By Ralphine Major
I can see a little blond-headed boy standing in the back yard calling for his neighbor to come out and play. It was the sixties, and life was so simple in our rural community. Several times each summer, my brother and I would spend the day visiting in the home of our aunt, Katherine Ward. The Ward’s house on Karnes Road was next door to the Karnes family. Our cousin, Major Ward, and Tony Karnes were both born in March of ‘64 just days apart.
All five of the Karnes children graduated from Gibbs High School. Bobby (deceased) was in the Class of ‘61. Brenda graduated in ‘65. Vicky graduated two years ahead of me in 1970. Both Vicky and I took piano lessons from Jewel Harris Atkins (Focus 6-20-11). Gayle graduated in 1973, a year after me. It was a pleasant surprise to get an e-mail from her after she read one of my columns. Tony’s class was in the second grade the year my Class of ‘72 graduated. His Class of 1982 graduated the year of the World’s Fair, and Tony was the salutatorian.
The honor student attended The University of Tennessee before Aetna Life and Casualty offered him an underwriter’s job. As a young person, Tony faced heartbreaking loss. A major heart attack claimed his father’s life when Tony was only thirteen; at sixteen, he began working part-time to help his family with expenses. Tony’s only brother was killed in a car accident in 1987. Karnes sold his home in 1996 and took care of his mother before she passed away from brain cancer the following year.
When one insurance company Tony worked for was bought by Marsh & McLennan, the Corryton native moved to Memphis. The next move took Karnes, a software trainer, to New York. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Tony was at work on the 97th floor, Tower 1, of the World Trade Center when the planes hit. It was a beautiful, fall-like day. Tony was one of the thousands that perished in the terrorist attack. He lived only three blocks from Ground Zero. The horrific events of 9-11 were a heart-wrenching loss for Tony’s three sisters: Brenda Vandever, Vicky Ratcliff, and Gayle Barker. They are quick to share that while Tony loved his new home in New York City, he never forgot his Southern roots and came back home to Tennessee often.
It has been fourteen years since 9-11, a day that changed our world forever. A tree was planted outside the library at Gibbs High School in memory of Tony. Brenda has a “New York table” in her home filled with mementos of Tony and New York. It is a wonderful tribute to her brother. Innocent lives were lost on 9-11, including that little blond-headed boy who grew up in Corryton. A way of life that we knew is forever gone. Now, as then, our only comfort and hope is found in an old, old book. It is a scripture Karnes likely heard at Clear Springs Baptist Church where he was a member. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV)