Sevierville Teacher Honored at Clarence Brown Theatre: Remembering Our Own ‘Blithe Spirit’

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Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young lady who grew up in Sevierville and was highly talented in the Arts. Deborah Webb attended Sevier County High School and later, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While a student at UTK, this talented young lady appeared in several productions at the Clarence Brown Theatre, including the part of Edith, the maid in Blithe Spirit.

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Here is an actual photo from the Clarence Brown production with Deborah Webb, pictured on the far left in the role as Edith the maid.

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I found this college photo of Deborah playing Babe in the play Crimes of the Heart at the University of Tennessee Carousel Theatre.

After college, Deborah taught drama at Sevier County High School for years, sharing a love of theater with her students. She was loved by students and respected by faculty and staff at SCHS.

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As time went on, Deborah continued to practice her craft by starring in Knoxville productions which were enjoyed by her family, friends and colleagues.

 

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In February 2017, several colleagues from Sevier County High School attended Deborah Webb’s performance in Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a delightful comedy with a female cast at the Pellissippi State Theatre,.

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I was lucky to attend the play with these ladies. Deborah Webb had comedic timing that we enjoyed in her plays; consequently, this was my favorite performance by our friend. In fact, Melinda and I still talk about this play and some of our favorite lines from the show. Pictured left to right are Kristie Atchley, Melinda Derrick, and Kim McMahan.

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Deborah Webb passed away last year and we have missed her very much. It was important to do something to remember and honor our favorite local actress…

Fast forward to Febuary 23, 2020 at the Clarence Brown Theatre…

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Family and friends united to honor Deborah Webb with a seat plate dedication after a recent production of Blithe Spirit at Clarence Brown Theatre.

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The event was planned by Melinda Derrick, English teacher at Sevier County High School. Melinda is a colleague and friend of the actress.

Melinda explains, “After Deborah Webb, our friend and colleague, passed away last June, we decided to remember her by  having a nameplate placed on one of the chairs at the University of Tennessee’s Clarence Brown Theatre.  Deborah studied and acted at U.T., and after completing her degree, she continued enjoying Clarence Brown and Carousel Theatre productions with her daughter Ryah.

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Melinda continued,” Deborah also acted in a number of plays in Knoxville including The Heidi Chronicles at the Knoxville Museum of Art; Love, Loss  and What I Wore at Pellissippi State; and her final play Dog Act at Knoxville’s Flying Anvil Theatre.  Deborah was also Sevier County High School’s drama teacher for several years, so it seemed only fitting that we honor her memory in this personal way. “

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 “After deciding on our remembrance and contacting Clarence Brown Theatre personnel, we got to work collecting donations from Deborah’s friends and colleagues, and upon Ryah’s suggestion, on Sunday afternoon, February 23, a group of Deborah’s friends, her daughter, and her mother enjoyed Clarence Brown Theatre’s final production of Blithe Spirit, a play Deborah acted in during her tenure as a U.T. drama student. “

The Event

Friends and family of Deborah Webb met in the theater lobby for Blithe Spirit on Sunday, February 23 for the matinee performance.

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Ryah Parkhurst and her grandmother were special guests for the event. Patricia is Deborah Webb’s mother. Ryah is the daughter of Deborah Webb and also a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in Linguistics and Russian.

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Next, we met Nancy and Michael Hodges. Michael is a retired teacher from Sevier County High School, teaching classes in both English and Music Theory. He now serves as the Director of Music for First Baptist Church in Gatlinburg.

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Jim Overholt, a friend and colleague of Deborah Webb, enjoyed Blithe Spirit with his wife Jill. Combined Studies Studies students at Sevier County High School remember Dr. Overholt and his passion for history.

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Melinda Derrick chats pre-show with Dr. Overholt, Jill Overholt and Patricia Webb.

 

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Clarence Brown seems to look down upon us with approval as we headed toward our seats to celebrate the career of our friend, Deborah Webb.

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We found our seats and prepared for the show. In 1941, Blithe Spirit was a smash hit in London, on Broadway, and finally, in film. In the zany comedy,  a novelist and his socialite wife invite another couple to dinner as well as a local clairvoyant to provide entertainment. Things quickly get out of hand when the author’s first wife, now a ghost, shows up on the scene. Playwright Noel Coward’s lines are quick and witty so it was a delightful performance. Time stood still on a Knoxville Sunday afternoon at the theater.

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At the end of the play, we waited for the crowd to clear out and prepared for the chair dedication. You can see the chair in the second row covered with the red material and ready for presentation.

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Clarence Brown Theatre Director Tom Cervone was ready to speak to our group and initiate the chair plate presentation ceremony.

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Our group felt solemn as we saw the draped seat in front of us.  The technical cast cleared the stage in the background since it was the final performance for the show.

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Clarence Brown Theatre Managing Director Tom Cervone spoke to our group after the play and remembered Deborah as a friend and a good actress. He recalled several plays during their time together at CBT and an out of state festival that held good memories. Like the rest of us, he expressed his sadness, but celebrated Deborah Webb’s dedication and career on the stage. Seated for the dedication from left to right: Lauren McCarty, Latin teacher at SCHS; Ryah Parkhurst, Patricia Webb, Jill Overholt, Jim Overholt, Michael Hodges, Nancy Hodges, Sheley Rose, retired Speech and Drama teacher at Sevier County High School; and Melinda Derrick.

Director Tom Cervone removed the curtain to reveal the special seat plate dedicated to Deborah Webb.

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Not coincidentally, Deborah Webb’s seat plate is located next to the seat dedicated to Dale Gilmore, a retired colleague from the English Department at Sevier County High School. Dale frequently brought students to see productions at the Clarence Brown Theatre; to wit, a few years ago he also had a seat dedicated to honor his support of education and the Arts.  I looked at the two seats and then the thought occurred to me…

Deborah Webb and Dale Gilmore will now have the best seats in the house. 

Our friend, Sheley Rose, is a colleague and Speech/ Drama teacher who knew Deborah Webb well. Sheley offered her memories and good thoughts of a fellow thespian.

Sheley says, “Deborah Webb was not only my colleague in the Fine Arts Department at Sevier County High School but was also a friend and fellow patron of the Arts. As fellow teachers we promoted and celebrated the Arts in the annual Evening with the Arts program, showcasing student talent in theater arts, visual art, and music (chorus and band). I miss Deborah’s “I Require Art” posts on her Facebook page. Deborah was a caring and loving teacher and friend. She posted on her Facebook page, “I love my work of teaching because it brings me into contact with some fantastic people. Some of the students you can never let go.” She served as a mentor and role model to many of her students. She not only developed their minds and talent but also their hearts and spirits.” 

On a personal note, Deborah and I shared a love of live theater, the movies, dance and books. Our favorite playwrights were Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, among others. Deborah was a talented actor and especially fond of performing in plays at Clarence Brown Theatre at her alma mater, the University of Tennessee. When I retired in 2007, Deborah gave me a book titled The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, a 20th century African American poet and playwright. I bought a book for Deborah’s retirement in 2019, but, sadly, she passed away before I could give it to her. The book was titled Wise Women, a collection of biographies and photos of wise women through the ages. Deborah Webb certainly deserves a page in this book.

Godspeed, my friend.
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10 thoughts on “Sevierville Teacher Honored at Clarence Brown Theatre: Remembering Our Own ‘Blithe Spirit’

  1. lifelessons April 16, 2020 / 8:38 pm

    What a touching dedication for your friend. I especially love your assurance that she and her friend now have the best seats in the house! I shed a few tears..I’m so glad she has friends who remember her so fondly. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brittany April 16, 2020 / 11:00 pm

    She was truly one of a kind. She has always had a strong influence on me, especially when I was a teenager. She never judged and encouraged and loved all of us. I miss her terribly. She gave me the sweetest graduation gift 15 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nancy Hayes April 17, 2020 / 12:55 pm

    What a moving and appropriate tribute to this lovely person. Deborah and I are cousins, close friends growing up; I couldn’t have been more pleased when she joined the faculty at Sevier County High School, our alma mater, and I was blessed and honored to have taught with her for many years. Deborah touched so many lives with her hard work and dedication and her sweet, kind and quiet demeanor. I will miss her always.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim Dial April 17, 2020 / 8:59 pm

    Deborah was in the play “Cloud Nine” with me, presented by UT Theatres in the Carousel Theatre. She played my mother in the comical first act, and a dramatic role in the more serious second act. She was always so fun to work with. She is missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kevin Smathers April 18, 2020 / 1:28 am

    Deborah and I shared the stage in a one-act play for Tennessee Stage. It was a quirky little play and the devil to memorize, but I’ve never felt such a connection with another actor.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nelida S. Diaz-Sinclair April 19, 2020 / 6:24 am

    What a great honor for such a great human being. Deborah and I went to Sevier County High together and she was such a beautiful person. After High school I joined the Army and she went to college. Fast forward to a few years back, Deborah was at the 75, 76, 77 reunion, and she literally was the life of that reunion. She was so full of life and the years had been kind to her as she was still so BEAUTIFUL. Last year when I found out that she had passed away, I just was broken hearted! And I agree with the author of this beautiful tribute that Deborah now has the best seat in the house in the heavenly realm. Enjoy heaven, my friend. We will see you again one day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • outandaboutinsevierville April 19, 2020 / 8:18 am

      What wonderful memories. I can just imagine Deborah at the reunions and the personality that she brought to them. I was lucky to see that at our teacher gatherings. Thank you so much for sharing this memory.

      Like

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