“Thank God for unnecessary things!”

That was my conclusion to an NBC reporter, who had asked me (as president of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville) “Are world’s fairs necessary?”

I replied: “Absolutely not.  Neither are symphonies, great works of art and football games, but, thank God for unnecessary things.  It’s the unnecessary things in life that make living so great.”

I recalled this recently as some of us were scrambling to prepare for a major “unnecessary thing,” the forthcoming blockbuster art exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum entitled the Rau Collection, Six Centuries with the European Masters. Moreover, I stopped to reflect on the necessary people needed to make unnecessary events happen.

Enabling Nashville to be the last United States stop for this 95-piece private collection was a Herculean effort by a many people, given the financial challenges and an extremely short timetable.  The exhibition, opening August 28 and continuing through  January 15, was made possible by many, but a few heroes stand out.

First, there were corporate heroes BellSouth and Bridgestone/Firestone.  Both have been long-time supporters of museum activities and were ready to step up early to make the exhibit a reality for Nashville.

Then there were Ray Bell, Senator Douglas Henry and Governor Phil Bredesen.  Rough and tough Bell, owner of the mega-construction firm bearing his name, and a knowledgeable antiques collector and art lover, stepped forward as he always has in his nearly three decades of leadership on the Tennessee State Museum Foundation Board.  So too did genteel, gentleman- politician Douglas Henry, who, along with his wife Lolly, are legendary in their support of the museum.  Governor Bredesen saw that the private sector had stepped up, and he added a last-minute appropriations’ recommendation that allowed the foundation to make the commitment for the exhibit.

Yet, I think all the heroes would agree that the most necessary person was Lois Riggins-Ezzell, who for 24 years as executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, has pushed, cajoled, pleaded, and begged on bended knee for support of her grand vision: bring outstanding art and history to the people, especially the schoolchildren, of Tennessee.  Lois’ boundless passion for making things happen has amazed many over the years, particularly when one realizes she doesn’t make a dime’s more salary whether she brings any traveling exhibitions to the museum or not.  It would be just as easy to sit back and wile away her last few years before retirement, but that’s not the makeup of this native East Nashvillian.

Her passion was called to mind this week with a tribute at her museum (she would say our museum) for deceased artist Arthur Orr.  She was quoted in last week’s Tennessean article as an admirer and supporter of Arthur’s, but few know the extent of that support.  The marvelously talented artist (one of the few Tennessee-based artists to have ever been selected for the prestigious Whitney Biennial) had fallen on hard, alcohol-induced times.

After pulling every string she could to get him disability and living quarters in government-assisted housing, that wasn’t enough for the pony-haired girl of the 1960’s.  I recall many nights and many week ends when Lois, her husband, David Ezzell, and son, Nick Riggins were running around trying to “find Arthur” or getting food and urging Arthur to eat .and not give it away, yet again. This tortured, yet extraordinary artist had his life extended because of the efforts of this necessary lady.

All  Tennesseeans’ lives will be enriched when the Rau Collection opens next month. The unbridled enthusiasm and unrelenting optimism of this unsung state employee has done it once again.  Once you see this show, I know you will join me in saying: “Thank you, Lois,” and, even more importantly, “thank God for unnecessary things.”


Bo Roberts is a Nashville marketing consultant and managing partner of Roberts Strategies.