Virginia Lee “Tommye” Bradley Saunooke, age 82, of Cherokee passed away peacefully surrounded by family and dearest friends on the full Hunter’s Moon of October 9, 2022, in the Cherokee Indian Hospital.
She was a lifelong resident of the Painttown community on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and an enrolled member of the tribe.
A 1957 graduate of Sylva High School, Tommye earned her Associate of Arts degree from Brevard College in 1959, a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Carolina University in 1996 and a Master of Science degree from Western Carolina University in 2006, eventually serving on the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees.
In 1999, at the age of 59, she was elected to represent the Painttown community as a Tribal Council member. She continued to serve her people, entering her 24th consecutive year of service at the time of her passing. She was honored to serve all the people of her tribe and often said “I love what I do” and never thought of a day of service as “work.”
During her tenure on Tribal Council, Ms. Saunooke sponsored hundreds of pieces of adopted legislation. She quickly engaged her fellow council members and tribal employees and developed many loving friendships over the years. She was fierce in defense of her people and always did her “homework” and expected nothing less of her peers.
Tommye was preceded in death by her parents, Thurman and Martha Sneed Bradley; one sister, Patsy Bradley Smith; her maternal grandparents, Manco and Rosebud Sneed; and her paternal grandparents, Joe and Callie Bradley.
Surviving are her sons, Teague “Brad” Parker of Cherokee, Kirk Saunooke of Cherokee; her daughter Gerena Parker of Sylva; and her adopted son, Bradley Parker of Knoxville, Tenn.; her grandchildren, Chelsea Dennis Prindiville (Mickey) of Sylva, Lynsey Hicks of Atlanta, Ga., and Michael Bernhisel of Cherokee. Also surviving are her sister, Lois Queen (Bill) of Titusville, Fla., and many loving nieces, nephews and cousins.
The family wishes to especially thank Tommye’s close friends and caregivers, Lisa Taylor and Barbara Jones, for their dedicated and constant loving presence anytime she needed them. Additionally, a special thank you to the excellent staff at the Cherokee Indian Hospital, who provided great care and comfort to Tommye as she crossed “Over Yonder.”
The family will receive friends today (Thursday, Oct. 13) at the Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on the campus of Cherokee Central Schools from 5-8 p.m., where she will remain until the funeral service on Friday, Oct. 14, at 11 a.m.
Burial will follow at Campground Cemetery, U.S. Highway 441 Whittier. Pallbearers will be Bradley Parker, Michael Bernhisel, Bennett Slibeck, Michael Prindiville, Kellen Ensley, Zack Epps, Brody Sitton and Conner Cochran.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Tommye’s memory to Campground Cemetery Fund, 201 Martin Road, Whittier, NC 28789; the EBCI Tribal EMS, 825 Acquoni Road Cherokee, NC 28719; or the Cherokee Indian Hospital Foundation, 1 Hospital Road Cherokee, NC 28719.
An online registry is available at www.appalachianfuneralservices.com.