Lois Swaney Shipp
Lois Swaney Shipp, adventurer extraordinaire
Lois Swaney Shipp, the retired, long-time director of the Marshall County Historical Museum in Holly Springs, died January 9. She would have been 93 in February. Swaney Shipp was born in Holly Springs in Colonsay Cottage, the daughter of Bertha and Conway Bonds, a surprise baby to her 40-yearold parents. She graduated from Holly Springs High School in 1944. A Baptist, her parents sent her to Baylor College in Texas where she met her future husband, Fred Swaney. He served as a pilot in the United States Air Force during World War II and returned to earn a law degree at Ole Miss. After he graduated, the Swaneys moved to Holly Springs. They then had three children, Jorja, Scott and Walker. The other three children, Farrah, Randall and Melody, were born after they settled in the “City of Flowers.” He served as county attorney in the 1960s and then partnered with Walter Utley to develop Lake Estates, Snow Lake, The Meadows, and Swaney Drive. Swaney Shipp, who was a drum majorette in high school, studied music at Baylor to become a concert pianist. She also was an accomplished accordion player and gave lessons in Holly Springs on returning to live in the city. She also wrote a column, “Holly Belle,” in The South Reporter. No one knew who the columnist was, according to her oldest child, Jorja Lynn. Swaney Shipp was also a long-time Sunday School class teacher at First Baptist Church in Holly Springs. With the late Mary Eleanor Wyatt, Chesley Smith, and others, Swaney spearheaded the creation of the Marshall County Historical Museum in the 1970s. She served as director for 32 years.
County officials were thinking of tearing down the old Presbyterian Synodical College, when the community stepped in to convince county leaders to save the structure for a museum. People in town brought their old Civil War memorabilia, their personal family photos, and famed Holly Springs impressionist artist Kate Freeman Clark bequeathed all her personal possessions to the museum.
“The museum was probably her greatest achievement,” Lynn said. “A lot of stuff would have been thrown away without the museum.”
She and Fred Swaney restored Grey Gables and lived there together with their six children for decades.
Lynn said her mother had a great sense of humor and was full of character with a strong religious underpinning.
Swaney Shipp was the youngest of four children. Connie Beck, her sister, taught science 40 years at Holly Springs High School. Her brother, Dr. James Walker Bonds, was a pediatrician in Dyersburg, Tenn., and her sister Christine Rawls was a jeweler.
Swaney Shipp was a born adventurer and traveler.
“Every summer when I was a girl we would go to live on a lake,” Lynn said.
“The first three words she spoke were go, car, and bye,” Lynn said. “She loved to travel.”
The Swaneys spent summers by lakes in Michigan, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Virginia, Crossville, Tenn., Iowa and Missouri, places where Fred Swaney had developments going.
Swaney Shipp also loved to explore caves and go to mountaintops. She spent the night on top of Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire.
“She was terrific,” Lynn said.
Late in life, Swaney Shipp lived with her second husband, Ira Shipp, in Little Dixie on South Center Street, a house she owned for decades. She later moved to Oxford where she underwent rehab following a stroke.
Both she and Shipp were in their 80s when they married. He died in 2015.
Gwen Wyatt said Swaney Shipp “was one of our best in Holly Springs. She was her own person and did a good job at the museum and in promoting Holly Springs. She stuck with what she thought was needed until it was done.”
Swaney Shipp and Mary Eleanor Wyatt, mother of Gwen Wyatt, produced a fall county historical tour to raise money for the museum.
“Lois was one of our many characters. She was one of the best in the best way,” Wyatt said. “She had a way of getting peoples’ cooperation. You couldn’t say no.”
Lucia Acetelli, Lois’s granddaughter, has good memories of her grandmother, Mameé.
“One of my favorite memories is where all the grandkids would get together and she would make us gather around the piano and sing,” Acetelli said. “She loved to play and hear me sing ‘Amazing Grace’ and when she would get to the part about ‘a wretch like me’ she would giggle.”
Acetelli said she would meet people who had been by the museum when in Holly Springs and they would say Lois was the highlight of their trip.
As for Swaney Shipp’s trademark appearance, the false eyelashes, perfect hair and lipstick and matching heels and purse, Acetelli said everything was beautifully put together.
Phillip Knecht posted on Facebook: “I was sad to hear of the passing of Lois Swaney Shipp. Lois was not only a Holly Springs icon, but also an historian and early historic preservationist who realized, earlier than many people in town, the importance of preserving our historic structures.”