Hers is a name that most folks in Wilson County know - and rightfully so. Lebanon native Annette Stafford never stops representing or working for the community she calls home.
Stafford was elected District 20 County Commissioner in 1998 and has retained the seat for the past 16 years. She is chairman of the Education Committee and a member of county Budget, Recreation and Health and Welfare Committees. She has served as president of the Wilson Democratic Women for four years and is a member of Wilson One, the Habitat for Humanity Advisory Board and an ex-officio member of the Lebanon Housing Authority. Stafford is also a realtor with Cumberland Real Estate.
Although she has a slew of titles under her belt, Stafford remains humble, stressing, "I haven't forgotten where I came from."
Stafford, born on March 24, 1957 in the Martha Gaston Hospital basement to young, unwed parents, described herself as a "very sickly child." Her family lived in Inman Court and she attended Market Street Elementary School until the fifth grade. It was then that she and her mom and sister moved to Milwaukee. She continued school at Wells Junior High through the eighth grade, before returning to Lebanon to live with her father in 1972 and attend Lebanon High School.
It was during these years that Stafford met her future husband, Randy. "I met him at a street dance in Inman Court on July 14, 1974...The night we met I saw him and Cupid took over," she said, explaining that he remembers their first meeting differently. "His memory is much better than mine. He remembered me from the fifth grade and said he fell in love then, but I moved away that year."
Stafford welcomed her first child at the age of 16, but continued with school to graduate from LHS in 1976. "I was supposed to be a statistic. I want other young, single mothers to know, you can make a difference with determination, strong, positive people in your life and knowing God will take control if you let him," she said.
The Staffords were married on August 5, 1977. She went to work for Bradley Candy Company, where she was employed for 11 years.
"When my husband got a job where we could basically live off one income, I started looking for a job where I could spend more time with our children," she said. Their children include Jereme Stafford, Christopher Stafford and Ranesa Shipman.
Stafford set her sights on the world of real estate and initially worked for Prevue Properties with broker Barbara Gilbert. After Gilbert retired, Stafford moved to Re/Max Carriage House in Mt. Juliet for some time before ending up at Cumberland Real Estate where she helps others find their dream homes in "the place to live" - Wilson County.
"The best thing about living in Wilson County, in my opinion, is the quality of living and the closeness of the community. Our county is located in the best region area of the whole state - we can travel to Atlanta, Memphis or Knoxville within four hours, but come back to the quiet, down-home feeling of Wilson County," she said.
She is extremely passionate about being educated in Wilson County as well and was one of the pioneers onboard to build a new LHS. "It was very important to me for the children of Lebanon to have a new high school. It took 12 years for 24 commissioners to help make this happen," she said. "When children have a quality education you can see a motivation shift change. You can see children's confidence change and they begin to believe in themselves. I believe quality education will build a quality community."
In her limited spare time, Stafford reads biographies and historical books and enjoys a yearly vacation with her husband, their children and eight grandchildren. She and Randy also ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
A few women who Stafford admires are her "strong, single, independent mother, Louvenia Dixon," her daughter Ranesa and daughter-in-law, Laura, and her grandmothers, Myra Owens-Alexander and Eva Wharton-Davis. She also thanks Barbara Gilbert for giving her "my first opportunity" and Hattie Bryant for encouraging her in politics.