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Hu Brinkley: A Life Well-Lived

October 5, 2012

Hu Brinkley

I would guess that hardly a person in Memphis today could tell you anything if you ask them, “Who was Hugh Brinkley?”

Not long ago, neither could I. Now every time I head East from the Cottage on Morgan’s Grand Tour Street my head immediately looks to the left as I pass Mr. Brinkley’s grave and I think of him.

Hugh Lawson White Brinkley, or “Hu” as he preferred to be called, was born August 14, 1842 at Travelers Rest, the Nashville home of his great-grandfather, John Overton. Overton was one of the original founders of Memphis. His parents, R.C. and Annie Overton Brinkley named him after a great-uncle, senator, and one-time presidential candidate Hugh Lawson White.

Born into wealth, nice looking, and with strong social connections throughout the South. 

By the age of 29 he completed the job of linking the railroad between Memphis and Little Rock. He then completed a beltline to connect all of the railroads coming into Memphis. 

His success in life allowed him to build the Lyceum Theater, a source of cultural enrichment for Memphis in the late 1800’s.  He served in the state legislature. He was also a fire & police commissioner in Memphis. He acted as a leader in an effort known as the Greater Memphis Campaign that resulted in the huge 1899 annexation of most of Memphis’s eastern suburbs; it made the city four times larger.

His philanthropy lives on to this day. He married Lucy Mosby in 1889. She died within a year. He never remarried, but seemed driven to champion causes that helped the betterment of women’s lives in Memphis. He built and dedicated the Lucy Brinkley Hospital for Women to her.  Today you can still go into Methodist-University Hospital and visit the Lucy Brinkley Pavilion.  He paid off the mortgage on the Women’s and Young Women’s Christian Association building and left them $40,000 in his will.  This money was used to build the Anne Brinkley Home for working women who couldn’t afford adequate, safe housing. This is just a short list of his gifts.

Though it all Hu Brinkley lived a quiet, unpretentious life.  He continued to work out of his father’s old office downtown.  He never built a mansion, but lived with a sister in her home.  He died January 7, 1904.

If you go looking for his grave in lot number 273-283, Fowler Section, space number four, don’t look for a huge, grand monument.  Hu is buried in a very simple grave outlined with a Victorian cradle that bears only his name.

Dale Schaefer

Historian 

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