When I started working for the News-Democrat & Leader over 20 years ago, it wasn't long before Shirlee Yassney took office as Russellville's first and - so far only - female mayor. I was 32-years-old, wet behind the ears, and admittingly very naive and a little scared.

I wasn't placed on the news desk at first, that was saved for the seasoned reporters. I dabbled in feature writing and a once-a-week column. But I knew when Shirlee came on the scene because she was not the kind of woman that took a back seat. She was in charge from the get-go and you knew it right away when meeting her.

I was used to strong women growing up, my mother and grandmother saw to that. So it didn't really take me by surprise, as it may have others in our small town when Shirlee began to lead.

I remember when I graduated to writing the news I went to see Shirlee for the first time to introduce myself. She came up front and walked me back to an office buried in the back of city hall. Her presence was larger than the small room that held a few shelves and a desk that she served from. An ashtray sat on her desk before smoking was banned from all governmental property.

Shirlee had something about her that made you feel proud to be a woman. Her take-charge personality was bigger than anyone in the room. She knew where she'd been, where she stood, and she knew where she was going.

I told her, like many elected officials after her, that I looked forward to having a good working relationship with her but wanted her to know right off the bat that if I found her doing anything wrong I would print it. Her response told me a lot about her as a person when she replied that she wouldn't expect anything less.

Over the two terms I covered Shirlee as mayor there were many stories both big and small. She inherited a mess when she took office. The water treatment plant had been forced to close, the National Guard was bringing in water for people to drink, and news providers, other than yours truly, were descending upon Russellville like biblical locust. Shirlee handled the catastrophe like a trooper. It wasn't long before the idea to bring water from the Cumberland River into a state-of-the-art facility came about and Russellville began climbing out of a dredge of poor publicity. The first female mayor rode in on her white horse and lead the way for eager employees who were ready for a new day.

Of course, no one is perfect. Even Shirlee stepped into some controversy along the way.

I remember the time she moved the cannon to the other side of the square causing an unbelievable uproar. The city council meetings had to be moved to the Chamber of Commerce to provide more space for the standing room only crowd who were out to tar and feather her. I don't think she knew how people would react when she had it moved, but once she did, it was moved right back.

And although she didn't start it, she certainly wished for it to end. Who knew that cutting a few trees on Main Street by the Electric Plant Board would cause an over two-year investigation into the entity which ended up costing the city thousands of dollars but more importantly ending life-long relationships.

It was eight years to remember for sure. Just short of a decade of prosperity before Shirlee decided she had accomplished what she set out to do. When her time as mayor ended, a friendship began between her and I. One I will forever cherish.

She showed me through example that a strong woman can stand for what she believes in even if everyone doesn't. And that being a strong women doesn't mean you're a witch, it just means you're strong. She showed my very young daughter, who I brought with me to council meetings, that ladies could control the room with more than just their looks. My adult daughter still holds that impression because of her.

I will miss several things about Shirlee. She passed away this past weekend at age 82. One will be her jabbing into city policy from the sidelines which she did quite often. I'm guessing once you sit in that seat of authority, it's not easily climbed out of. I will miss her invites to come to sit with her a spell, drink coffee, catch up or reminisce and eat something homemade that I never took the time to accept. I'll miss her social media posts about the importance of being nice, loving Jesus, and how family is where it is at. She loved her's more than anything she did in her life.

What I won't miss for Shirlee is ailing health that slowly took her strength from her. The sadness she expressed about losing her siblings. The time that catches up with most who live to be old, and the aches and pains she suffered. But all these are now put to rest. She is no doubt in a better place, strength returned and the gifts she gave here on earth are now being used for eternity. Farewell my friend, you made a difference while here.