Helen McDonald Exum, longtime vice president of The Chattanooga Free Press and driving force behind its lifestyle sections for decades, died Thursday night at her Lookout Mountain home. She was 89.
Mrs. Exum was the first of five children of Elizabeth and Roy McDonald, who founded the Free Press in 1936.
For many years while raising six children, Exum was food editor of the evening paper. In the 1970s, she became a full-time editor, presiding over sweeping coverage of travel, gardening, food, entertainment and related “living” news features.
Exum traveled extensively across the globe to bring first-person features to her readers’ homes.
She may be most remembered by many for her Chattanooga Cookbook. It was chock-full of not just recipes, but local history and the lore of many Chattanooga families. The book was so popular it went into several printings and had three sequels.
Former News Free Press features editor Margaret Kelley recalled being Exum’s babysitter when she was younger when Exum was a food columnist.
“Even amid the chaos of having toddlers, she would dim the lights in the dining room, light candles and have for dinner some new recipe she was trying,” said Kelley.
Kelley worked under Exum at the newspaper from 1974 to 1981.
“Helen had a remarkable “nose for news” and never lacked for ideas.” she said.
June Scobee Rodgers calls Exum a great encourager and an angel.
The two were both members of the Floozies, a group Exum founded along with friend Fran Smith. Rodgers’ husband, Gen. Don Rodgers, called the group The Floozies because they always dressed to the nines for their meetings, Rodgers said.
For some years Exum was on the board of Robert Schuller’s "Hour of Power" and was a proponent of his “possibility thinking” themes.
“One of the things I admired about her so much was how she cultivated and kept friends,” Rodgers said.
She was a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church.
She was preceded in death by her parents; two children, Kinchen Exum and Franklin McDonald; her brother, Frank McDonald; two sisters, Dr. Martha McDonald and Nancy Reinke; and her husband, Kinchen W. Exum.
She is survived by her sons, Roy and Jonathan Exum, daughters Susan Exum and Ellen Raoul; a sister, Betsy McDonald Anderson; several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Heritage Funeral Home on East Brainerd Road is handling funeral arrangements.
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