NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Many gathered for a last goodbye for Senator Thelma Harper, a legislative giant who spent decades serving North Nashville in the Tennessee General Assembly.
She returned to the Capitol where she was the first African American woman to lie in state.
Harper is also the first African American woman to be elected to the Senate, a place she held close to her heart.
“I’ll never forget Thelma; she was just one of a kind,” Lt. Governor Randy McNally said.
Lying across from the Senate chambers, a place she worked for 30 years, lawmakers and members of the public lined up to say goodbye.
“This was home to her; this was family to her,” Linda Harper, Sen. Harper’s daughter said.
Those who knew her best are now lifting up her legacy.
“So we give God praise for her life and we thank him for her strength,” Nashville Rep. Harold Love said.
Harper devoted much of her time to public service, something she described as “no greater challenge nor reward.”
“Senator Harper really did plow a lot of ground for others. She was the first voice and she did things like chain herself to a dump in North Nashville that eventually got moved. She was tired of it expanding. She played a role in getting the Titans to Nashville,” Former News 2 State Capitol Reporter Chris Bundgaard said.
“To her, ‘Senator’ was more than just being a legislator. It was also more about caring,” Harper said.
Lawmakers say it was her bold leadership and ability to reach across the isle that made her transformative, especially for North Nashville.
“A loving mother will always protect her children; she’ll always make sure that they are receiving their very best and that’s what her district was – like her own child,” Love said.
It wasn’t just her elaborate hats, a signature style honored by those attending memorial services, but the ultimate commitment to lead with heart and passion.
“A woman who exuded class and grace but strength, she refused to back down and always fought for her community and she shattered ceilings for women like me,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari said.
The celebration of Sen. Thelma Harper’s life continues Thursday. A public funeral will be held at Tennessee State University’s Gentry Center.
Visitation begins at 10:00 a.m. followed by a celebration of life beginning at 11 a.m.