Memphis Funeral Home


Brunette Crawford Nelms

March 9, 1910May 4, 2021

On Tuesday, May 4, 2021, Brunette Crawford Nelms, passed away at the tender age of 111. Yes, 111! Brunette was born on March 9, 1910 in Ashland, Mississippi to J.W. and Mary Ella Crawford. Brunette, a shining example of the greatest generation, lived through two pandemics, two world wars, and the Great Depression. She went from driving a Model T Ford to watching a man step foot on the moon, from playing music on a wind-up Victrola to asking Alexa to play whatever her fancy was at that moment. She has seen a lot, but with her fighting spirit and her love of life, she has left her legacy for many to admire.

Brunette graduated salutatorian of her small class at Ashland High School and went on to Mississippi State College for Women (now MUW) in 1928. While majoring in Physical Education and minoring in Music, she played banjo in the school band, broke school track records in the 50-yard dash and was having the time of her life when the Depression hit and her once modestly well-off family lost everything, forcing her to drop out of college. But that did not stop her pursuit of education. She was able to teach school during the year to pay for summer classes at the University of Alabama, where she finally graduated in 1937. Brunette continued to teach off and on for the next 40 years.

Walter Claiborne Nelms was determined to make her his wife, but she put him off until she finished college. They finally married on September 11, 1937 at her family home in Ashland. They had been married 62 years at the time of Nelms’s death, and they raised two daughters, Nancy Nelms Gates (Greekly Gates) and Mary Lou Nelms Lake (David Lake). They lived in multiple towns across Mississippi – Lexington, Yazoo City, Batesville, Jackson, and then Clinton. After Nelms passed, Brunette moved to Memphis to be near her daughter, Nancy. For 13 years she lived at Town Village on Cherry Road, where she loved to participate in every activity possible from line dancing to “weight-lifting.”

As her hundredth birthday approached, Brunette decided she needed a logo, you know, a logo like Prince. She captioned her philosophy of life in the L*, an L with a 5-pointed star, representing her 5 keys to a good life: live well, love a lot, laugh often, learn much, and let your light shine. Live well: No doubt she lived; she lived for 111 years, but she filled every minute of every day of every year. She never was known to sit around when there was opportunity waiting. Love much: Brunette loved her family, not just her immediate family, but every cousin, thrice removed, and every person who embraced her became a part of her family. She loved God, and she valued her spiritual relationship with him. She was a fixture at Cherry Road Baptist Church here in Memphis, Laugh often: Boy, could Brunette laugh! She loved to have fun, whether it was dancing (probably her favorite pastime), hanging out with family, eating breakfast with her favorite Town Village foursome, or trying a new sport even at the age of 105. Learn a lot: Clearly any educator values learning, but Brunette was passionate about learning. At 96, she was given 50 Bible verses to memorize, and with her competitive spirit, she was the first person in the church to recite all 50 without even a peek at her notes. Back in the day, before Google, we had something called World Book Encyclopedias, and whenever anyone asked a question, she could not answer, straight to the encyclopedias she would go. She always questioned. She always wanted to know. Let your Light Shine: Brunette had a very bright and extensive light. She was always thinking of others, doing for others, and making others smile.

Brunette was preceded in death by her parents and siblings Ruth Crawford, Otis Crawford, Casey Crawford, John Crawford, and her twin, Blondie Crawford. She is survived by her two daughters, Nancy, and Mary Lou, five grandchildren, Clay Gates, Alex Gates, Wesley Lake, Mallory Lake, and Lindsey Lake Byrd (Landon Byrd), and three great-grandchildren, Crawford Byrd, Lorelei Byrd, and William Byrd.

Services for Brunette will be Friday, May 7, 2021 at Memphis Funeral Home at 5599 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38119. Visitation will be from 1:00 – 3:00 pm, followed by a service at 3:00 pm. Burial will take place in Jackson, MS at a later date.

Online condolences, floral offerings and directions may be found through


  • Walter Claiborne Nelms, Husband of 62 years (deceased)
  • J.W. and Mary Ella Crawford, Parents (deceased)
  • Ruth Crawford, Otis Crawford, Casey Crawford and John Crawford, Siblings (deceased)
  • Blondie Crawford, Her twin (deceased)
  • Nancy and Mary Lou, Daughters
  • Clay Gates, Alex Gates, Wesley Lake, Mallory Lake, and Lindsey Lake Byrd (Landon Byrd), Grandchildren
  • Crawford Byrd, Lorelei Byrd, and William Byrd, Great Grandchildren


  • Visitation

    Friday, May 7, 2021

  • Funeral Service

    Friday, May 7, 2021


Brunette Crawford Nelms

have a memory or condolence to add?

Linda Menne

May 18, 2021

My mother, Jean Shults, Peggy Scott and I were at Brunette’s 100th birthday. Jean and Peggy (both gone now) were Brunette’s Town Village friends. At that time Brunette had not seen me for about two years. When I walked in she knew exactly who I was. That day she looked no more than 70, played the piano and just talked to everyone.
At Town Village she always walked with purpose.
I am so sorry for your loss and wish I had known about her passing.

Dan Thompson

May 18, 2021

Oh my! The memories I'll always cherish of Brunette from my youth. She inspired me to practice my piano playing after listening to her play 12th Street Rag at her home in Jackson. Brunette's daughter Mary Lou and I were childhood friends, and I always enjoyed visiting their home for fun times and listening to Brunette tear up that piano. Back around her 100th birthday I reconnected with her by mail, and then one day she called me on the phone which was a complete delight to me. To hear her voice again, and to see the wonderful YouTube videos of her, brought back heartfelt memories. All my love to the family, and we can all celebrate a truly full and remarkable life.

Ray O'Neal

May 17, 2021

Remember meeting her at Blondies house. She was my grandmother Etoyle Crawford Huspeths double first cousin and dear friend. Such a life to celebrate