Billy and Nancy Tyson

Nancy Tyson with her husband, Billy.


My son-in-law’s grandmother, Nancy Tyson, died last month. It was totally unexpected, very quick and sudden. Matt Tyson is my son-in-law, and he says the family is still reeling from the shock.

It happened on a Saturday night, four days after Christmas.

Nancy had just finished cooking a pot of soup and was making her way into the living room to watch the Orange Bowl. She suddenly became dizzy, lost her balance and fell to the floor.

Afraid to get back up, Nancy asked her husband to fetch her a pillow, saying that she was just going to stay put for a few minutes.

“As far as we know, those were her last words,” Matt said.

When the family learned that Nancy had fallen, her son, Mike Tyson, and his wife, JoAnn, rushed to her side. By the time they arrived, Nancy was unresponsive. Mike and JoAnn took turns performing CPR until the paramedics arrived, but Nancy never regained consciousness. Her death was ruled a massive heart attack. It was quick and painless, which is a blessing, but so very hard on her family, who had not one moment to prepare themselves for it.

I knew Nancy as an in-law. My grandchildren were her great-grandchildren, and her heart overflowed with love for them. We saw each other at various family events and shared a Thanksgiving meal every year. She made the most wonderful vegetable casserole. She gave me the recipe, but my version never came close to hers.

Every Christmas she would take her grown grandchildren shopping — Matt and his sister, Anna, along with my daughter, Lindsay. They would each pick out what they wanted, and Nancy would make the purchases. She took the merchandise home to wrap so that they could open their gifts on Christmas Day. It was such a dear tradition.

“My grandmother had a pure and genuine goodness about her,” Matt said.

Indeed, to describe Nancy, people use words like “sweet” and “nice” and “kind” — and it’s all true. She was all those things; perhaps the kindest person I’ve ever known. But here, on paper, it sounds somewhat mundane when there was so much more to her than that.

Matt agrees. “She had a humble demeanor,” he said. “But she wasn’t afraid to put you in your place if you needed it.”

Nancy was devoted to her career, working an impressive 41 years at the Calhoun County Courthouse before retiring as the Family Court Supervisor.

Former circuit court judge Sam Monk worked with her in those days. “She was friendly, compassionate and helpful to everyone no matter their situation,” he said. “She was what every public servant should aspire to be.”

Appearances in family court can be emotional, especially for kids. Ted Hooks, longtime Circuit Clerk now retired, remembers how Nancy kept candy stashed in her pocketbook to give to crying children. “She had a big heart,” he said.

Kim McCarson, who is the current Circuit Clerk, says she wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for Nancy. “I’m living my dream because of her.”

Nancy hired Kim in 1990. After spending years working in family court, Kim learned she was being moved to the circuit court criminal division. “I didn’t want to go,” she recalls. “I was nervous about working in a different environment, but Nancy told me, ‘Kim, you never know what God has planned for you,’ and she was right.”

Judge Laura Phillips also has fond memories of working with Nancy. “She was very professional and always greeted you with a sincere smile,” she said. Laura remembers one day, after filing a court order, Nancy brought it back to her and said, “Hey Judge, this paragraph is wrong.”

“She had been doing it a lot longer than me so I respected her opinion,” Laura said. “Nancy knew the judges depended on her.”

Judge Peggy Lacher said Nancy was the ‘Mama’ of the Juvenile Court. “She took care of us and ran the court with an iron fist,” she said.

Everyone at the courthouse knew it would be a point of contention if any of Nancy’s files were out of order or — worse yet — taken without being officially checked out. “She managed to be tough as nails while remaining sweet, supportive, nurturing and caring,” Peggy said, and then added, “Heaven truly gained an angel with Nancy. She will be missed by all who knew her.”

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at