For someone who wasn’t ‘planted’ here, William “Doc” Rooney’s roots grew deep into the soil of the Lakeway Area.
Arriving in Morristown in 1955, Rooney became a charter member of the Morristown Boys & Girls Club, a 65-year member of the local Kiwanis Club, the longest serving city councilmember, a 40-year member of the Parks and Recreation Board and a highly decorated scoutmaster.
Dr. William Rooney died Friday morning at his home. He was 94.
“He was just a great community leader, not just as a council member,” said Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney. “He gave of himself with the Boy Scouts and the Boys & Girls Club. He was just a great public servant. When you look at the things through the decades that enriched our community, William Rooney was often part of that enrichment ... We’ve lost a good one.”
Born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1925, Rooney served in the Navy near the end of World War II. Rooney helped protect the Alaskan harbors from Japanese invasion and served as a gunner on a mission along the Russian coast.
Returning to the states, he graduated pre-med from Loyola University in Chicago and graduated from National College of Chiropractic in 1954. Rooney moved to Alabama and began spending his weekends looking for communities where he could ply his trade.
He found Morristown, arrived and set up shop in 1955.
The rest is Lakeway Area history.
“Doctor Rooney is a pioneer pillar of the community,” said Councilmember and friend Kay Senter. “A man of integrity, dedication and vision, Doctor Rooney had a servant’s heart and a lifelong love for the community. His dedication to the youth of the community as a scoutmaster, founding member of the Boys & Girls Club, service on parks and recreation board and service on the Morristown City Council continues to make a difference in the lives of our youth and our entire community. I consider it both an honor and privilege to have been able to serve on the city council with Doc Rooney.”
Former Morristown Police Chief Joel seal, agreed.
“I think everybody that worked with Doc Rooney really cared about him. He was a really solid guy. When it comes to strength and integrity, he was hard to match.”
Rooney spent more than 80 years of his life involved in scouting. For his dedication, he was awarded the honor of Silver Beetle Award in 1964 and was also present the extremely rare Silver Turtle Service Award for exceptional contributions to the Order of the Arrow Boy Scouts of America in section 6SR (Kentucky and Tennessee).
When he arrived in Morristown, he saw the need for scouting’s influence for underserved youth. Rooney founded a troop in the Rheatown community.
“Doc Rooney’s contribution is immeasurable,” Tennessee Appeals Court Justice Thomas “Skip” Frierson told the Tribune in 2012. “He is truly committed to the ideals of scouting and he has the compassion to teach and inspire young men to follow the principals of scouting and to become better adults.”
“His commitment to the youth of this area has had an enormous impact,” fellow scout leader Tom Strate added.
But, Rooney quickly saw a need for more.
“Having a scout troop in Rheatown was a big plus for kids but it was just not enough to combat the delinquency caused in part by young people who did not have positive role models and positive things to do on a regular basis,” Rooney told the Tribune in 2007.
So, in 1957, Rooney met with Clay Walker and George Holloway to lay the foundation for what would become the Morristown Boys & Girls Club.
“He’s such a community leader. He’ll be greatly missed by the entire community. He was a charter member of the board of directors, more than 60 years,” Boys & Girls Club Director John Seals said. “If you think about the impact he had on the community, it’s amazing.
Seals said the efforts of the club’s founders, including Rooney, have had positive effects on generations of Morristown children,
“I don’t think they could have envisioned the impact this club would have on the children of this community,” he said. “Doc was an extraordinary individual who just gave back to this community in many ways. We were fortunate to have him as part of this community.”
Rooney didn’t restrict his efforts to causes that benefited children. He was also heavily involved in the Kiwanis Club, remaining an active member until his failing health prevented him from attending and earning the Joe Q. Dougherty Award in 1981 for his volunteer efforts.
“Doc joined Kiwanis in 1955, a 65-year member, and until a few months ago he came every Friday,” said past President Gary Matthews. “He was very active, very supportive of our community. He was a sparkplug in our community in so many ways. He touched so many organizations and left a lasting footprint on the area.”
In addition to providing mentorship, Rooney was also instrumental in making sure that Morristown youth had places to go play. He served on the Parks and Recreation board for more than 40 years.
Craig Price, director of the parks and recreation department, said Rooney was a gift to the community.
“Truly a one of a kind individual who has given a lifelong experience to the community,” Price said. “He was everyone’s friend and had a humble spirit about him. He has helped in so many ways.
“He’s an angel of a man as far as I’m concerned. It’s a great loss for our community, such a humble man.”
In addition to his business and philanthropic endeavors, Rooney kept a farm and where he raised cattle and goats.
“I’ve had fun,” he told the Tribune’s Jim Claborn in 2013. “It’s been a great journey, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
Ultimately, Senter said the community has been blessed by Rooney’s vision.
“I consider Doc a mentor, a man of his word, and a gentleman who would come to your aid no matter the circumstances,” Senter said in 2018. “Behind that smile and steel blue eyes is a true mentor who has influenced many lives in his 92 years. Doc is a visionary who truly loves Morristown. Serving on City Council with Dr. William Rooney and having him as a lifelong friend is truly an honor.”