NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — May Dean Eberling, who was NewsChannel 5's longtime Community Services Director and the first Executive Director of the Metro Historical Commission, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer.
She was surrounded by friends and family.
Eberling, 78, was instrumental in preserving major Nashville landmarks such as the Ryman Auditorium, Union Station, the Hermitage Hotel and Customs House.
Community leaders remembered Eberling as a passionate advocate for numerous causes and as someone who helped shape Nashville.
"If May Dean Eberling was on the phone, you answered the phone," said Congressman Jim Cooper, (D) Nashville.
He continued, "Who really knew the community? Who knew the stories that go back generations? May Dean Eberling did."
In 1973, Eberling was named the first Executive Director of the Metro Historical Commission.
"She had the energy and the vision and the determination to lead this small governmental agency to become a voice for historic preservation in the city," said Ann Roberts who followed Eberling as Executive Director.
Roberts said one of their first battles involved the Ryman Auditorium which was in disrepair.
"May Dean was instrumental in the battle to save the Ryman," Roberts said.
She continued, "The plan was to demolish the Ryman and take the bricks and build a little church of the Opry out at Opryland."
Last year, Eberling remembered former Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton as an ally who agreed that buildings on lower Broadway and Second Avenue should be preserved and not be torn down.
"There were many business people who wanted to tear it down, clean it out. It was a rundown seedy area," Eberling said.
"But we said, 'Look, these are good buildings. This can be saved.' And look at Lower Broadway now," Eberling said.
Before leaving the Historical Commission, she started the Conference on African American History and Culture which continues today.
"It was a big thing because that's the way she did things," said retired TSU History Professor Dr. Bobby L. Lovett.
Eberling saw the need to preserve more of the city's black history.
"We had plenty of oral history, but we didn't have any written history," Lovett said
Then in 1982, Eberling answered a new call.
She became Community Affairs Director for NewsChannel 5 and was a strong advocate for volunteerism and nonprofits.
She produced and hosted numerous shows.
"She always had this sense of justice," remembered Ann Roberts.
Eberling was a passionate presence at NewsChannel 5 for nearly 25 years.
"She would go into the editorial meetings, and she would say, 'It is outrageous that so and so is happening in this community. And we've got to figure out how to get something done about it,'" said NewsChannel 5 General Manager Lyn Plantinga.
She became an inspirational example of courage as she publicly battled and overcame breast cancer while at NewsChannel 5.
Eberling served on numerous boards and won countless awards for her service to our city.
Even after she retired in 2006, Eberling remained active in a variety of causes. And when she was again diagnosed with cancer, she battled it on her own terms.
May Dean Eberling is a woman with many legacies but among her greatest may be as a connector of people and a mentor to many.
"May Dean didn't have any children, but in a lot of ways she had more children than anybody I know because so many people considered a mentor and a friend," said Lyn Plantinga.
She is a longtime member of West End United Methodist Church.
Funeral arrangements are still being decided.