Mayor Jim Gray called her the ‘Oracle of Lexington.’ A ‘citizen soldier’ has died.

Emma Tibbs gave a presentation on neighborhood activism and the challenges of aging in 2002. She died Jan. 1.
Emma Tibbs gave a presentation on neighborhood activism and the challenges of aging in 2002. She died Jan. 1. Lexington Herald-Leader

Emma Tibbs, whose dedication to Lexington’s neighborhoods included everything from upgraded sewers to public safety, has died.

Tibbs, 78, was for many years the force behind the Fayette Neighborhood Council. She died on January 1 following a brief illness.

Judy Worth, who worked with Tibbs for many years on neighborhood issues, said that Tibbs “had a huge impact on Lexington not as an elected official, but as a citizen.”

“Emma knew everybody and everything, and people said they were kind of afraid of her when she showed up in front of the council,” said Walt Gaffield, the current president of the neighborhood council. “She was very direct, basically brilliant.”

Tibbs cared about all neighborhoods, despite the varying value of the houses therein, he said.

“She was basically irreplaceable,” Gaffield said. “I don’t think there’s anyone who knows as much about as many places or people as she did, or who worked as hard for the betterment of the city.”

Mayor Jim Gray, who once jokingly gave Tibbs a plaque proclaiming her the “Oracle of Lexington,” said in a statement that Tibbs “was a rare treasure, a citizen soldier. She was a neighborhood advocate who led the Fayette County Neighborhood Council from the head and from the heart. She knew the everyday problems that neighborhoods face, like sewer issues and neighborhood flooding, and was determined to fix them.”

Gray noted Tibbs’ accomplishments when he proclaimed December 9, 2013 as “Emma Tibbs Day in Lexington.” His proclamation noted that Tibbs helped found the Community Police Action Committee and through it the Citizens Police Academy, “fought the good fight to protect our environment” and chaired the Urban County Council Redistricting Committee.

Mayor-elect Linda Gorton said that Tibbs “always had a laser focus on what was best for neighborhoods in our community. When I was first elected in 1998, she came to see me about sewers and flooding.”

Tibbs was born Emmabel Manning in Clay County. She graduated from Cardome Academy in Georgetown, and then from Nazareth College in Nelson County with a degree in music and social studies. She taught music appreciation and social studies at schools including Cardome Academy and Lexington Catholic.

Tibbs later became a Realtor for the Rector-Hayden, Paul Semonin and deMovellan real estate companies.

She is survived by H.M. “Sonny” Tibbs, her husband of 54 years, as well as nieces and nephews and their families.

“Her heart ... was in making Lexington a better place for everybody to live,” said Gloria Martin, a former 12th District council member. “It was every neighborhood, it was the entire county. She was one of a kind, and one of a good kind.”

Visitation will be held at 11 a.m. January 7 at Christ the King cathedral, with a funeral mass to follow at noon.