Kreis Beall speaking last Wednesday at the launch party at Cherokee Country Club for “The Great Blue Hills of God.”
I don’t know what I expected. But it wasn’t this.
Kreis Beall, who founded tony Blackberry Farm with her ex-husband, Sandy Beall, back in 1976 as a six-room country inn, has taken an unflinching look back at her life in the just-released memoir, “The Great Blue Hills of God.”
She puts it all in the book: the cataclysmic fire that destroyed the Alabama home she and her family cherished; an accident and resulting brain injury that left her 70 percent deaf and depressed; the cheating of her husband with a much younger woman and the heart-crushing divorce after 36 years of marriage; and the devastating death in a skiing accident of her son, Sam, who at the time was the 39-year-old proprietor of Blackberry Farm.
The book, though not overly preachy, is the story of a soul journey and of Beall’s ultimate reaching out for and acceptance of God.
At the Cherokee dinner, guests were assigned to tables each bearing the name of one of the beloved houses the Bealls owned over the years. The Moxley Carmichael group sat at the “Colorado Home” table.
Beall analyzes how she and her husband — who together owned more than 40 houses in 36 years — were hugely successful at the work they each did and the appearances they maintained of a prosperous and fulfilled life. He was the founder of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain. She was the creative force behind growing Blackberry Farm into the 4,200-acre award-winning Relais & Châteaux resort that today is one of the top-rated luxury hotels in the world nestled, as it is, in the Great Smoky Mountains.
But through all the success and all the activity, she says she neglected to build real relationships with the people she loved most — and with God.
For someone from Knoxville, the book is a particularly intimate and satisfying read because you are familiar with many of the locations and people she references. Cherokee Country Club, Sequoyah Hills, Northshore Drive and Blackberry Farm, of course, make appearances. Among those she cited who offered her support: Doug Banister, Dee and Jimmy Haslam, Brenda Wood, Charlie Tombras, Joe and Sharon Pryse, Gary and Bernadette Doyle, John Fleer and many others.
The book is a page-turner. It reads more like a novel than a memoir, and I highly recommend you grab a copy. It costs $27 at Union Ave Books in downtown Knoxville.
Cherokee Country Club was packed last Wednesday for a sellout dinner to celebrate the launch of the book. Proceeds from the $300-per-plate soiree benefited the YWCA’s “Keys of Hope” campaign. These pictures were made at that dinner.
In just a few minutes of speaking, Beall summed up the lessons she has learned and the ones she relates in the book. “All it takes is all you’ve got,” she concluded. “And it’s worth it.”
Kreis Beall poses with her daughter-in-law, Mary Celeste, and granddaughters Josephine and Rose Beall.
From left, Brenda Wood, one of the hosts of the dinner, Dr. Jack Lacey and Charlie Tombras during the reception prior to dinner.
From left, Phyllis Driver, Linda Willey and Mary Costa.
Melanie Wood, left, and Jackie Congleton with Sam Beall, Kreis’ former father-in-law.
Steve Bailey with Laura Self, center, and Elizabeth Blank. Both ladies are with the Pilot Company.
Sarah Stowers, left, and Anne Sprouse.
Kreis Beall with Cindi DeBusk, who was another of the hosts of the dinner.
Mary Ellen Brewington, pictured here with her husband, Steve, also was a host, along with Sherri Lee and Therese Anne Matthews.
From left, Flossie McNabb, Bunnie Presswood and Davis Shoulders were working the Union Ave Books table selling “The Great Blue Hills of God” at the event.
David Butler, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, with Susan Hyde.
Donna Cobble, left, with Kati Blalock.
Some folks from the Moxley Carmichael table were, from left, Knoxville Symphony Executive Director Rachel Ford, Moxley Carmichael Vice President Scott Bird, and Knoxville Area Urban League President and CEO Phyllis Y. Nichols.
More folks from the Moxley Carmichael table were, from left, Julia and Marty Gibbs (he’s vice president and general manager of The Christman Company’s Knoxville operations), Amanda Jennings of Priority Ambulance, and Moxley Carmichael CFO Shaun Fulco.
These two fun folks were at the Moxley Carmichael table, too: Jacque Hawks, left, and City Councilwoman Janet Testerman, who also is CEO of Young-Williams Animal Center.
Kent and Susan Farris.
Mollie Turner and John Trotter during the reception.
Kreis Beall and Pete DeBusk.
Jenny Boyd, left, and Sandi Burdick.
Peggy Addicks, left, with Terry Morgan, center, and Laura Cole.
Rachel Ford, left, with Meg Counts of the Pilot Company.
Bob and Whitney Bowman with Janet Testerman, at right.
Marnie and Bob Page, at left, with Vicki and Jeff Chapman as dinner was beginning.
My friend Pat Ball, left, and her buddy, Susan Greene.
From left, Jill Hanggi, Julie Cameron, Malcolm Foster, Chris Cameron, Beth Foster, Simonne Wortham and Vee and Tyler Congleton.
Meshia Thomas, chief of police and director of public safety at Virginia Union University, spoke briefly about how the YWCA’s “Keys of Hope” program helped her get on her feet and on the road to success when she was floundering several years ago.
It was an inspirational night all the way around.