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Ole Miss Musings: Robyn and Rhea Tannehill Up Close and Personal

HottyToddy.com had the pleasure to visit with Oxford’s most well known couple, Rhea and Robyn Tannehill, both Ole Miss graduates. Robyn will soon be assuming the office of Mayor while Rhea is a successful practicing attorney.

HottyToddy.com: Guys, before we get into politics, what is it like preparing for another Double Decker, an event Robyn founded?
Robyn and Rhea: The weeks leading up to the festival always make me a little anxious and excited. Although we have no direct role with the festival any longer, we remember well all that goes into the planning. The weather is always a concern and greatly influences the turnout. It’s hard to believe that in 1996 we had 9,000 attendees. This past year (2016), the crowd was estimated at over 60,000.
HottyToddy.com: Rhea, a long-time friend of yours anticipated you would be the politician in your family having won the ASB President while at Ole Miss.
Rhea: I was ASB president in 1991-1992, which was a long time ago! I started dating Robyn during this time. Many of my friends predicted that I would have a career in politics, but the time has just not been right. My current job is to support Robyn and help her however I can.
HottyToddy.com: Robyn, you have been active in community affairs for quite some time. How has this prepared you for becoming mayor?
Robyn: I believe the mayor is first and foremost a community servant. Since retiring from the business world to raise our children, I have referred to myself as a “professional volunteer.” Spending time volunteering in the schools and numerous other roles in the community, as well as serving as Alderman, have prepared me for the challenge ahead.
HottyToddy.com: Rhea, because of all your family and business activities, how and when do you and Robyn have time to relax?
Rhea: Relax? What’s that? Being in the National Guard consumes at least one weekend per month. Most of our free time is focused on family and our children (Maggie is 17, Jack 14, and Molly Cat 12). Two of our kids are engaged in travel sports. We are blessed that our teenagers will still hang out with us! We make it a goal to eat dinner together most every week night, regardless of the hour.
HottyToddy.com: Living in Oxford after both of you graduated from Ole Miss… is this a dream come true or something that just happened?
Robyn and Rhea: It is something that just happened. Rhea graduated from Law School in 1996 while I was serving as executive director of the Oxford Tourism Council. Things simply fell into place. We’ve always felt like God’s plan was for us to be in Oxford.
HottyToddy.com: Robyn, looking at the next four years for Oxford, what is our greatest challenge aside from infrastructure keeping pace?
Robyn: Growing pains do bring challenges, however, communities not experiencing growth have even greater challenges. Preserving the things we treasure about Oxford, including the “sense of community,” are equally important to infrastructure issues. Providing affordable housing for our workforce will be a top priority as will creative solutions and partnerships with developers. This is an important component of our Land Development Code and a concern as we explore future annexation.
HottyToddy.com: Rhea, tell our readers about your law practice and what you specialize in?
Rhea: Personal injury and criminal defense. My firm also is active in loan closings and collection work as we represent a number of local physicians. I have been practicing 20 years and have four other attorneys working in our firm. Our office is located at 829 N. Lamar.
HottyToddy.com: Robyn, did you ever envision years ago that Double Decker would evolve into Mississippi’s stellar event?
Robyn: In 1995 (when I proposed the idea), I was hoping for a successful first festival in hopes of securing a second. Double Decker was a success 20 years ago because it celebrated, then and now, what Oxford does best….music, food and art. The quality of music, food and art seems to increase each year along with the crowds.
HottyToddy.com: Would you envision any potential areas that the City of Oxford could exert influence over Ole Miss for the betterment of the community at large?
Robyn and Rhea: Unfortunately, the University does not have complete control over its growth. Working with the University has never been better than it is now. Chancellor Vitter is a great partner to the City of Oxford. Frequent communications between the City, University and County have improved relations and have helped us all facilitate growth and joint projects. We all understand the importance of the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing.
HottyToddy.com: Robyn, can the residents of Oxford expect future tax increases or will the city be able to satisfy services with the current budget projections?
Robyn: Our new board, that is seated on June 6, will be facing some very difficult decisions. The cost of addressing city services and infrastructure (expanding the sewer system as one example) to accommodate growth is significant. We would like to accomplish all of this without raising taxes, but this may not be realistic. Providing services to 40,000 people with a tax base of 20,000 is demanding. The city currently employs about 452 individuals.
HottyToddy.com: Rhea, what do you enjoy most about living and working in Oxford?
Rhea: The school district. Our family also enjoys participating in all of the activities that the University provides, particularly sporting events. The quality of life in Oxford is unlike any other town.
HottyToddy.com: Robyn, is Oxford growing too fast and if so, does the city need to take measures to slow this somewhat?
Robyn: I don’t think there is any way to put the brakes on. As city leaders, we must work faster to be proactive instead of reacting to the growth. We have slowed down the process of site plan approvals, giving our planning department more time to review and request changes so that we aren’t missing things with the high volume of building permits being requested.
HottyToddy.com: Robyn, Oxford is now attracting new residents from all across the nation, even individuals with no ties to either Ole Miss or Mississippi. This has to make you proud.
Robyn: The secret is out. Oxford is a beautiful, unique town that offers a quality of life that can’t be found many other places. In 1995, as Director of the Oxford Tourism Council, I used our advertising budget to pay travel expenses for travel writers from major publications across the nation to come to Oxford. I knew if they saw it and experienced it, they would have to tell our story. These stories are still being told.
HottyToddy.com: Rhea, you will soon become Oxford’s “first man.” Are you prepared for all the questions and suggestions that are inevitable in being Oxford’s first family?
Rhea: It is already happening. I fully understand that this is part of the total package. I can deal with it because I know this is Robyn’s passion. She truly loves doing her job.
*Footnote: As we love her working on our behalf! It’s impossible to be around these two without getting inspired. Very few individuals have ever come into a position, like Robyn is tackling, this well prepared. She’s one dedicated individual with only the best interests of the community at heart. We are so fortunate that “something just happened” in her and Rhea’s ability to remain in Oxford!

Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.
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