Austin Corbett and Cameron Presson

Austin and Cameron in 2008.

On Dec. 6, the Spring Hill Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously, following the unanimous endorsement of the Williamson County School Board, to approve the renaming of Twin Lakes Drive to Austins Way. 

At first glance that might not sound significant. But keep reading…

A Young Life Lost Too Soon

My family has lived in Spring Hill for 18 years and I cannot recall the life and loss of someone having the kind of impact on our community that Austin Corbett's life and early death has had. And Spring Hill has certainly had its share of tragic deaths and losses we've had to grieve too soon. I'll always remember one of my grieving clients, a young widow, saying to me, in reference to her husband, "But I wasn't done loving him yet."  

There are hundreds in our community feeling something akin to that woman's expression ever since we got the news on Oct 13. that Austin had passed away. He was just 24. My family has known Austin since he and our son, Cameron, were buddies at Bethesda Elementary. They were close from kindergarten right up to the week Austin went into the hospital. Through elementary school, middle school, and high school they stayed connected. When Cameron went off to college and to grad school, they spoke almost weekly. 

A Loving Legacy That Will Endure

Cameron says about his friend: “Austin, perhaps more than anything, was a refuge for me. One of the best gifts he gave me was the simple assuredness that no matter what happened in my life, we would be friends. Always present, always caring, I knew that no matter how my day, week, or year was going, even a 15-minute minute FaceTime with Austin would put life back into perspective and insert a tangible sense of joy back into my heart. I think the power of Austin's life in many ways is reflected in that, even now, the thought and memory of him brings me an immediate sense of comfort. With him, one thing in life was always certain: you could always count on Austin. And we're all better for it.”

As Groove Life CEO, Peter Goodwin said at the service at the Summit High field on a Sunday afternoon with hundreds in attendance, more than Austin was a special needs child, Austin showed all of us our special need — the need to be loved unconditionally.  And that's how Austin loved everyone — unconditionally.

Another person, a family member, in referencing how Austin loved everyone so genuinely and with thoughtfulness and kindness, said, "Austin is the only person I know who had no enemies."  I thought about it, and I agree.  Austin wasn't competing with anyone so there were no rivals. He did not exclude anyone or mock anyone so he had no enemies. Austin was impossible not to like. You couldn't be around him and not find yourself smiling. 

What’s In a Name

Twin Lakes Drive will be renamed Austins Way.  (The U.S. Postal Service no longer approves street names with an apostrophe; thus Austin's Way was not an option). The street connecting Buckner Drive to Summit High School will not be Austin Drive or Austin Street, but Austins Way, because it was Austin's way with people that moved us and that we would do well to emulate. That was one of the recurring themes in the October memorial service  — the best way to honor Austin is to leave here and go love like Austin loved. 

Naming a street Austins Way is not just a way to honor him and his family, it's a way to remind us. We need the sign for us. We need to see the green and white sign with the words Austins Way on it and be reminded what Austin's way was. And when a new Spring Hill resident or a new Summit student asks us about the street with the unusual name, we'll tell them about Austin, and once again be reminded to live and love Austin's way. 

What’s In a Sign

In the Old Testament book of Joshua, the leader Joshua gives this instruction to the people after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  

"Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight."   

Those stones of remembrance were to serve as a permanent and visual reminder to present and future generations of the miraculous crossing.  

Memorials (the root word being memory) are needed because we tend to forget. Our days blend into weeks, and months blur into years. And we forget how we got here. We forget even the miracles in our lives.  That's why we need memorials and museums, plaques and statues, photographs and scrapbooks, and even street signs.  So that we'll remember. So that we'll be grateful, not just nostalgic. And ultimately that the lives and legacy of those who are no longer with us may become assimilated into our own lives and legacy. 

[A special thanks to former alderman and vice mayor Amy Wurth for her enthusiastic support of the proposal and for her work in submitting it to city leaders. A special thanks to former alderman and current Williamson County School Board member, Elliott Mitchell, for being a supportive liaison between the city leaders and the county school board. Thank you to Sarah Lamb, principal of Summit High School, and to the county school board for their support and words of encouragement. I tip my hat with a special thanks to Mayor Jim Hagaman and City Administrator Pam Caskie for combining their whole-hearted endorsement of an idea with a willingness to think/work through all the logistics. Changing a street name is much more involved and complex than you might think, and all the fine people I mentioned above combined their soft hearts and sharp minds to make this happen. Thank you to the Spring Hill alderman for voicing their unanimous approval for changing the name of the street sign and joining in agreement of its meaning and significance. Lastly, thank you to Austin’s father, Bill Corbett, for sharing your wonderful son with us. We needed him. And he will not be forgotten.]

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage & family therapist in Franklin,  (www.ramonpressontherapy.com)  the author of multiple books, and a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at [email protected].