Nita Graham Head died peacefully on Saturday, March 11, 2017, with wonderful care from the staff of the Anna Mae Owen Hospice House, associated with Murray-Calloway County Hospital in Murray, Kentucky.
The daughter of Grady and Ola Robertson Graham, she was born on May 8, 1931, near Princeton, Alabama, in the Paint Rock River Valley in the mountains of Northern Alabama where her family farmed. Her parents and three brothers, Carl, Russell and Kelly, preceded her in death.
While attending Paint Rock Valley High School, she practiced with the boys' basketball team as there were no athletic programs for girls. However, much to her chagrin, she was not allowed to play in the games. Nonetheless, her coach, who was also the principal, encouraged her to attend college and to major in physical education. She did so at Florence State Teachers College (now the University of North Alabama).
Upon graduation, she taught at Bridgeport Alabama High School and at Georgia Southern College. After obtaining a Master's Degree from George Peabody Teachers College (now part of Vanderbilt University), she began teaching Health and Physical Education at Murray State Teachers College (now Murray State University).
In the mid-1960s she began developing an "ad hoc" tennis program at Murray State with no funding. With the approach of Title IX legislation requiring funding for women's athletics she (along with Margaret Simmons in track and Dew Drop Rowlett in basketball) began a formally recognized tennis program with a budget of $300. While the team's win/loss record (204-67 from 1967 to 1982) became one of the best in the university's history, she never cut a player. Moreover, while she tenaciously wanted her players to win, she emphasized academic achievement and saw road trips as opportunities to widen the view of the world for her players.
Animals were also a part of her life. On the farm, to her family's surprise, she rode the cows to the barn. In Murray, one of her many dogs Louis, a miniature poodle, often accompanied her to the office and on road trips. "Smartest Dog in the Whole Wide World," he was considered "people" by most humans and was very fond of chasing sticks.
Nita's "tenacity" was complemented by her modesty and her "sense of wonder." Her interests were broad ranging. In addition to racquet sports, water skiing, rock climbing, camping and gardening, she was especially fond of folk dance, traveling across the country to workshops and festivals. She also took lessons in classical guitar.
She served on the board of the Civic Music Association and supported other performing and visual arts programs. Upon retirement she studied weaving and became very accomplished.
Nita held strong beliefs in regard to the importance of cultural, environmental and physical education. She traveled to Europe, Asia and Mexico as well as throughout the United States, including Alaska. After the deaths of all of her immediate family members she donated her family's farm (The Graham Farm and Nature Center) to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to be used as a model farm and a center for environmental education and outdoor recreation.
She is survived by her husband, Robert Head, and her wonderful cat, Carson, as well as her former tennis players, former students and friends.
Remarks by husband, Robert Head, will be at noon followed by memorial visitation until 3 p.m. Saturday, March 18, 2017, at Blalock-Coleman & York funeral home. Cremation by Imes Funeral Home & Crematory.
Expressions of sympathy may take the form of donations to:
Hospice of Murray, Murray Calloway Endowment For Healthcare, 803 Poplar St., Murray, KY 42071
The Graham Farm and Nature Center. Checks should be made payable to the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation, Inc., and mailed to 226 Duncan Hall, Auburn University, AL 36849 with Graham Farm in the memo line.
MSU Women's Tennis Team. Checks should be made out to Murray State University, with "Women's Tennis" in the memo line and sent to Susan Darnell, Murray State University, 1401 State Rte 121 N, Murray, KY 42071.