A Life Lived: Darrell Blackburn was proud of his Cat Island heritage

Published 1:20 pm Monday, July 3, 2023

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Editorial Director
Darrell Blackburn never forgot his roots. He grew up in Cat Island in the east end of town. It was a small community located in the area where the Cat Island Park is now located. Everyone knew each other. In fact, it was just like one big family.
Darrell, who was 71 when he died June 24, enjoyed meeting up with former Cat Island residents and reliving their growing-up days. Several of those Cat Island residents attended First Free Will Baptist Church as did Darrell, and he enjoyed meeting up with the likes of Jim Bishop, Bud Deloach, and Bo Campbell, who, too have died in recent years. “It was a place where everybody knew each other and they had wonderful memories of growing up and living there. Darrell often shared how and he and his granny would walk from their Cat Island home to church each Sunday. He could talk for hours about Cat Island,” shared Darrell’s wife, Judy. “One of his favorite memories was when some of the boys would hike to the top of Lynn Mountain and camp out at the three crosses the night before Easter and then attend the Easter sunrise service on Sunday morning,” shared Judy.
Darrell also had a special love for Elizabethton High School, his alma mater. Although he never played high school sports, he attended every Elizabethton High basketball, football, and baseball game or anything else the Cyclones played in. He also enjoyed the Betsy Band and enjoyed listening to the music of the sixties.
He was Cyclone orange through and through. In fact, he had a big orange truck with two tuffies on the fenders.
Darrell was also a collector of Elizabethton High School memorabilia. In fact, he had one room at his house dedicated to the Cyclones. He had photos on the walls, even the Betsy song was framed and hung on the wall of the room along with photos of various teams. He enjoyed showing friends his Cyclone memorabilia. But, he would not dare give anything away.
Judy said Darrell knew all the songs of the era he grew up in. He had a collection of records, albums, and CDs of music of that time. His favorite song: “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals.
EHS stuff was not all the stuff that Darrell collected. He was a history buff and enjoyed antiquing. “To Darrell, old stuff and antique items had a history. Part of the appeal was the memories that went with it. He had lots of photos of old Elizabethton and the Covered Bridge, the Carter Mansion, when Hoover came to Elizabethton, etc. To Darrell, collecting old photos reminded him of his heritage, the people he connected with, and “precious moments” in history.
Darrell Blackburn’s life was full of interesting things and hobbies, but at the top of his list was his family and church at First Free Will. Darrell was a long-time member of the church and until he got sick was there for almost every service. He was always willing to help out whenever and wherever he could.
He had two children, Jennifer Taylor and Jason Russell, and two grandchildren, Kaleb Collins and Zachary Russell. “He babysat Kaleb a lot when he was little, and they bonded and became friends for life. In fact, he often took Kaleb with him when he went antiquing and got him into it, Judy shared.
In addition to the fun things he did, Darrell was a hard worker. Judy said right out of high school, he began working at the Elizabethton Undergarment Plant. Later he went to Kennametal In Johnson City, where he worked until his retirement.
Darrell was a big man, towering over most people around him at 6 feet and 6 inches. However, he was a humble, kind person often taking the time to greet someone and ask “How are you doing today?” He was always interested in others.
Darrell Blackburn left a lot of memories for his family and church family to enjoy. And, one by one the Cat Island family is growing smaller, which makes its heritage even richer. When you visit the Cat Island Park, always remember that some mighty fine people, including Darrell Blackburn, once called this place home.

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