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Press Release

Release Date: April 06, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

DAVIS, Oklahoma – A small but mighty Chickasaw matriarch who fervently shared her heritage with scores of children and served as an esteemed role model has died.

Irene Pettigrew Digby, a full-blood Chickasaw citizen and Chickasaw Hall of Fame member, passed Saturday, March 26, in Davis, surrounded by her loving family. She was 100 years old.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said Mrs. Digby is remembered as a soft-spoken woman, whose actions spoke loudly about her love of family and her connection with her Chickasaw heritage.

“While some may have seen Irene Digby as someone who was small in size, those who knew her best saw her giant impact on family, friends and the community,” Governor Anoatubby said. “Irene Digby spent her life sharing our culture through storytelling and teaching others the Chickasaw language. She was a respected member of the community, a fluent Chickasaw speaker, and a fine example of what it means to be Chickasaw."

“While her physical presence will be missed, her legacy of service will remain for generations.”

Born Nov. 12, 1921, in the rural Murray County community of Fairview to the late Joe and Serena (Fulsum) Pettigrew, Mrs. Digby and her three sisters grew up in what she called the “little white house.” Chickasaw was the primary language spoken in her home. As a young girl, she learned to make traditional food, such as pashofa, by watching her mother.

“We would always have pashofa at certain times. We made it for meetings at the Sandy Baptist Church, and every three months or on holidays. Pashofa was one of our main dishes. We cooked it outside in a black pot. We had to stir and stir and stir so it wouldn’t scorch when we were making it,” she recalled in 2014.

A lifelong learner, Mrs. Digby actively endeavored to increase her knowledge of her first language by attending weekly Chickasaw language classes well into her 90s.

She would sow her Chickasaw heritage, tradition and culture with her family and community to cultivate the First American culture so it will live on through the younger generations.

Sharing Chickasaw traditions such as the tale “The Rattlesnake Story,” traditional hymns and food with schoolchildren was a seasonal rite for Mrs. Digby and her youngest daughter, Rhonda (Digby) McCann, for more than two decades.

Mrs. Digby was featured in three books published by the Chickasaw Press, as well as Mike Larsen’s acclaimed painting series, “Elders of the Chickasaw Nation,” and the documentary “Chickasaw Removal.”

Mrs. Digby was honored as a 2014 Chickasaw Hall of Fame member and received the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Honorary Elders Award in 2015. She was inducted into the Centenarians of Oklahoma Hall of Fame in December 2021, having reached the age of 100 years.

A 1942 graduate of Davis High School, Mrs. Digby was inducted into the Davis Alumni Association Hall of Fame, and the school’s auditorium, known as “Nashoba Aaittafama” (Gathering Place for Wolves) was dedicated in her honor by Governor Anoatubby in 2015.

Mrs. Digby bestowed a Chickasaw name upon each of her grandchildren, and many of her friends and extended family.

She passed many Chickasaw cultural traditions to her children, such as making possum grape jelly, cooking pashofa and the art of beading, who are now carrying on the legacy.

Mrs. Digby and the late B.F. “Dick” Digby married Dec. 7, 1946, in Dallas, Texas, and had four children. Survivors include her son, Ronnie Digby and wife Dixie; two daughters, Beverly Reynen and husband Bob, Rhonda McCann and husband Ron; and daughter-in-law, Barbara Digby, all of Davis; 10 grandchildren, Tammie Webb, Jerri Martin, Jennifer Bahner, Jason Digby, Boomer Digby, Colt Digby, Cheyenne Digby, Shonda Martin, Stephanie McCann, Robyn Zike and Ronni Burch; 23 great-grandchildren, three great-great-grandchildren and a nephew.

In addition to her parents, Mrs. Digby was preceded in death by her husband; son, Aaron Dean Digby; grandson, Robbie McCann; three sisters, Lucille Looney, Caroline Stribbling and Lorene Greenwood; and a brother, Herman Pettigrew.

Funeral services were conducted March 30 at the First Baptist Church of Davis. Interment followed at the Green Hill Cemetery in Davis. Online condolences may be offered at HalesFuneralHomes.com.