She first volunteered as a campaign worker 3rd Congressional District Rep. Bill Brock in his 1970 campaign for the Senate.
Brock, of Chattanooga, was raised as a Democrat. His grandfather, William Emerson Brock I, was appointed to fill the vacancy in the U.S. Senate caused by the death of Lawrence D. Tyson in 1929. He was elected in November 1930 to the remainder of the term that ended in 1931. He did not seek re-election.
Brock, the grandson, became a Republican in the 1950s. Tennessee's 3rd congressional district was the only Democratic fortification in traditionally Republican leaning East Tennessee. Forty years of Democratic control of the district ended in 1962, with Brock’s election to Congress.
Eleanor “Kay” Howles Shamblin was born to William and Ruth Howles of Memphis. Though her father never held elected office, he raised the family to be active in the Christian faith and in politics.
“Dad was a politician,” she said. “He always said when you’re looking for someone to vote for, it is not whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. You’ve got to look at the issues, look at the issues, and then look at the issues, to know what [politicians] stand for. You’re not looking for someone who is popular. You’ve got to know what somebody stands for and how it is going to affect you.”
And she always looks at the issues, but the main issues are “abortions and anything against God’s word. That was it. We were raised in a Christian home and I’ve been a Christian since I was 13 years old. I was saved at a Billy Graham crusade when he was just a young man having a tent revival.”
Shamblin was a Christian before, “but that tied the knot. I’ve been corresponding with Billy Graham ever since.”
Shamblin said she has met Graham three times and through sentiment, she made scrapbooks on both Billy and Franklin Graham.
“Anyway, it was wonderful being raised in a Christian family because it didn’t take long to realize what the issues were — and when you were 18 you got to vote. That was the most exciting time to me.”
The 26th Amendment to the Constitution bars states and the federal government from setting a voting age higher than 18. The amendment was adopted July 1, 1971 in response to student activism against the Vietnam War and to partially overrule the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Oregon v. Mitchell.
Shamblin met her husband, Bill, in Memphis where he attended training for Western Electric, which at that time was part of the Bell Telephone System. The couple were married and moved to Chattanooga after Bill finished training.
They have been married 58 years and raised three children: Brenda, who died from cancer about 10 year ago; Sheila, a school teacher in Nashville, and Steven, an engineer with the TVA in Chattanooga. They are also proud grandparents of six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“All of our children are Christians and they all have Christian homes. And every one of them are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans,” she said.
Due to Bill’s career with Western Electric, they have worked and traveled throughout 49 states. Over the years, Kay has been a Sunday school and Chapter 1 teacher. The first 25 years of married life was in Chattanooga. They resided in Ooltewah for 13 years before moving to Cleveland 20 years ago when Bill retired.
Shamblin said she takes after her father and neither one of them have a shy bone in their bodies.
“He was a talker,” she said.
And when she and Bill moved to Chattanooga, they happened to settle into a neighborhood near the home of the late Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd along with city and county political hopefuls who, from time to time, asked Shamblin to distribute fliers. Otherwise, she stayed home with her three children.
“I knew where I was supposed to be,” she said. “But I did work on the Bill Brock campaign. His was the first to interest me enough to volunteer. Of course, I didn’t run it or anything, but I worked on the campaign.”
Though she was her father’s daughter and was hooked on politics, she never really became an active campaigner until the Shamblins moved to Cleveland and the children were grown.
Over the years, she volunteered for Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, state Rep. Kevin Brooks and state Rep. Eric Watson — every one of them, she said.
“We have a lot of good people in Cleveland who are in politics,” she said.
She met some politicians by volunteering at the Bradley County Republican Headquarters. They would ask her to do something “and I was off with six-guns blazing.”
She and Bill have passed out literature, posted signs and distributed fliers. When she coordinated a campaign, she was the more vocal of the two while Bill worked in the background.
The 2002 Senate campaign for Lamar Alexander was the first big race she helped coordinate.
“It’s a wonder I ever did any of them after that,” she said. “That’s a lot of work.”
Shamblin said she was also heavily involved in the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Bill Frist.
“He was another good one, but I’ve enjoyed every one of them. You get to meet them, their families and friends,” she said.
Her last active campaigns were in the November 2012 General Election for Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam.
“You talk about workers,” she said and then whistled for emphasis. “Polished to the T. They have everything organized. They never get tired — and they never eat. That’s why they’re so thin. What great, organized people Corker and Haslam are. They’re gentleman. Everyone in both families worked on the campaigns.”
But, from her perspective as county campaign coordinator, she said the candidates and staff are always asking for something during the 12-month races.
“They’re always wanting to have something or you’ve got to get signs and literature out and we’ve made television commercials,” she said.
Shamblin was somewhat disappointed that a Corker commercial in which she appeared was shown only in West Tennessee, but that is where her relatives live.
“There is always something to look forward to and I enjoyed every one of mine, all the way from the beginning to any of them I did in Cleveland.”
For her work in Cleveland, she was awarded the Virginia Smith Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award in May 2003 by the Bradley County Republican Party.
And the Tennessee Republican Party recently showed its appreciation to Shamblin for all her work with Statesman of the Year honors from the 4th District. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey presented awards July 12 to one person from each of the nine congressional districts during the 37th Annual Statesmen’s Dinner at the Music City Center in Nashville.
The award was special for Shamblin, who retired from active politics after the November 2012 elections.
Inset Quote (P-18):
“Dad was a politician. He always said when you’re looking for someone to vote for, it is not whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. You’ve got to look at the issues, look at the issues, and then look at the issues, to know what [politicians] stand for. You’re not looking for someone who is popular. You’ve got to know what somebody stands for and how it is going to affect you.” — Kay Shamblin
Inset Quote (P-18):
“You talk about workers. Polished to the T. They have everything organized. They never get tired — and they never eat. That’s why they’re so thin. What great, organized people Corker and Haslam are. They’re gentleman. Everyone in both families worked on the campaigns.” — Kay Shamblin