Joan Pitt Rue Derryberry, first lady of Tennessee Tech from 1940 to 1974, during the time her husband, Everett Derryberry was president, was a force that made things happen both at the university and in this community.
She was characterized as elegant, intelligent, attractive, genteel and commanding with her British accent. Never stiff or without humor, Joan Derryberry was known for her wit and cleverness, making her a sought-after speaker and friend. She managed a busy and demanding life as the president’s wife, while using her talents to the benefit of the university and the community: teaching at the University; participating in community cultural events, many of which she started, such as the Cumberland Art Society; entertaining at official gatherings at Walton House; being a mentor for faculty and students in both the music and the art departments; and at the same time, creating an amazing body of paintings.
Her paintings are often described as impressionist, and, indeed, they had many of the characteristics of that style: soft colors, loose brushstrokes, landscapes that featured skies, oceans, deep woods and remarkable light. Her memories of living on the coast of England, in Devon, guided many of her paintings. As she painted the landscapes of Middle Tennessee, she translated the Upper Cumberland plateau in her paintings with a combination of her impressionist style and memory of Devon, and the lush wilderness of the green hills of this area. Her subject matter was varied: landscapes; seascapes; still lifes; paintings of her grandchildren playing on the beach; and special commissions that demanded more illustrative subjects, such as the painting in the Herald-Citizen newspaper offices. An extremely popular painter, she kept busy with commissions from many local and regional people who wanted paintings of their homes and landscapes.
Joan Derryberry left a legacy in this community that is felt in many ways. She was tireless in her determination to place more emphasis on the arts in this region in ways that will continue to be felt for generations to come.