Over the past several weeks The Knoxville Focus has been having chats with community leaders, elected officials, neighborhood organization leaders, and really interesting people. Betty Jo Mahan recently retired as the administrative assistant to the Metropolitan Planning Commission director and has had more than 20 years in service to the local government. She lost her husband, Steve, this year and is raising her grandson, Braiden.

Betty Jo’s efforts on behalf of her neighborhood association, such as getting the Inskip area rezoned to stop the influx of apartments and including Spanish in neighborhood information, was recognized in 2014 when the City of Knoxville named her “Good Neighbor of the Year.”

You’ve been retired for a couple of months, how’s that working for you?

It’s been good. I’ve used the last couple of months catching up. I’ve been working in the yard, figuring out how to operate some of the vehicles and the lawn equipment. I have the same amount of hours each day and it depends on what you do with it. Now I’m able to spend more quality time with Braiden in the evening. I’ve gone on a senior trip with the church, which has been my real support.

What’s your hope for the city and county to cooperate more together on functions?

Seems to me it would simplify things. I was thinking about that this morning. The school (Inskip Elementary) was trying to work with the city about putting a sidewalk over there along Coster, but because it was only going to be a partial sidewalk the city isn’t going to do it. I don’t think it is the people holding up the process but the politicians. People in the county move there because they don’t want to pay for city services and then they complain they have to take their own garbage off.

It would be a big compromise and that seems that’s what people in politics are not willing to do. Can’t you all work together, you’re out there doing it anyway.

What are your main interests outside the Inskip Neighborhood Association and your former work?

Well, I garden and clean house and I work with the community, school and my church. I like to help people do things. I’m not as much a leader as a doer. We’ve been doing the Thanksgiving food buckets for about five years now at Inskip School. Jonathan Allen, the social worker, decides which families get those. We put together 106 this year. The parents come by and pick them up when they are dropping off kids or picking them up.

How is the Inskip Neighborhood Association doing?

We’ve had a few new people come in. But we lost so many (members) when people moved out of town.

What’s the main accomplishment you see in your life so far?

I think it would be my work. I’ve worked for either the federal or local government in service for forty-five years. I’m proud of my service to the public, helping them to find ways to work with the system. The system changes but if you stay there long enough you change with it.

When people meet you for the first time how do you think they see you?

I think people see me as a grandmother at this point in time. It’s harder and harder to look back, I work more on looking forward. I’m used to going in, looking at my calendar and deciding on what I need to do. I keep a bulletin board for Braiden’s school so I can keep up with that.

If you had one thing to do over in your life what would that be?

I think I would make more friends than I have now. I’m working on that now, that’s why I’m so involved. I keep to myself too much.

When you were at MPC what did you like the most about being there?

I really enjoyed the people there, there was such a diversity of people there. And programs like the bicycle program, the transportation program, the smart trips, and the historic aspects.

What’s your favorite meal or place to eat?

Definitely Mexican. I like Monterey’s and El Chico’s, especially El Chico’s fresh guacamole.