Johnny Majors’ friendship will be missed | Opinion – Knoxville News Sentinel

Johnny Majors’ friendship will be missed | Opinion  Knoxville News Sentinel


Coach Johnny Majors and I were born in 1935. My life began here in Knoxville in April. He first saw the light of day in Lynchburg, Tennessee, one month later. He attended high school in that area while I went to Austin High here. When I enrolled at Knoxville College in 1953, he entered the University of Tennessee. It was unlikely that he and I would become friends when we were in our seventies.

I, like everyone else, knew of John’s record as a football player at UT, his phenomenal coaching success at Pittsburgh and his triumphant return and winning teams at UT. But for me he was an idol who lived in another part of town and I could admire from a distance. I had no idea that fate one day would put us in the same place at the same time.

The monthly luncheon group

I was a member of the state Civil Service Commission and after a meeting, I stayed in Nashville to see a theatrical production. In the audience was John’s brother Joe Majors, with whom I had served in the legislature from 1969-1970 and who introduced me to John that evening. The next time I saw John was at a Knoxville Opera production, when he invited me to become a part of his monthly luncheon group.

Although many of the after-lunch speakers talked sports, a number of them discussed a variety of other subjects. Over the years I was featured speaker three times and talked about Black history and the history of Knoxville. There and in our private conversations, I discovered that John loved history. He was an avid reader and world traveler and had no tolerance for ignorance and bigotry.

Two years ago on the 8th of August during the celebration of Emancipation, he called and asked me to give him a brief history of it. He then asked if we could attend together. We met at Chilhowee Park and toured the displays.

John had a fantastic memory and loved to recall play-by-play moves in particular football games. He could remember the dates and the scores of the games. He could repeat word for word the admonishments of Coach General Neyland when the team was not at its best. He knew every aspect of his sport and loved it.

Life of the party

He and his wife, Mary Lynn, came to the last three birthday parties I had in my backyard. They did not just drop by out of courtesy, but came to enjoy themselves from beginning to end. John was always the center of attention and gladly took pictures with those who asked.

I will never forget the time he accepted my invitation to join me for karaoke at Marie’s Olde Towne Tavern. When Marie asked if he were going to sing, he said he knew only two songs. Since the KJ, Johnny Mills, had only one of the songs, Majors brought down the house with “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.”

Everybody in the bar got his autograph on a napkin. Every woman wanted to dance with him. It was simply amazing to watch the admiration the people had for him. It was equally gratifying to see how much he loved it all. He is already sorely missed.

Robert J. Booker is a freelance writer and former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. He may be reached at 546-1576.

Published 8:12 AM EDT Jul 7, 2020