of the story of Penelope, in “The Odyssey,” also a weaver, a devoted wife, and woman of quiet strength. Instead of going back to the beginning and starting over with this tribute, I will let it end with a quote adapted from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “A designer knows when she has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Speaking for myself, this is Constance Alexander at WKMS-FM, in Murray, Ky.

Memorial Arrangements: 

Remarks by husband, Robert Head, at 12:00 noon followed by memorial visitation until 3:00 P.M., Saturday, March 18, 2017 at the Blalock-Coleman & York Funeral Home.

Cremation by Imes Funeral Home & Crematory. Expressions of sympathy may take the form of donations to:  Hospice of Murray, Murray Calloway Endowment For Healthcare, 803 Poplar St. Murray, KY 42071   The Graham Farm and Nature Center. Checks should be made payable to the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation, Inc., and mailed to 226 Duncan Hall, Auburn University, AL  36849 with Graham Farm in the memo line. MSU Women’s Tennis Team. Checks should be made out to Murray State University, with “Women’s Tennis” in the memo line and sent to Susan Darnell, Murray State University 1401 State Rt 121 N, Murray KY 42071