Today seems to be overflowing with good feelings for this old man, and many others i’m sure. Amidst all of the praise and love i’m feeling. i had to stop for a moment and think about him. He was the best, at least for me. i have praised him here before and thankfully, i let him know how i felt about him several times before he left me behind. i could not go through this day without honoring him once more. The below includes two columns and a poem about Jimmy Jewell. The first column was one i wrote on his 86th birthday. The second column was right after he passed away just over a month shy of his ninety-ninth birthday and right after his 75th anniversary with his wife. The poem, “Hands,” one of my favorites, has been here several times. When he read it, his comment to me was “I didn’t know you knew all of those things about me.
Thank you, Jimmy Jewell, for being the model for being a good father and a good man to me, your other two children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren, and the uncountable number of children who considered you a father or a grandfather.
An Incredible Man
There is an incredible man in Lebanon. He was born September 28, 1914.
The first record of his family in America dates to 1677. His great, great, great
grandfather came over the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky with Daniel Boone and
apparently was Daniel’s brother-in- law. His great, great grandfather moved to Statesville in southeastern Wilson County in the early 1800’s.
He had three brothers and three sisters. He is the only one left.
He has lived through two world wars, fighting as a Seabee in the southern Philippines
in the last one. He has lived through the depression, the cold war, the Korean War, the
Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.
He had to quit his senior year at Lebanon High School to go to work when his father
contracted tuberculosis. He started as a mechanic, shared a business with his brother-in-
law in the 1950’s, and then became a partner in an automobile dealership and a gas and oil distributorship. He retired in 1972.
He and his wife have been married for 62 years. They remain infatuated with each other. The first home they owned was a one-room house, adjacent to his wife’s family farm on Hunter’s Point Pike. They bought their next home on Castle Heights Avenue in 1941 with the help of a $500.00 loan from a friend. They have lived there ever since.
He and his wife put three children through college. They have five grandchildren.
They have visited every state in the Union, except Alaska, where they were headed in 1984 when his wife’s illness forced them to turn around in British Columbia. Nearly all of their travel has been by RV’s, most in a twenty-eight foot fifth-wheel. When he was 87 and his wife was 84, they made their last cross-country trip to San Diego where they spent winters since 1985 with their eldest son and his family. They have made several trips up and down the east coast since then, and the fifth-wheel is still ready to go in their backyard.
They live comfortably in their retirement. Most people guess his age as early 70’s.
Last month, he painted their master bedroom and sanded and painted the roof of his two- car carport. When he can’t find anyone to go fishing with him, he hooks up the boat trailer and goes by himself. Now he usually throws his catch back in. When he used to bring the catch home, he would clean the fish and give them away. He doesn’t like to eat fish, just catch them.
For years, he had the reputation as the best mechanic in Wilson County. He can still fix anything except computers and new cars because he has shunned learning the electronic advances.
All of this isn’t why this man is incredible.
He is incredible because he is such a good man.
He is a willow. He bends with the winds of change and the changes coming as progress. Yet he never breaks. His principles remain as solid as a rock. He is extremely intelligent but humble.
He seems to always be around when someone needs help. Everyone considers him a friend and he reciprocates.
He is not rich, financially. But he is one of the richest men around.
My generation’s fathers were family men. They lived through hard times and hard work without a whimper. They believed in giving a day’s work for a day’s pay. They kept their sense of humor. Their sons wish they could emulate them.
Jimmy Jewell, or James Rye Jewell, Sr., this remarkable man, remains my best friend. I am his oldest son. I have worshiped him since the first re-callable thoughts came into my head fifty-three or so years ago. I still find myself wishing I could have his strength, his kindness, his work ethic, his love, his faith.
My father and I have had enough talks for him to know how I feel. But I’ve seen too many people wait until someone was gone before singing their praises publicly. I figure he&’s got a good chance to outlive us all, but I wanted to acknowledge how much he means to me and how great a man I think he is.
Happy eighty-sixth birthday, Dad.
Good man gone
By now, most of you know my father, Jimmy Jewell, passed away last Tuesday, 46 days shy of his 99th birthday.
This newspaper and its competition carried articles about him and as well as his obligatory obituary. He would have been embarrassed by all of this fuss over him. He shied away from publicity.
Jimmy Jewell’s near century of living is interwoven with the history of this city and this county. His history has been fairly well documented in many of my previous columns.
But I do not wish to discuss his history or how it has been interwoven with the city. I wish to honor him for what I think he treasured most: being a good man.
In the early 1960’s, I first heard of Jimmy Jewell being described as a “good man” when a Seabee buddy of his from World War II, Elmer Hauser, traveled from Arizona to see Daddy. Elmer and his wife Minnie went to dinner with us at Dr. Lowe’s second Plaza Motel on North Cumberland. There Elmer leaned over to me and said, “You know your father was the best liked man in our battalion (the Navy’s 75th Construction Battalion). He didn’t drink so he would give his beer and liquor rations to his friends. Everybody wanted to be his friend.”
Elmer chuckled and then explained to me confidentially, “But the reason he was so well liked was not the rations. He was liked because he was a good man.”
July as we prepared to move Jimmy Jewell from UMC to his new but short-termed home of Elmcroft Senior Living in early July, I went to see my mother in their new digs.
A man on a motorized wheel chair met me half way down the long hall.
“Are you Jimmy Jewell’s boy?” he asked, ignoring the fact I resemble my 69 years.
“Yes, I’m Jim, his older son.”
“I thought so. “I’m Basel Tyree. Can’t wait to see him,” he continued, “I’ve known Jimmy since the late 40’s. He worked on my cars. He is a good man.”
We talked some more and in one humorous exchange, I laughed. “When you laugh, you sounded just like him,” Basel observed said.
“Best compliment I’ve ever received,” I replied.
Archie King, also on a motorized wheelchair had met me earlier with eagerness to see my father. When we met the next time, he told a story of when his car had been rear-ended in the early 1950’s.
“The insurance company was only going to pay for the bumper and the dents to the trunk, but the frame was bent. I didn’t know what to do,” Archie related.
“I told Jimmy about it,” he continued, “Jimmy took the phone, called the insurance agent and said ‘I’m Mr. King’s attorney, and we are going to sue your company if you don’t pay for fixing that frame.’
“They paid. There’s no telling how much money Jimmy saved me,” Archie concluded and then added:
“He’s a good man.”
After my father passed away, several folks like Tilford Elkins and John Cook also used “a good man” to describe Jimmy Jewell. I decided to cite them and others in this column. But before the Sellars Funeral Home visitation was over Saturday, I could not keep up with the names of those who used the term, I had also lost count.
That pretty well describes how Jimmy Jewell has been perceived in this town. I think it was his greatest trait.
It occurred to me there are other Lebanon men who have earned or are earning the “good man description.” Perhaps my perception is somewhat flawed, but I recall thinking of many Lebanon men of my father’s generation being “good men.” I believe it was not a false perception. The men of that generation valued the trust and caring of others over physical possessions or power. They did not draw lines in the sand unless it really mattered. They tried to make things work for everyone.
It seems our culture now leans toward self-protection, greed, and self-aggrandizement more so than in those times. There were a lot of good men back then, but they are dwindling quickly.
Jimmy Jewell was one of the best of those good men.
When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
Durer, if he saw them,
would want to paint them.
His hands are marked from
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors,
starting in ’34 at twelve dollars a week.
He has used those hands to
repair the cars and
His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bougainville, New Guinea, the Philippines.
His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.
Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
tales are etched from
grease and oil and grime,
cleansed with gasoline and goop and lava soap;
They are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring.
His hands own wisdom,
passing it to those who know him
with a pat, a caress, a handshake.
His hands tell the story