America’s truckers lost a true friend when René Tankersley, 42, feature editor at Land Line, died Wednesday, June 9, after her car was involved in a traffic accident.
Known as a tireless advocate for truck drivers, René won several national awards for her work at Land Line, including the magazine’s first national gold medal in the International Automotive Media Awards.
She kept an open, charitable mind and possessed a shrewd sense of resource. The combination made her a first-rate writer. Aside from her normal feature assignments, she was beckoned by her great sensitivity to people who were in need or disadvantaged, and so maintained a constant backlog of projects, bent on improving someone’s lot somewhere. She toiled with humor and determination. Her zeal when going to bat for drivers who had been scammed by unscrupulous businesses was extraordinary.
“I get all riled up,” she would say. She’d often spend hours tracking down details of fraud and researching allegations of misbehavior. In some cases, her stories led to official investigations.
René’s story about driver John Kendrix helped expose a sloppy investigation of a heavily publicized wreck involving the OOIDA member, who investigators falsely accused of using drugs and alcohol. That story was an IAMA-winning effort.
She won a second gold medal from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors for her March 2003 story on trucker Daryl McCartor and his wife, Margo Freshwater.
Born Betty René Stivers on Sept. 2, 1961, in Santa Ana, CA, the daughter of LaVerne and Jody Stivers, she was the oldest of the couple’s four children. She would spend most of her time in Arkansas, where she developed the homespun humor and folksy approach that captured all who knew her.
In those early days, her parent’s home was like the “unofficial local women’s and children’s shelter,” René would say. People in need or in trouble lived with the family for a bit of time. Once, a girl came with her mother to stay with the Stivers. After dinner, the child sneaked a pork chop into her room and wrapped it in a cloth, hiding it to take home.
René’s mother discovered the hidden treasure, and gently told the girl, “You don’t have to hide that. Let’s put it in the refrigerator, so it’ll be good when you take it home.”
René remembered crying when the girl left to go home, worried about whether the youngster would be OK. Throughout her years, she was compelled by this sense of compassion, and it served as a dominating influence on her life choices.
But there most definitely was another side to our friend. René loved to tell stories of her “wild days” when she was in college and, later, while serving in the U.S. Army.
On one occasion while in the Army, she won a push-up contest, competing against other soldiers, both men and women. “It was only because I had the shortest arms, and had the least amount of distance to go,” she would say. Then she’d giggle and wink – René’s irresistible and endearing trademark.
René married Ed Tankersley April 13, 1984, and the two raised their children, Melissa and Chris, in Arkansas. They worked a variety of jobs, and although they weren’t rich, they were happy. René eventually earned a master’s degree in journalism, and Ed became a successful pharmacist.
One of René’s greatest attributes was her ability to keep her hopes high and her expectations realistic. She came to work each morning excited, inspired and ready to get to it, and she left every day with that mindset. Her family says she came into life that way, and there’s no doubt in our minds she left with that same attitude.
-by the Land Line staff
Truckers, co-workers, friends remember René
René Tankersley’s first journalism jobs were in Arkansas. She worked for The Trucker, a trucking newspaper in Little Rock, and also worked for the Bella Vista, AR, Weekly Vista and The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
At The Trucker, she worked side by side with writer Dorothy Cox. Cox remembers well how René got her nickname there, “Toto.”
“I’m Dorothy, and then we had our editor at the time, who was named Emily, Emily Roberts. And she was Auntie Em,” Cox said. “So then we had to have a Toto. ... She was Toto from there on.”
René kept as busy in her off time as she did at work. She had served on the board of the Truck Writers of North America, and was a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
With her husband, Ed, she was active in the Oak Grove, MO, Seventh-day Adventist Church, where she served in numerous positions, including secretary, editor of the church bulletin and member of the church board.
She single-handedly ran a prison ministry, counseling more than 100 inmates in various facilities and helping them with Bible studies through the mail.
Since the accident, phone calls, e-mails and other expressions of sympathy have poured into Land Line’s office.
Truckers taking part in the NAST truck show in Grayling, MI, observed a moment of silence in honor of René. Trucking songster Joey Holiday, before the awards ceremony, called for the moment of silence.
OOIDA member Chad Perkins called in to say he and his fellow drivers at Perkins Specialized had placed black stripes over their OOIDA stickers in honor of her passing.
Some of the kindest tributes came from the truckers on OOIDA’s Members-Only Forum.
“It’s especially tragic when someone is taken from us so suddenly and at a young age,” one trucker wrote. “Her many contributions to our industry stand in testimony to her abilities and dedication.”
Another said she was “gone but never forgotten. My sincerest condolences to her family. Please let them know she has touched many a stranger’s life in a positive way.”
René Tankersley is survived by her husband, Ed, of the home; her parents, LaVerne and Jody Stivers, of Prescott, AR; a son, Christopher Lee Tankersley, of Gulfport, MS; a daughter, Melissa Shelley, and son-in-law, John Shelley, of Farmington, AR; two grandchildren, Alexis and Austin Shelley, of Farmington; a brother, Richard Stivers, and sister-in-law, Becky Stivers, and their four children, of Murfreesboro, AR; another brother, Eldon Stivers, and a nephew, of Nash, TX; and a sister, Darla Stivers, of Camden, AR.
The family has set up a memorial fund to provide for her grandchildren’s education. Donations can be sent to the Memorial Fund for Betty René Tankersley at Arvest Bank, PO Box 359, Farmington, AR 72730, Attn: Nora Taylor.