Just over a year ago, a motion was brought forward to appoint Tiffany Craft as the new mayor of Whitesburg following the death of Mayor James Wiley Craft, Mrs Craft’s husband. The vote was unanimous. Craft became the first woman to serve as mayor in the city’s history, dating back to 1842, and is now responsible for helping her city through the horrific floods that devastated parts of KY.
“James served as mayor of Whitesburg for 15 of the finest years the city has ever had,” Craft said. “At the time of his death, there were still 16 months left in his term, which I was asked to fill. The governing body of the city is the city council, and it is up to them to decide who to vote to finish these 16 months as mayor. . With one unanimous nomination and vote, on July 13, 2021, 2 weeks after James’ death, I became the first female mayor in the history of the City of Whitesburg.”
Craft said the feelings that came with the honor were sometimes unfathomable. “People were asking me all the time if I was running for mayor when James decided not to anymore, and my answer was always, well, I don’t know, I doubt it,” he said. she shares. “Honestly, that’s the only time I thought about being mayor. I was just imagining my husband fulfilling his duties, and when he was done, we would leave at sunset, so to speak, and do something else from our lives. But to have the title, to sit in that seat, something no other woman has ever done, will forever be one of the greatest honors of my life.”
Craft graduated from Pikeville College (now known as Pikeville University) in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. James and Tiffany were married on August 28 of the same year and she was a housewife. On April 19, 2011, they welcomed a daughter, Sammi Lauren Craft.
“My role until I became mayor was as wife and mother,” Craft explained. “I’ve been really blessed to stay home and be with our daughter. Afterwards, of course, I’ve given my time to the community to help out with events and have regularly enjoyed my role as a “Wife of the Mayor. I wanted to leave all the spotlight to James to absorb it, and I would just hang around in the background, being his support system.”
In the fall of 2020, the late Mayor James Wiley Craft was diagnosed with bladder cancer. For 9 months, he underwent 32 radiation treatments, 4 immunotherapy treatments and various procedures.
“We were constantly in and out of hospitals with underlying complications,” Craft said. “I never left him once. We were that couple everyone called the ‘perfect couple’. We shared so much love between us.”
On June 13, his birthday, their daughter Sammi and Tiffany brought James a peanut butter milkshake at midnight with a candle on top and sang happy birthday to him. Craft said he was so happy even though he was so tired from his illness. Then, a few hours later, James suddenly had a stroke. For the next 16 days, Craft stayed with him at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington, praying, holding his hand, begging for answers from doctors, and encouraging him to keep fighting.
Sadly, James passed away on June 29, 2021, after a valiant fight at age 76.
“When I took over as mayor, I went from a three-person household to a community of about 2,000 people,” Craft said. “It was a very different atmosphere for me, as you can imagine. Although I was a little nervous, I immediately loved my job. I love my community and will do my best to ensure that we continued to grow and prosper. That’s where my heart is. I always tell people that God will place us where we belong, whether that’s the path we’ve chosen for ourselves or not. I sincerely believe that’s where I’m supposed to be.
The flood that no one expected
Between July 25 and July 30, 2022, multiple thunderstorms developed and brought heavy rain, deadly flash floods, and devastating river flooding to eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia. The worst flooding the community has ever experienced occurred in 1957, when the water rose only a few feet.
According to Craft, the water reached levels of 22 feet and homes were completely submerged. So many people had to be rescued by watercraft including canoes, kayaks, pontoon boats and jet skis. All belonged to neighbors.
“No one could have been prepared for a catastrophic event of this magnitude in this region,” she said. “It is something this region has never seen. Yet the community cooperated in heroic efforts to save friends and neighbors. I have never seen so many brave men and women in my life. Some of the rescuers couldn’t even swim, but they were out there trying to save people.
Craft immediately went to City Hall, where the police and fire department are located, for updates. Then, as her office building was flooded, she took her daughter and drove to the office buildings on the hill behind City Hall and took command as much as she could from there.
“Only one person had a cell phone that could call. Our cell service here with the popular provider everyone uses was dead,” Craft said. “Fortunately, my fire chief had another cell service provider, and we were able to communicate with others on the same provider. Those first few hours can only be described as hell on earth. I contacted FEMA, the Red Cross and water rescue teams from all Mayors of other cities had been able to reach me to send their support as we tried to provide space for those displaced from their homes at that time and means transportation to take them wherever they needed to go. over and over again, but I still can’t take in the whole of that day. It still feels like a nightmare. It’s surreal. Even now, looking at all the damage, the debris lying on the side of the roads, the empty homes that people who have spent their whole lives fleeing, and businesses that have taken blood, sweat and tears to come to fruition. I am devastated, I have heartbroken and I feel empty.
Craft said while they don’t have a full estimate of how much will be needed to help the city recover, they know it will take many millions for the city to be cleaned up and rebuilt.
His future role
When asked if she would run for re-election, Craft replied, “At the start of my job as mayor, I told everyone that I would complete the remaining 16 months of James’ term, and that would be everything. After that, I would find another career path. I had no idea how much I would really love this role. After being repeatedly asked if I would run for office the following November, my answer changed from no to maybe. Then this may have gone to absolutely. My name will appear as number one on the ballot in November during the general election in the city of Whitesburg.
Whether it’s the ongoing efforts to repair damage from recent flooding or serving on the leadership panel as part of the Appalachian Arts Center and Mountain Grrl experience to raise awareness about domestic violence, it’s clear that Craft cares deeply about his city.
“I started out saying I could be mayor for one term by choice, but now I’ll be here as long as it takes, and as long as the great people of Whitesburg allow me to be to make sure that we are rebuilt. better than we’ve ever been,” Craft said. “Making this kind of history is something I never imagined for myself. So I carry this title with honor and great pride. So many people trusted me and thought I could lead this city and making big decisions, which is another great honor. When people believe in you so much, it is a blessing and an honor of the highest esteem.