Nancy McClanahan Imes, a lifelong resident of Columbus known for her over-sized personality, support of charitable causes, marriage to businessman and Dispatch publisher Birney Imes Jr. and, in her later years, the realization of a sumptuous French country-style home in the Prairie, died Thursday afternoon. She was 92.
Nancy married Birney Imes Jr. in 1950, and by 1957 they had six children. Birney Imes Jr. died in 2003.
In 1967 the family home on Chickasaw Drive was destroyed by a fire that almost took the lives of her husband and son Gene. Nancy oversaw the rebuilding of the house and three years later, after her husband’s and son’s long convalescence, moved her family back into their new home, constructed in part with fire-scarred sandstone.
Nancy navigated the demands of a mother of six active children and wife of a public figure with grace and aplomb. She made clothes for her only daughter, hauled a station wagon full of kids across town to school when it came her week to drive the neighborhood carpool, made picnic lunches for Sunday outings, sanctioned countless sleepovers and hosted and attended numerous events for Air Force brass.
Years later she told her grandchildren she was the first woman in Lowndes County to water ski. She was an avid hunter. “Mother was one of the best female wing shots in the South,” said her son Stephen, a competitive shooter.
In 1998, after five years of conception, design and construction, she completed work on the house in the Prairie. Proposed by her husband and designed by the son of a childhood friend, Windy Hill, as it came to be known, is notable for its classic lines, spacious gardens and its situation in the surrounding landscape. She would spend the concluding two decades of her life there.
She made the house available to civic groups for socials and fundraisers and garden club tours. The home was also a beloved gathering place for her children and their families, most notably on Thanksgiving and Christmas eve. Nancy’s exuberant decorations for the Yuletide season reflected her love for the holiday and the gathering of family it engendered.
Nancy McClanahan Imes was born June 12, 1928, the second of three children of Blanch and Irene Ballard McClanahan. Her older brother, Tom, preceded her in death, and a younger sister, Joanne (Sammy) Platt lives in Columbus.
Blanch McClanahan was one of 10 children from an energetic and far-flung family. Throughout her childhood, Nancy spent summers with her aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins in a scattering of screened cabins on the banks of Luxapalila Creek. The setting was known as The McClanahan Camp, or, within the family, simply as “Family Camp.”
The kids romped in the woods and streams; the mothers visited and prepared meals and the fathers, many of whom were engaged in the family’s construction business, went to their jobs at D.S. McClanahan and Sons.
After the McClanahan children were grown, married and had families of their own, they continued the Family-Camp tradition with Saturday night covered-dish suppers. At those gatherings the elders socialized and the children played in the woods and among the derelict cabins that had figured so prominently in their parents’ childhoods.
Blanch McClanahan was an avid fisherman. His older daughter was fond of reminiscing about mornings when she greeted the day with a schoolbook in one hand and a boat paddle in the other as she maneuvered her father’s fishing boat through the cypress backwaters of Lake Norris.
Nancy was a lifelong gardener. She began her horticultural endeavors as a child spending her “candy allowance” on packets of seeds from Bishop’s Store, a neighborhood grocery around the corner from her childhood home on Second Avenue North.
Her love for growing things would reach its fullest expression in the expansive and resplendent gardens surrounding her house in the Prairie. These included a small, enclosed, densely planted Kitty Garden for her beloved Himalayans: Bubba, Precious and Shadow.
Nancy was also an avid traveler, who exposed her children at an early age to the wonders of foreign lands and cultures. Her love of travel never waned. After her children were grown, she and her dear friend, Helen Phillips of Starkville, toured extensively in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
She is survived by her six children, Birney (Beth) Imes III, Tanner (Johnny) Musso, Stephen (Dava) Imes, Gene (Leigh) Imes, Sid (Suzanne) Imes and Frank (Sandy) Imes, 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, all of whom called her “Nanny” and in whose lives she took an abiding interest.
“She was such a happy soul and the heart of the family,” her 11-year-old great granddaughter, Helen Imes, posted on Instagram shortly after her death. “… always be grateful for the time you have with family. You never know when they will be gone.”
In the final decades of her life, Nancy was assisted and cared for by Dennis Harris and Dorothy Brownlee, who she came to refer to as “my best friends.”
“She loved people,” said Brownlee. “She didn’t mind helping people. She made you feel strong about yourself.”
Nancy McClanahan Imes will be buried in a private ceremony. Her children ask that memorials be made to the charity of their choice.