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Ann Yates 1948-2007

Ann Yates, a pioneering businesswoman who opened a successful and influential natural products store and alternative health center in Knoxville, Tennessee, died on October 30, 2007.1,2 She was 59 years old.

Yates grew up on a farm in Springfield, Tennessee, where she developed an interest in and respect for organics and natural products.1 Her passion for natural products and natural healing later intensified when mainstream medicine failed to relieve her infant son's severe allergies.

In 1977, Yates launched the natural foods store Nature's Pantry. This ever-expanding and successful store ultimately became the larg-est natural products store in Knoxville.

"Ann was a real trailblazer in our industry, opening up Nature's Pantry over 30 years ago in a community with a fast food restaurant on every corner," said Bill Arthur, owner of Nutraceutical Solutions Consulting and Yates' friend for nearly 15 years (e-mail, February 20, 2008). "Knoxville was certainly not the poster city for alternative health and healthy living in those days. But Ann really turned that community around and her influence on people's lives was awe-inspiring."

In 2002, Yates opened Well By Nature, the city's first holistic wellness center.2 Located next to Nature's Pantry, the wellness center offers a range of services including acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga classes, and other natural health options and resources.

"Annie's high standards in business and all parts of her life were reflected in Nature's Pantry and Well by Nature," said Lynda LeMole, executive director of United Plant Savers and a friend of Yates for many years (e-mail, March 7, 2008). "She believed in the importance of the human element in business, how it was part of the bottom line. She made a contribution to the green business community by setting an example of what a good business can bring to people and the planet."

During her many years in the natural products business, Yates was a frequent attendee of industry trade shows. It was at such venues that many members of the industry, including LeMole, became familiar with Yates.

"We were immediate friends and sisters, sharing tales of our lives as natural business women, mothers and seekers of truth, environ-mental and social justice, and health," said LeMole. "Because we were early woman-eers in the industry, we were often on the same panels about women in business and learning in the same seminars. Also, we both loved to dance, so we would work hard all day at the tradeshows and play hard at night on the dance floor! Wow, could she dance!"

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, also considered Yates a personal friend and a favorite dance partner at industry conventions. According to Blumenthal, "Ann radiated a profound sense of love and generosity. A strongly spiritual person, she embodied the essence of what the natural products industry is really all about: the unconditional love and deep caring for her family, friends, and members of her community. She was a beacon of light in Knoxville and Central Tennessee, pioneering good nutrition, natural health awareness, and spiritual growth for thousands of customers for over 25 years. Her magnetic personality drew people to her and she developed a strong network of close friends and admirers throughout the natural products community-all of whom are mourning the hole that her passing has created in our lives."2

Yates was active in both regional and national trade associations. She served on the board of the Southeast Natural Products Associa-tion from 1993 to 2001 and acted as the organization's president from 1999-2000.1

"Aside from all of her civic, industry, and business accomplishments, Ann was one of the most caring, loving, giving, and motivational friends anyone could ever ask for," said Arthur. "It's hard to believe that she is gone in the physical, but her memory and her legacy lies squarely in the center of my heart."

"If you were fortunate enough to be her friend, her legacy is of love, believing in yourself, and walking the higher path," said LeMole. "As a female entrepreneur in the natural industry, her legacy is that a woman can build a business, raise a family, create positive change in one's community, and bring health into the world. And all this can be done with love in your heart, a sparkling smile, and a laugh that we will never forget."

Ann Yates is survived by her daughter Meredith and son Ben, both of whom live in Knoxville and will continue to be involved in running Nature's Pantry and Well By Nature. She is also survived by her father Harold Reeves of Springfield, Tennessee.2

-Courtney Cavaliere
  1. Harrington C. Business leader dies at 59. Knoxville News Sentinel. November 6, 2007. Available at: business-leader-dies-at-59/. Accessed February 6, 2008.

  2. Ann Yates, 1948-2007. Natural Foods Merchandiser. December 2007:17.