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In Memoriam 2012


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Former department chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vanderbilt University
By Howard Jones III, M.D.
Lonnie Burnett was a great gynecologic surgeon. His patients loved him. He was recruited to Vanderbilt in 1976 because he was the consummate academic physician: caring and compassionate, very smart and knowledgeable, with a real passion for teaching. During the course of surgery, he was constantly quizzing the residents and medical students. "What symptoms would this woman have if we cut the obturator nerve during this operation?" he might ask. "Does the ureter run over or under the iliac artery?"

During his tenure as chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt, he and his staff trained more than 100 young residents who now care for women all around Tennessee and across the nation. He was so beloved as a teacher and leader that after his retirement as chairman in 1996, these former residents renamed the Vanderbilt ob-gyn alumni group, then called "The Stork Club," the Lonnie S. Burnett Society. During his career Lonnie won many awards and was named to many prestigious committees and societies, but he was especially proud of this singular honor.

Lonnie also arranged for the Vanderbilt ob-gyn residents to spend several months at Baptist Hospital, during which time their surgical skills and bedside manner were honed by many talented obstetricians and gynecologists who practiced there. This respect and recognition of the quality of care delivered by the community physicians — and their respect for the training program Lonnie was building at Vanderbilt — was a wonderful example of his visionary leadership. The close "town-gown" relationship he built was very unusual, and still stands as one of the best in the country. He was elected president of the Nashville Academy of Medicine, one of the few Vanderbilt faculty so honored and the only obstetrician-gynecologist in recent history.

One of the ways Lonnie created respect and friendship between the academic world of Vanderbilt and the clinicians in the community was the annual Christmas party at the Burnetts' house in Sugar Tree. It really brought out the family man in Lonnie. He and Betty, and their children, Anne and Michael, hosted the whole ob-gyn community — his home family hosted his work family. Over the years, the party proved so popular that there had to be two shifts: Some had a 6 o'clock invitation, and some had a 7:30 arrival time — just like the two seatings for dinner on a cruise ship. Everyone was there, and Betty and Lonnie saw to it that everyone had a good time.

Education, respect and friendship — Lonnie, we all miss you.

Addiction recovery specialist; board president, Room In The Inn
By Charles Strobel
Jim Fleming achieved much professionally. He graduated Vanderbilt Medical School in 1958, entered private practice in Nashville and served as an active staff member of Vanderbilt, St. Thomas, Baptist and Centennial hospitals. He co-founded Plastic Surgery Affiliates with Dr. Kirkland Todd, and in 1972, founded West Side Hospital, where he was chief of staff and chairman of the board. In 1992, he became certified in addiction medicine and co-founded the Center for Professional Excellence, a pioneer in helping health care professionals overcome addiction. There, he served as medical director until 2006 and remained active in the addiction community. He was a member of the board of directors of Cumberland Heights at the time of his death.

His good friend Dr. Andy Spickard said, "All of us knew him as a man with exceptional skills as a plastic surgeon who loved to joke and laugh. Few knew him as an intense teacher about recovery from alcoholism. He had experiences in his own treatment and recovery that he was passionate about and was called to pass it on. That's how he saw his life, and that's how he ended up with the men at Room In The Inn."

For the last 13 years of his life, Jim was our Room In The Inn board president, and his leadership allowed us to plan and complete our $13 million expansion in 2010. Along with Fred Pancoast, he helped develop our Odyssey Program to guide chronically homeless individuals through the process of re-establishing stable and productive lives — and he was most passionate about his weekly classes with our guys. After hearing of his death, the Odyssey men spent quite a bit of time telling stories of him and his impact on their lives. Some examples of what they said: "When I think of him, it keeps me from drinking"; "He made me realize, you don't have to live that way"; "You knew he knew what you were going through because he had been through it himself"; "He could have done anything he wanted, but he gave up his practice to help us"; "I got hope from him."

We all received hope from Jim Fleming. Truly, his life was one of redemption and grace.

Medicine Remembered

Roy O. Elam Jr., 91, dentist; served during World War II in the Pacific Theater as a U.S. Navy dental officer aboard the USS Alaska; former president of the Nashville Dental Society and the Tennessee Dental Association.

William Shacklett, 94, oldest living physician in Rutherford County; delivered generations of children over more than 50 years of practice; Navy veteran who served in the South Pacific in both World War II and the Korean War.


Circus promoter, government and media watchdog
By J.R. Lind
Back in 2009, a mystery caller rang my work phone and said he had some things that might help me out on a story about the Predators' then-tenuous relationship with Metro government.

"Sure, just drop what you've got at my office," I said.

"Oh no no no. Let me find somewhere else to leave them."

About an hour later, my phone rang again.

"There's an envelope for you with Maria, a pretty senorita at Las Cazuelas. She's expecting you," the mystery man said.

So I drove to the restaurant, a strip-mall Mexican joint on Nolensville Road. I found Maria, and sure enough, she had a manila envelope with my name on it. Back at the office, I already had a voicemail from my mystery man, thanking me for my quick handling of the whole thing.

Had he been watching me? Was Maria an informant?

My mystery caller was Frank Curry — circus promoter, rodeo clown, amateur media critic, hater of toadies. In early August, he was found dead in a Bowling Green park from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But the Stetson-clad gadfly was one of a kind: smart and funny, a lover of mystery and cloak-and-dagger.

He was, by most accounts, self-made, learning the circus and rodeo business the hard way. And maybe that's why he demonized the handouts — the "incentives" — the Sports Authority and Metro government give to professional sports teams in town.

He was a pain in the ass, and he had a thousand stories, and he probably helped write a thousand others. Reporters loved him — I learned after he died he once plied this trade, too, working in his younger days for the New York Post. Yes-men despised him as he did them.

Most in the city never knew him. Which is a shame, because he'd tell you his stories if he liked you. All you had to do was wait for his call. Who knows how many other Marias wait at out-of-the-way Mexican eateries across Nashville, eyeing unclaimed packets of unspecified intrigue?

Public servant; executive director, Metropolitan Sports Authority
By J.R. Lind
Glad-handers do well as bureaucrats. They extend their hands, ask how you are, ask what they can do for you. Cynically, most of them are actually wondering the opposite — what can you do for them.

Emmett Edwards wasn't that way. When he shook your hand, smiled broadly and asked about you, it was genuine. When he wondered aloud what he could do for you, he meant it.

His was a life of service to his fellow Tennesseans and Nashvillians. He was a student government officer at UT-Martin, served as counselor to the president of the UT system and the chancellor of UT-Martin. His fellow students selected him to serve as the first student from UT-Martin — and the second student ever — on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, where he was that board’s first African-American member.

Edwards worked for the late congressman Ed Jones and held management positions at Knoxville’s 1982 World’s Fair, as well as positions of great trust under Gov. Ned McWherter, Mayor Bill Purcell and Vice President Al Gore. Before his death — after a battle with cancer nearly no one knew about — he was the executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Authority, ultimately responsible for the city's two biggest ticket facilities, Bridgestone Arena and LP Field.

People, though, were what Edwards cared about most — particularly the workers at the arena and the stadium. He knew his great charge — balancing the needs of the sports venues with the concerns of Metro and its taxpayers — but his passion was for the lifeblood of those buildings: the people who made them go.

He didn't climb over people looking for his next job because he was so content in the one he had. And he was happy to stand up for the important if often overlooked people who made things run. People walked away from Emmett Edwards' company feeling better about themselves and any city he'd call home.

Football coach, Tennessee State University
By J.R. Lind
After Joe Gilliam graduated from West Virginia State, he was offered $7,000 by the Green Bay Packers. The team wanted him to play safety. But Gilliam wanted to be a quarterback. After all, he was a stand-out signal caller for the Yellow Jackets. He was an All-American.

The Packers told him it wouldn't be possible. This was the 1950s. And Gilliam was black. Neither pro football nor America was prepared for a black man to quarterback the exalted Packers.

So Gilliam went into coaching. He eventually landed at Jackson State with John Merritt, and when Merritt came to TSU, Gilliam followed, serving as his defensive coordinator for legendary Tiger teams that went undefeated four times and won seven black college national titles.

In some capacity or another, Gilliam coached at TSU for 40 years, including a three-year stint as head coach. He sent dozens of players to the NFL. Hall of Famer Richard Dent said last year in his induction speech at Canton, Ohio, that he'd never have made it but for Joe Gilliam.

Gilliam authored books about coaching — and not just about defense. One of his most-read works is a treatise on the virtues of an empty-backfield offense. He was a sought-after lecturer, and even late in his life, he could be found on campus, talking football and politics with players and coaches.

He gave his name to a son who became TSU's most legendary quarterback. And in 1974, Joe Jr. — the late gridiron hero remembered as "Jefferson Street Joe" — started for the Pittsburgh Steelers, doing what his father was never allowed to do.

Student athlete
By J.R. Lind
At Smyrna High, William Wayne Jones III was a standout in football, track and basketball. His Bulldog coaches praised his hard work, his maturity. The way he went hard every time.

"He'd go until he could not go anymore," Smyrna track coach Casey Newsom said. Jones decided to try and walk-on the football team at TSU. He was given a chance to make the team, but as a freshman, he was red-shirted.

On Nov. 7, as the team was going through a basic, non-contract drill — backpedaling, a key skill for defensive backs like Jones — he collapsed on the field after bringing the ball back to the coaches. He was transported quickly to Baptist Hospital, but he never revived consciousness.

TSU Coach Rod Reed remembered Jones as the kind of player every coach wants to have. Jones walked on because there were no scholarships left for defensive backs. He red-shirted because TSU was well-positioned at cornerback — Jones was competing with an All-American and a transfer from LSU.

“He wanted to compete,” Reed said. “I told him, 'You show me what you can do on scout team, you go down, you run down on these kickoffs, you do the things that need to be done and you’ll get your opportunity.' Ever since that day he was a hundred miles an hour on everything."


Community-builder; philanthropist
By Kay West
Though she carried a trio of impressive surnames, "Alyne" was sufficient to identify her. The spelling was unusual, as was the pronunciation — Al (as in Gore), leen (as in queen). But it was her accomplishments, philanthropy and civic responsibility that earned her the status of first name recognition typically bestowed on celebrities.

Massey, who was born in New Haven, Conn., where her father was attending Yale Law School, was raised on Cross Bridges Farm outside Columbia, property that has been in her family since 1810. She majored in history and minored in English at Vanderbilt, and earned her B.A. in 1948. She married Leonard Hearn Armistead, who was the editor of the Franklin Review Appeal, and had two sons.

By the mid-'60s, she was divorced, raising her boys on her own, and working as a reporter at the Nashville Banner. One of her beats was society — covered under the byline "Betty Banner" — which is how she met widower and Nashville businessman Jack Massey, who by then had already purchased and expanded Kentucky Fried Chicken and founded HCA with Thomas Frist Sr. and Jr. They married in 1971, and it was off to the races. Though some might assume Mr. Massey was the catalyst for his wife's ascent, that would be incorrect. In fact, he frequently attributed much of his success after their marriage to Alyne. He established the Alyne Queener Massey Library at Vanderbilt in her honor.

Among her own arm's-length list of achievements, charitable works and honors: the first woman to be elected to the board of trust of Third National Bank; a member of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust, as well as the boards of the Vanderbilt Heart Institute; the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art.

She was a founder of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and spearheaded (with Frances Preston and Orrin Ingram) the $625 million Shape the Future campaign for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"Whatever board she served, she was actively engaged and worked hard," says nephew Richard Courtney. "She was a voracious reader, a gracious hostess and had a wonderful sense of humor. She was loved by people all over the world."

When she died, her sister-in-law and good friend Claire Armistead — with whom she worked on countless fundraisers and attended hundreds of galas — said, "She was the single most generous person I have ever known."

Courtney couldn't agree more: "She was a small-town girl with a big, big heart."

Trailblazing jurist
By E. Thomas Wood
A brief item in the Nashville Tennessean of Oct. 5, 1960, reported that the YMCA School of Law had rejected the application of Nashville postal worker Irvin Kilcrease. J.G. Lackey, chief of the institution that would later become Nashville School of Law, gave a simple reason: "The school does not admit Negroes."

For his part, Kilcrease told the paper, "I'm not bitter about it. I hope to be admitted someday." A year later, Kilcrease applied again, and Lackey again turned him away.

But in 1962, on the third try, the dean relented. The school admitted three African-Americans. Kilcrease recalled that they were "received well, like any other new law students," even at a time of heightened racial tension. "I was never treated any differently than anyone else in my class," Kilcrease told me when I interviewed him in 2010 for a history of the school.

In 1966, Kilcrease earned his law degree. He went on to work for Nashville's public defender and U.S. attorney's office. In 1980, Gov. Lamar Alexander appointed him a Davidson County chancellor, making him the first African-American to preside over a Tennessee Chancery Court.

Chancellor Kilcrease handled numerous high-profile cases, including a lawsuit between investment firms PaineWebber and Morgan Stanley, and one that opposed Vanderbilt University 's plan to rename Confederate Memorial Hall. He retired from the bench in 2003.

Upon his passing, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean hailed Kilcrease as "a true public servant" who was "consistently fair and tough-minded."

Pioneering aviatrix
By Kim Green
Sometimes, a pilot's eyes fail long before her nerve does.

Pearl Laska Chamberlain was bearing down on a century when it happened to her. She failed a vision test, and the FAA took her ticket away.

"You don't know what hell is unless you've been around a 97-year-old woman who's just lost her pilot's license," says her son Lewis Laska, a Nashville lawyer and TSU professor.

As a child, Laska didn't see his mom as an anomaly. Flying Alaska's wind-torn wilderness, to the boy's mind, was "just a normal thing to do."

"I didn't get it until later," he laughs.

Little of what Pearl did could be considered particularly normal. Even today, only about 7 percent of U.S. licensed pilots are female. Aviatrices were rarer still in 1933, when schoolteacher Pearl Bragg turned up at a West Virginia airfield with $125 and a powerful yen for freedom.

Her instructor readied a fire crew when Pearl first soloed in a Kinner Fleet Biplane, but her perfect landing provided no flames to douse.

After earning a commercial license and instructor rating in the Civilian Pilot Training Program before the war, she gave seaplane lessons to Navy cadets and trained with the Women Airforce Service Pilots as a warbird ferry pilot. And then, Alaska called.

With its belligerent weather and untrammeled wilds, Alaska exerts an "if I can make it there ... " allure on Lower-48 pilots' imaginations. For Alaskan aviators, "making it" means surviving to old age.

Pearl headed to Nome, started instructing, and saved her pennies. In 1946, she bought a Piper J-4 Cub Coupe in Asheville, N.C., and pointed the nose northwest. She faced down a near-fatal storm in Montana and a forest fire in Canada that cut visibility to nil. "I watched for trees ... and prayed the pass was no more than 5,000 feet," Pearl recalled in an interview with author Sandi Sumner for the book Women Pilots of Alaska. That journey made Pearl the first woman to fly the Alaska Highway solo in a single-engine plane.

By any measure, Pearl made it. She lived a full-bore Alaskan life — teaching school, stitching parkas and flying whenever she could. Phyllis Tate, chair of a Fairbanks airwomen's organization, wrote this in a letter to Lewis Laska after Pearl died in Nashville last month: "She always called herself a hillbilly, but we in Fairbanks saw her as a spunky, adventurous, optimistic, determined, inquisitive and classy woman."

Adds Laska, "Mom always said every hour in the air gave you an extra day of life."

Wayward soul
By Kay West
The Tree of Life is mounted on the wall just inside the front entrance of the Campus for Human Development. Affixed to the metal branches are more than 650 ceramic leaves, each bearing the name of a member of the Nashville homeless community who has passed away. The leaves are made by volunteers, staff and participants in the art studio in the campus building.

"It is important that the Tree of Life have a place of prominence in our facility," explains executive director Rachel Hester. "We want our guests to know they will never be forgotten."

Three dozen more names were read Sunday, Dec. 9, at the annual Homeless Memorial. More than 200 people gathered under the Jefferson Street Bridge — where many homeless take refuge from stormy weather — for prayer, song and remembrance of those who lost their lives on the street this year.

"We've been doing this for at least 25 years," says founding director Charles Strobel, who has been present for them all. "Living on the street lowers a person's life expectancy by 20 years or more. They are victims of accidents, illness and assault. Life on the street is filled with risk."

Robert E. Mitchell's cold-blooded murder is witness to that. On Oct. 18, Mitchell — or Remi, as he was known to friends — was lying on a public bench at Third Avenue North and James Robertson Parkway, across the street from Metro Nashville police headquarters. Perhaps he thought he would be safer there. But shortly after 3 a.m., Mitchell was shot in the head as he was sleeping. He died on the scene.

Remarkably, his killer was caught on police surveillance tape. Christopher Jerald Crowley was taken into custody just hours later, in the parking lot of his apartment, and charged with criminal homicide.

For a time this year, Mitchell was a dishwasher at the 12South restaurant Burger Up, where he made friends, built relationships and even found housing. But he left the job, and by October he was back on the streets, where his life ended. He was 41.

Around Town Remembered

Eddie Lovelace, 78, Diana Reed, 56, and Thomas Warren "Tom" Rybinski, 55, died this year from fungal meningitis, contracted from an epidural steroid shot supplied by the New England Compounding Center, a facility linked to more than 120 cases of meningitis in Tennessee and dozens of fatal cases around the country.

Jack Venable, 74, professor of biological sciences emeritus and dean of the College of Arts and Science emeritus at Vanderbilt University; pioneer in interdisciplinary approaches to physical and biological sciences.

Many of those who died in 2012 had nowhere to call home. Among the many who lost their lives on the streets of Nashville this year, and whose names will be added to the Tree of Life alongside Robert Mitchell Sr.: J.R., Donna Adams, Stephanie Alexander, Kay Barton, Lawrence Burnett, Kenneth Carpenter, James Clinard, Thomas Connolly, Nicolae Craciun, Terry Crawford, Scott Fowler, Richard Gagne, Quinton Ganter, Lisa Graham, Ron Hall, Roy Hall, Deborah Harris, Eugene Harris, John Henry, Calvin Holmes, Bobby Horton, Douglas Johnson, Michael Jones, Dexter Lee, Earl Majors, Debra Mock, Michael Mooney, Jodie Moriarty, Andrew Owens, Timothy Page, Robert Potter, Charlie Potter, Joseph Powell, Kevin Quick, Donald Sage, Dennis Saunders, Richard Steele, Richard Stewart and Rodney Thacker.


By Steven Hale
On Jan. 20, Phillip Parker left this world too soon. Physically, he had taken his own life, but it is difficult to escape the feeling that in many ways, it was taken from him.

At just 14, he was a victim of the devastating belief — whether for years or only in that one, fleeting, dark moment — that this life would be better without him, or that he would be better without it. An openly gay student at Gordonsville High School, he had suffered through the use of labels like "faggot" and "queer" as weapons against him, hallway taunts which, whether by cruel intent or the tragic consequence of reckless immaturity, reduce a whole person to mere words.

Given that Parker's death came little more than a month after that of 18-year-old Jacob Rogers — another openly gay Tennessee teen whose death apparently followed years of bullying based on that single part of his identity — his story was widely seen in the context of the ongoing national discussion about homophobic bullying and the cruelty teens perpetrate against each other daily. But who knows for sure what else burdened him?

"People need to look at all the issues involved in that child's life," Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network executive director Scott Ridgway told the Scene shortly after Phillip's death. "It's a combination of a lot of different reasons, and people need to understand that."

Indeed, mere words could not neatly explain Phillip Parker's death any more than they could sum up his life. He was gay, for which, unbeknownst to his parents, he was ostracized and belittled. He also loved animals, and told his grandmother he wanted to be a veterinarian. Who knows what else he might have become?   

Founder, The Rat Patrol Bicycle Club, Nashville chapter; musician
By The Rat Patrol Bicycle Club
A beloved son, brother, and uncle, as well as a fierce friend, a hero and a source of inspiration to many, Joey Jello was larger than life. People all over the world were shocked and saddened by the news of the tragic car accident that resulted in his death in Austin, Texas.

At just over 6-foot-1 with a muscular build, an angular jaw, a tattooed throat and a gnarly zipper of a scar that wrapped around his head, Joey looked like a man who might not be too excited to meet you. But even with his tough appearance, he had too many friends to count. Those close to him saw a light in his eyes they wanted for themselves. That's not to say that everyone wanted to be just like him, but maybe they wished they were as good at being themselves as he was at being himself.

With a small group of this family, Joey started the Nashville Chapter of the Rat Patrol Bicycle Club, a freak-bike club in a car town plagued with hills. The Rat Patrol is known for building eccentric bikes out of broken-down old junked bicycles, scrap metal or anything else they might get their paws on. Joey had many pedal-powered creations, but perhaps none so infamous as The Chopperwocky. He rode his hulking hundred-pound chopper all over the city when no one else would. He showed people that biking is for anyone, not just spandex-clad weekend warriors.

In addition to his lust for life and his love of bikes, another definitive aspect of Joey's life was his desire to perform. It showed at a very young age and blossomed into an exceptional talent in singing, playing guitar, dancing and songwriting. Whether he was alone on a stage with his guitar or playing in one of several bands (JaW, The Wrong Kids), Joey put everything into his performances, which often found him shirtless and dripping sweat by the end. In his own words, from the last verse of "Circle A at the Circle K" by The Wrong Kids, Joey sums up his wanderlust, his refusal to be anything but his best, and the example he set for others to be themselves, only better: "I could let the good times roll / I could say on with the show / I could let it all just go / And follow the wind wherever it may blow / But I'm not a blowing kind of guy / And I won't wait to live until I die / I'll get the kids all riled up in the street / And light a fire in everybody that I meet."

So basically what we're saying is, he was badasser'n fuck and better'n you. For more on Joey and the Rat Patrol, search "The Chain Gang" on

By Steven Hale
DeMarcus Jordan-Ellis was the third Hillsboro High School student in two years to be killed with a gun. Just 17 years old, he was found shot and killed at his home in North Nashville last September, the victim of a marijuana transaction gone awry, police said.

On a Facebook page created in his memory, pictures depict a normal high school student, hanging with classmates in the hallway and posing on the bus. Every teenager gets mixed up from time to time; Jordan-Ellis was among the tragic number who lose their lives while still growing up.

"DeMarcus was a great young man, involved in church, and sometimes I just think he run with the wrong individuals and I think that's what the situation is," his cousin Tee Jordan told News Channel 5. "He comes from a loving and caring family with a great mother and father and a younger brother."

In a Facebook post in October, his mother wrote of her last interaction with her son.

"The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that my last conversation with my son at 1:30 p.m. on September 19th was a pleasant one," she wrote, "and the last text I sent my son simply said "I love you" and he replied 'I luv u 2 Ma.' "

Soldier; husband
By J.R. Lind
Ask 50 service members why they joined, and you'll get 50 different answers. And each is as valid as the next.

Jason Edens didn't come from a military family, as many of his fellow soldiers did. And he wasn't out of options when he joined the military. Indeed, he was a student at East Tennessee State.

Bu he wanted something more. He didn't want to take over the family business. He wanted to make his own name. So he dropped out of school and joined the Army. His father — who had all the doubts one might expect of a father whose son is joining the armed forces — said basic training made his son a man, as it has with millions of others.

On his first deployment to Afghanistan with the 1st Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division — and just a few months before he was set to return home on leave — Edens was shot in the head while on patrol.

The 22-year-old Franklin High graduate was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center, still hanging on. The Army called his family — including his young wife, Ashley — and they flew to Washington. The Army man was on life support, and the Edens made a decision no family, no young wife, should have to make: Two weeks after he was injured, they asked the Army to take him off life support. Edens died a short time later.

His wife, in a brief statement, called him a hero.

When he was 19, Jason Edens made a difficult decision — not to do what was expected of him, but to learn what he could do for himself. And when he was 22, his family made an equally difficult choice.

Gone Too Soon Remembered

In a one-week span this summer, three Nashville-area children were found dead after being left in hot cars: Daniel and Savannah Harper of Smyrna, ages 3 and 2; and Joel Gray of Donelson, 5 months old.



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