Art major turned politician, Oxford’s Major Robyn Tannehill is nothing short of someone who is committed to her community, family, and the growth of the city she has called home for nearly 30 years.
“I am a very unlikely politician,” Tannehill said. “I mean what I say, say what I mean. I don’t have a very good filter.”
Her path to becoming the mayor of Oxford was unconventional, and she never imagined herself involved in local government.
“Somebody said to me one day, ‘We really think you should run for alderman,’” Tannehill said. “I was like, ‘What? Me?”
Tannehill first began working in Public Relations for the University of Mississippi in the early 90’s while she was still a student. After graduation she became the Assistant Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, and later the Director of Tourism for the City of Oxford, where she helped start the annual Double Decker festival.
She eventually started her own advertising agency while fulfilling many roles including President of the Chamber of Commerce, PTA President for several schools, and President of the Yacamatalpha Arts Council.
“I decided I could make a lot more money doing my own graphic design and advertising as I was an art major, so I started an ad agency and did that for about 10 years,” Tannehill said.
Tannehill describes each of her three children
In 2011, Tannehill chaired the 30-million dollar bond referendum to build the new high school in Oxford. Here she began to notice that Oxford was growing, but nobody had a strategic plan to ensure the city was investing into water and sewage maintenance, road infrastructure, and design standards.
“I don’t think we should tell you what color you have to paint [your building], but there’s a level of quality that we should be demanding or we’re going to grow into a town that we don’t recognize,” Tannehill said.
Others in the community began to see the active push Tannehill was making for change, and encouraged her to run for Alderman herself. Tannehill did decide to run and won after a tireless and dedicated campaign, but her ambition did not stop there.
“I realized after the course of the first few years that to make a lot of the changes that I wanted to make, I needed to be in [the mayor’s] seat to do it,” Tannehill said.
Tannehill’s husband, Roy, was very supportive of Robyn and believed she could do it.
“He encouraged me the whole way saying, ‘look, you’re a changemaker, go do it. Go follow what your heart is telling you to do,” Tannehill said. “I’m one of those that thinks you’ve gotta put your money where your mouth is, and I was recognizing and pointing out a lot of things that I wanted to happen in Oxford, and a lot of things I thought were important for us to do, to save the parts of Oxford that we love as we’re growing so fast.”
Despite his encouragement, they knew this decision would not necessarily be easy.
“We both knew it would be hard,” Tannehill said. “He’s in the National Guard, he is a criminal defense and personal injury attorney in town, he is the City Judge in Sardis, and so we’ve got a lot of balls in the air. He is so busy with his career as well.”
Tannehill decided to give it a shot, and she soon discovered that no one else qualified to run.
“Oh wow, what a blessing, this is clearly what I am supposed to be doing, I am unopposed,” Tannehill said. “Then I realized, oh my gosh, I am the only fool that will do this job. That can’t be good. This is a terrible sign.”
Obstacles of being a working mother
Now, Tannehill is three years into her new role serving as only the second female mayor in Oxford. She wears many different hats and no day matches the previous. From looking at plans and meeting with building officials, to personnel issues, to coming up with action and safety plans for city events like Double Decker, her job varies widely.
“That’s one thing I enjoy the most about my job is there’s just not really a typical day,” Tannehill said. “They’re all different, it just kind’ve depends on the season and if anyone acts crazy that day.”
Tannehill credits her passion to allowing her to have so much success.
“My husband will say, ‘Baby, what makes you so good at your job is what makes it so hard for you, you just care so much,’” Tannehill said. “We both are passionate about leaving [Oxford] better than we found it. Life’s short, let’s go change this world, and we’re just changing our small little corner, but it’s important to the both of us.”
When Tannehill isn’t busy with her three children and city politics, she loves leading her young girls’ leadership classes weekly.
Over 50 girls apply, and 16 girls are chosen to participate.
“One of the things I am most passionate about is finding ways to encourage and mentor young girls so they know at a very young age the sky is the limit,” Tannehill said.
“Probably my favorite thing that I get to do is a 5th grade girls leadership class, Girl EmPOWERment. If I could lead a girls’ leadership program that was bigger than just our one school. I wish there were more hours in the day so I could now. But, I think that is where my passion is and if I could do anything when I grow up, it would be to host girl leadership programs.”