Hamblen County lost a pillar of the community Wednesday when Gene Jolley died following a brief hospitalization.
He was 81.
“The thing I admired most about Gene was his generosity,” said George McGuffin, longtime friend and business partner. “He was very generous, whether it be to Walters State, the church, Kingswood School or someone he heard that might need some help.
“He was always one to offer his help, his services. He was overly generous with everything.”
The South Carolina native first came to Morristown in 1969 as the superintendent of the Union Camp plant in south Hamblen County, now known as International Paper. Two years after his arrival, Jolley shifted to sales for the company.
It wasn’t long before he created his own business, as he and a partner formed Lakeway Container from the ground up.
“Gene has made a tremendous impact on our community,” said R. Jack Fishman, chair of the Industrial Board of the City of Morristown. “He moved here in the late ’60s and we’ve been neighbors that whole time. Our children were raised together. Gene started the box business in just an old warehouse on Davis Street and built it into a great box service for industries and business in the Lakeway Area. He outgrew that warehouse and built a very modern plant and hired a lot of people.”
Lakeway Container began in 1975 with just five employees. In 1994, Jolley moved the company to Morristown Airport Industrial District where the current facility has more than 300,000 square feet and employs about 100 people.
Jolley’s impact was more than simply being a successful man of business, his friends said. Jolley cared about people and wanted to help, his friend Glenn Thompson said.
“I met Gene when he first started Lakeway Container back in 1975. From Day 1, we developed a strong relationship and became very good business friends and more than that, personal friends. He would have done anything in the world to help anybody,” Thompson said. “I was always amazed when I was down at his plant it was evident he cared about his employees, they knew him.
“He will be badly missed. I know I will certainly miss him. We would sit around and have coffee and we talked a little bit about business and a whole lot of just talk.”
A lot of Jolley’s talk centered around what he could do for the betterment of the entire community.
“He supported industrial growth in Morristown all those years,” Fishman said. “He’s been invaluable to the First United Methodist Church and Chamber of Commerce. He supported the Boys & Girls Club and recreation department, the Citizen Tribune Holiday Hope Fund, Central Services, the United Way and the list goes on.”
In his time in Morristown, Jolley served on multiple bank boards. He was a long-time planning commissioner and a member of the Morristown Utilities Commission.
“Gene Jolley is as good a man as I’ve ever been associated with and heaven has gained a wonderful servant,” said Jody Wigington, MU general manager and CEO. “He had a heart for people and did so much for people without wanting praise. Gene served Morristown Utilities for nine years as an excellent commissioner, bringing wisdom and leadership that made us better.
“Gene is a personal friend to Rosemary and I, so this is a sad day.”
He attended Spartanburg Junior College in Spartanburg, S.C. and spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, working in radar and radio maintenance while stationed in Bermuda. It was there he also honed his softball skills.
“That was fun,” he told the Tribune in 2006. “See, in Bermuda you can play softball year around. We got so good at it, we traveled around the States. We finished in All-Air Force in 1958.”
Jolley, and his wife Joyce, raised three children in Morristown.
“Morristown is a great place. It’s a great place to raise a family. Even if you don’t have a family, it’s a great place,” Jolley said. “Morristown has been a good place for a lot of people.”
The Jolleys have been strong supporters of Walters State Community College where The McGuffin-Jolley Natural Science Building is named on behalf of Gene and Joyce and George and Judy McGuffin.
The Jolleys were also active in the WSCC Foundation. Gene was foundation president 2001-02 and Joyce served on the foundation’s executive committee. They helped establish the Willie Eversole Endowment Fund, which provides scholarships for students pursuing careers in pharmacy.
“We at Walters State are saddened to learn of the passing of Gene Jolley,” Walters State President Dr. Tony Miksa said. “He provided unparalleled leadership for the Walters State Foundation and was generous with both financial resources and his time. He was a tireless advocate for the college, and we will miss him. We send our condolences to his wife, Joyce and their family.”
Though there were many causes dear to Jolley’s heart, he wasn’t interested in recognition, said Gary Matthews, executive director of the United Way of Hamblen County.
“He was a loyal supporter of the United Way,” Matthews said. “He gave financially and volunteered behind the scenes for many years, but wanted no public acknowledgment. When he and George McGuffin donated money to WSCC, George had to persuade Gene to show up at the ceremony.”
Thompson noted that Wednesday was a tough day for Morristown with Jolley’s death coming just hours after the passing of retired Circuit Court Judge Eddie Beckner.
“I think Morristown’s a better community because of both of them,” Thompson said.
Like Beckner, Jolley was a major supporter of the Boys & Girls Club.
“The Boys and Girls Club of Morristown Family and this community lost another great man yesterday,” said club Executive Director John Seals. “Gene and his wife Joyce have been tremendous supporters of not only the Boys and Girls Club (for over 31 years) but the Boys and Girls Club Foundation of Morristown as well. We are absolutely heartbroken for the family. Yesterday was a sad day for the club family.”
Jolley’s arrangements are incomplete and will be announced by Alder Funeral Home.