Tracy Roberts Frist is as unpretentious as she is brilliant. Married to Dr. Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader, she brings from her native Commonwealth of Virginia a wealth of learning, enthusiasm and generosity and a deep love for history and its preservation.
The couple met at a Princeton University reunion. Tracy and Dr. Frist struck up a conversation, and voila, she met the man who shared her common loves and passion in life.
They were together a year before their engagement. Ultimately, it took a bit of persuasion to uproot her from her beloved home, Bellevue, a 900-acre farm in Southwest Virginia where she lived in an 1823 house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tracy, who holds two master’s degrees — one in analytical writing, the other in creative writing — is an educator. Her Ph.D. research is with human-animal bonding and its impact on children and learning.
“I grew up to be what I wanted to be, a farmer, teacher and writer,” she said.
As a writer, she has authored award winning short stories.
Her teaching certification is in kindergarten to grade 12 education.
“I knew about one-room schoolhouses as a child in Appalachia, and my first teaching job was in another one-room school,” Tracy said.
While she didn’t major in history, she says in hindsight she probably would have enjoyed being a history professor.
“I’ve always loved history; my mother has been a great influence there,” she said. “I grew up in a Sears house in one of the most rural counties in Virginia. I have found, from teaching in other rural areas in our country, that rural communities no matter their geographies have the same wonderful cultural connectiveness.”
Once married, the quest was on for Tracy and Bill to find a farm and an historic house in Williamson County. An equestrian, she wanted a proper place for her horses. She shows them in Texas. She also wanted a home with a story, like the one in Virginia.
The couple looked at many houses. Nothing was perfect. As part of their ramblings, one day they happened upon Old Town, a picturesque farm and home with thousands of years of history. The 1840s house was a clapboard reflection of her brick home in Virginia. Perfect.
It wasn’t for sale.
Dr. Frist persisted, finally convincing the owner to sell.
The couple moved there four and a half years ago. They lived in the main house for a year, then a small cabin on the property for three years while they renovated the main house.
It is exquisite.
Tracy seemed quite at home sitting in her favorite room, speaking with us about her love of Old Town and its ancient history.
People lived on this land beginning around 900-1050. The property contains remains of people whose nomadic forebearers arrived in the region 12,000 years ago and is home to eight mounds built by early Mississipian culture. The 1840s house sits on one.
While this astonishing history would be of interest to any history lover, it is particularly poignant to Tracy. She has a great love and respect for early Native culture.
“We have done ground penetrating radar on the mounds, to detect the map of ancient life here,” she said. “After the Civil War, an archaeological dig produced a myriad of items from the very distant past. They were sent to various museums.”
Efforts are being made to repatriate the items removed from the land.
As an educator and a preservationist, Tracy has plans to share and fiercely protect the history of this magical place.
“Who would not want to share this?” she said. “The history here demands nothing less.”
We continue to chat as she takes us on a tour through this meticulously restored main house. From stem to stern, it is perfection.
Next, she shows us her treasures, her dogs and her horses. She points out some of the mounds; her interest is contagious. In her long-term plans are tours to visit the mounds that rise up on the site of a village once here, and also to have this history included in curriculum.
Her stories of the past are magical. Her zeal to protect this land and those stories, undeniable.
As part of their love of preservation, Tracy has been asked to serve on the Board for the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County.
“I am honored,” she said.
She has jumped into her new role with her whole heart. She and Bill chaired the 46th annual Heritage Ball staged beneath alabaster tents at the Eastern Flank Battlefield Park. The Ball, benefiting the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, was glorious in neutrals and earth tones, and was as lovely, unpretentious and understated at Frist herself.