Throughout its history, the Volunteer State has been home to many people who have had significant impact on the state, the country and even the world. These include former presidents, other political leaders, captains of industry, soldiers, scientists, inventors, entertainers, athletes and many more. Tri-Star Chronicles is a project dedicated to shining a spotlight on some of those people who have changed history, for good or for bad, over the last half century or so. These are their stories – and, as Tennesseans, our stories as well.
When Ed Temple headed off to college at what was then called Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University, he didn’t know what to expect. A Pennsylvania native, he had never before experienced life in the segregated South. Nevertheless, he stayed in Nashville following his graduation, landing a job as women’s track coach at his alma mater, now known as Tennessee State University. In a career lasting more than four decades, his Tigerbelle teams won 34 national titles. Forty of those women he coached competed in the Olympics, winning 23 medals. Looking back on his life and career, he said: “In the end, it turned out all right. I have no regrets.”
When Rhea Seddon was growing up in Murfreesboro, she thought she would follow in her mother’s footsteps and become “a sweet Southern lady,” a housewife and mother. Fate took her along a different path. After graduating from medical school and beginning her career as an emergency room physician, Seddon decided she wanted a new challenge. That challenge was becoming an astronaut in the space shuttle program. Seddon became one of the first women to fly in space, while continuing to moonlight as a doctor and raise a family. Since retiring as an astronaut, she has spent time as an author and motivational speaker, urging others to follow their dreams.
A newspaper once dubbed John Jay Hooker Jr. as “Tennessee’s own Kennedy.” And the label seemed to fit. The one-time aide to Robert F. Kennedy made a name for himself during his campaigns for Tennessee governor in 1966 and 1970. Although he wasn’t successful in either of those campaigns – or others that followed – he has remained part of the state’s political landscape for more than a half century. A lawyer by trade, he’s also tried his hand with varying degrees of success as a restaurateur, a publisher and a health care executive. As former Governor Winfield Dunn, the man who beat Hooker in the 1970 election, put it: “When people run out of things to talk about, they talk about John Jay Hooker.”
Born into a Memphis family that owned a successful food wholesale business, J.R. ‘Pitt’ Hyde III felt “an opportunity and an obligation” to follow in his father and grandfather’s entrepreneurial footsteps. That drove him to found AutoZone, one of the country’s largest auto parts supply store chains. He also was one of the leaders in the effort to bring the National Basketball Association’s Grizzlies franchise to Memphis and oversees a foundation that provides funding for everything from bicycle trails to the National Civil Rights Museum. Although his family foundation is involved in many different community projects around Memphis, associates say he remains very “hands on” with them. He is, they say, an auto parts executive who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
It might be a stretch to say the whitewater canoeing and kayaking events held in Polk County, Tennessee ‘saved’ the 1996 Olympic Games - but not by much. At least not according to The Economist, a London-based newsmagazine that offered a fairly scathing critique of the way the Olympic events held in Atlanta that year were managed.
As a photographer for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Westcott was the only person allowed to have a camera in Oak Ridge while the Manhattan Project was under way in the 1940s. He took thousands of photographs of Oak Ridge residents at work and at play. When those photographs were eventually declassified, they became essential viewing for anyone hoping to understand the town and its role in history.
Dunn developed an interest in politics at an early age. His father, Aubert Culberson Dunn, served as district attorney in Mississippi’s Lauderdale County during the 1930s. At the time, Dunn recalled thinking of the courthouse where his father worked as a mysterious place.