some text
Helen McDonald Exum

The funeral service for Helen McDonald Exum, longtime vice president of the Chattanooga News-Free Press, will be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyeterian Church in Chattanooga.

Exum, the driving force behind the newspaper's lifestyle section for decades, died Thursday night at her Lookout Mountain home. She was 89.

She was the oldest 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 newspaper. 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 best remembered for her Chattanooga Cookbook. It was chock-full not just of 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 newspaper features editor Margaret Kelley recalled being Exum's baby sitter when she was younger and 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," Kelley said.

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, a founder of the nation's first Challenger Center, called Exum a great encourager and an angel.

The two were 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, June Rodgers said.

For some years Exum was on the board of evangelist 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.