Opal Nein was a very stylish woman and a good friend over the years. In 1984 she called me and asked if I could hold for Duley Perrin. I didn’t know at the time but later learned was a developer behind such projects as Value City, Consolidated Sales, several apartment communities and much more. He told me on the call that he liked my p and v; it was later, in a conversation with Opal, that I found out what that meant.

I was scheduled to meet with him and when I got to his office, Opal greeted me. She was impeccably dressed, as always. Her voice was smooth as silk and she had the nicest eyes; they danced when she talked. She was in her 40s but was one of those women who carried age well. She could fit anywhere, in any generation. She laughed when I asked her about the p and v. “You haven’t heard that, well honey that means he likes your spirit...” I don’t know why I felt complimented, but I did.

That was the first of many conversations over the years. Opal had of way of making things real and you knew where you stood with her. I always felt like I could speak frankly and my confidence would be respected. It was at that meeting that Mr. Perrin told me he wanted to help me build a shelter. It’s needed, he said, and I think you will do something about it. I will help. And help he did. He purchased the Old Ladies Home for $75,000 and spent upwards of $200,000 renovating it. Through all of it, Opal’s calm demeanor kept the conversation on course.

It was an unlikely but very likely partnership. I was from the Mill and as I came to find out Mr. Perrin had some gambling houses nearby. Some of the stories I heard growing up about the men in dead man’s hollow were legendary about out-of-town gamblers. We were poor but pretty sheltered and that world was not ours, but it did fascinate me. For whatever reason, Mr. Perrin felt compelled to help the poor and Opal was the person who made all that happen for him. His business partner was always in another office and I really only met him a few times, but during the time of opening the shelter it was interesting to listen to the history of this community and of Clarksville through their eyes.

I always felt clumsy around Opal. Not because of anything she did; she was always genuine and kind. But because it was hard to measure up to her Della Street good looks and style. She was of the ilk of those starlets who played with Perry Mason — always on point. She knew stuff and she understood business in a way I had never been taught. She was happy in the day to pass that knowledge on and to teach. We would laugh and talk when I would go by to find out what project was next for the shelter.

On the shelter’s first Christmas she called about two weeks before and asked that I come by the office. I did and she handed me an envelope with a check for $4,000 in it. She told me to promise that every penny would be spent on presents for the people at the shelter. It was to be their best Christmas, Duley had told her. I did just that. We celebrated and Duley, Mrs. Perrin, Opal, and Dr. and Mrs. Wolvertin came to the celebration. The Perrins asked that Opal pass out the gifts instead of them. She did. You could tell the impact it had on her. All those eyes, eager and excited. I found out later it had been her idea and the office had all pitched in.

Opal died April 24, on her birthday, at the age of 89. She was one of the kindest most unassuming people I ever met. She did good. She believed people were good. She was the Democrat’s Democrat. She thought we all needed to help each other and she used that to influence the people around her and nuanced it in such a way they always believed it was their idea. I loved watching her. As the elders leave us we owe them homage. The sacrifices they made to bring things along were great.

Opal was the one who told me how she and Mr. and Mrs. Perrin decided to help. I have the photographs of Mr. Perrin, his mother and his brother in my office. It was he who told me he felt compelled to help us build the shelter because no child should ever have to sleep in a car, like he and his brother did when his father died. No person in jail should wake up without a present on Christmas Day and when he was alive, he would spend thousands on the inmates for Christmas.

The richness of Opal’s life will live on with the many stories about her, the kindness in her heart will live on every time a homeless child lays his/her head at the shelter. She was one special lady.

Barbara Anderson is a local human rights activist. Contact her at barbanderson_1@yahoo.com.

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