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VIProfile: Bobbie Johnson Duke

By Lee Rennick

Bobbie Johnson Duke is one of the ladies who blazed a trail in real estate in Rutherford County when listings were carried around in thick bound books and she was expected to wear a dress every day with high heels and hose to look professional. Plus, she had to drive to each brokerage to pick up the key for the house she was showing. Now realtors dress more casually, listings are all online and keys are in a lock box.

“When I came to Murfreesboro,” said Bobbie, “I initially worked for John O'Brien Realty and then I worked for Clyde White Realty. When Bob Parks decided to start his own company, I was one of his first recruits.” 

Bobbie’s profession as a realtor was not just a job, it was a passion. When asked what she enjoyed most about real estate, she exclaimed, “EVERYTHING! I LOVED it!” 

“It's a thrill that you may be the one to sell someone a house and add them and their expertise to our community,” she added. “I liked helping them get their children settled into school. It's a fun business, especially when you're winning! I'm competitive. I loved being able to set my own hours. No job I liked better than selling real estate!”

Long retired, she still has her first cell number that is just five digits higher than Bob Park’s because they went to get "mobile phones" together as a company. 

“We just thought of Bob as one of us,” said Bobbie. “We were all on the same level. Bob spurred us on and encouraged us. Many of us worked very hard for Bob to help him with his early success. I don't remember Bob ever saying a negative word about anyone. His key to success is his support of his realtors and most of all, he would meet with us individually to discuss our business, life and family goals.”

Once her youngest child, daughter Renee, was in seventh grade, she got her real estate license.
Bobbie began working in real estate in 1972 at Bill Terry Real Estate Company in Nashville. 
“Bill and I would go door to door trying to get business,” explained Bobbie. “One day Bill heard me on the phone talking to a client and said, ‘You are going to make a great Realtor!’ That one affirmation stuck with me and that's when I really started pursuing my real estate career. It's amazing how one sentence can really encourage you!”

During her time in Nashville, she was a member of the Women's Council of Realtors. When she got to Murfreesboro, there were very few women in real estate, but there were enough that she decided the county needed a Women's Council of Realtors, so she started the Murfreesboro Women's Council of Realtors Association. 

“At our first meeting,” said Bobbie, “we had a huge crowd turn out. Many local organizations asked me to come speak about this new organization. I am very proud to have started that here.”
Bobbie was born in Nashville and grew up in East Nashville where she cheered for East Junior High and East High Schools. She met her husband of 70 years, John, when she was just 14 at a dance. He was playing in the band.

"I saw this beautiful girl surrounded by people listening to her every word,” said John. “I had to meet this beautiful girl and did just that!" 

Sales were in Bobbie’s blood from an early age. She started working when she was 14 at The Cotton Shop in downtown Nashville. She made $4 per day and was not allowed to sit down the entire day. 

“I outsold the other women in the shop that had been there for years,” explained Bobbie. “I felt empathy for them because I'm sure they thought, ‘Who is this young whipper snapper coming in and outselling us?!’” 

After she married John in 1952, they had their oldest son, John, Jr. in 1953. They moved from Nashville to Lewisburg where husband John was the Band Director at Marshall County High School. They had their second son, Patrick, in Lewisburg in 1955. Eventually, they moved back to Nashville where John took the position as Band Director at Pearl Cohn High School. They had their daughter there in 1960. Then in 1965, they moved to Cookeville where John taught at Tennessee Tech. After a year in Cookeville, they moved back to Nashville and John started working on his Doctorate at George Peabody at Vanderbilt University. At the same time, he was playing on the Johnny Cash Show and working as a professional Nashville studio musician. After John completed his doctorate, he took on the position that brought them to Murfreesboro 40 years ago, as a member of the Music Department faculty at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). 

When they were living in Nashville, Bobbie took some college courses, worked at Acuff Rose, was a Brownie Troop Leader and was there for her children. In spite of all of her success in the real estate business, she feels her greatest success is her children.

Daughter Renee Duke Miller has followed in her mother’s footsteps. Of course, she got her toes wet in the business early helping out her mom. Renee answered the phones for Clyde White Realty on Saturdays when she was 16.

“Once Renee’s youngest, Elam, was in high school, she started her real estate career seven years ago,” explained Bobbie. “I passed along to Renee my business sense, a love of helping people, organization, solving problems and I've taught her it's all about how you treat people. Listen to them and what they have to say. I had a personal touch and I think she does, too!”
While Bobbie worked solo in real estate, she and John were a team in the community. Together, they have been active supporters of the Murfreesboro Symphony, St. Rose of Lima Catholic School and Church, MTSU Arts Alliance and many other local charities. 

“We have established the John R. and Bobbie J. Duke Woodwind Jazz Scholarship at MTSU,” said Bobbie. “It is dear to our hearts since John was a Woodwinds Professor and instrumental in developing Jazz Studies at MTSU, including The Blues Crusade.”

Bobbie feels that Murfreesboro has been very good to her family. The were welcomed with open arms when they moved there in 1975 and many of those who befriended them are still dear friends.

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