Thirty years ago, Robyn Tannehill arrived in Oxford to study art at the University of Mississippi. She met her future husband, fell in love with her college town, and ended up as its director of tourism just a few years after graduation. That’s how she created Oxford’s Double Decker Arts Festival, an annual event that drew 9,000 attendees in 1996 and 60,000 in 2018. When she ran for mayor in 2017, no one else decided to run against her.
Tannehill jokes that she was “the only person crazy enough” to seek the top job in what she calls “a booming small town that’s becoming a small city.” In office, she’s had to grapple with a number of major issues, including town-gown relations. (The students at Ole Miss almost outnumber the residents of the town itself.) She implemented monthly meetings between the university, Oxford and the county. She’s working to make sure that, as the school grows, it’s building enough housing and parking.
All the while, she’s leaning into her role as a woman in charge. “I get accused very often of thinking I’m the mom of the town instead of the mayor of the town,” she says. “There’s some truth to that. I take that as a compliment.”