By Tom Mattingly
Dr. J. C. (Jim) Tumblin knew Fountain City… and knew it well.
That was the inescapable conclusion after Tumblin penned “Fountain City: People Who Made a Difference” in 2016. The book honored 56 people who have influenced the growth and development of the community once known as “Fountain Head,” stretching from Sharp’s Ridge northward to Black Oak Ridge.
Tumblin died June 3, 2022, at Beverly Park Place in Knoxville, at age 95. He was a retired optometrist who practiced in Fountain City for 46 years. He was the community’s “Man of the Year” in 1999 and earned a spot on the Central High School Wall of Fame in 2013.
He was a founding member of Northside Christian Church, dating to April 20, 1958, one of 77 persons commissioned from Knoxville’s First Christian Church and challenged to extend the influence of the church into Fountain City.
There were five books on Tumblin’s resume, all of which were written after his 75th birthday and four of which dealt with Fountain City-related subjects.
He published two books in 2003, one on the Fountain Head Railway Company (“The Dummy Line”), published by Reeves Press, followed by one on Knoxville’s Southern Railway Station’s 100th anniversary, with D.W. Duncan and A.E. Pope. The year 2004 brought forth “Images of America: Fountain City,” from Arcadia Press. In 2006, he authored “Central High School: A Century of Pride and Tradition (1906-2006)” from Coleman Press. In 2008, he authored “Northside Christian Church (1958-2008): Celebrating 50 Years of Service,” again from Reeves Press.
He termed Fountain City Knoxville’s most “fiercely independent community” and offered a narrative that stretched from John Adair to Joseph Bruce Gorman, with famous names dotting the landscape, names that still remain in the public consciousness.
It is a community that held a “funeral service” when it was annexed into the city of Knoxville in February 1962, complete with Mayor John J. Duncan in attendance.
In Tumblin’s narrative, the reader experienced the lives that led to Adair Drive, Pruden Field, Gresham Middle School, the “Dempster Dumpster,” and Reeder Chevrolet. We also find the stories of many of the famous personages who called Fountain City home, e.g., Bob Suffridge, Harvey Robinson, and Gorman at the University of Tennessee, longtime Central High head football coach Nathan “Red” Eubank, Roy Acuff of country music fame, environmentalist Harvey Broome, and O’dell Willis, longtime Central High School band director.
On a personal note, Tumblin called me in August 2011 to request a picture of Suffridge and Tennessee teammate Ed Molinski. I mentioned I didn’t have a copy of the book the Knoxville Journal’s Raymond “Streetcar” Edmonds wrote with Suffridge, one titled “Bob Suffridge: Football Beyond Coaching.”
Two or three days later, a copy appeared in the afternoon mail, complete with autograph, “To Grantland Rice’s successor, Col. Tom Mattingly,” dated Aug. 8, 2011. It occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf. It was a move typical of Tumblin’s spirit of helpfulness and friendship. Over the years, similar sentiments found their way to the Mattingly mailbox.
“His writing is engaging, and the stories are well-documented and well-researched,” wrote Steve Cotham of the East Tennessee History Center on the book’s back cover.
One major contribution to the text was a 12-page timeline of the history of Fountain City, assembled in context with the history of the state of Tennessee and Knox County. It helped the reader understand how the community grew and developed.
Tumblin’s book was eminently readable, maybe in a couple of sittings, and his 56 selections might have stirred up some controversy in and out of the community on behalf of those he might have left out. Future historians will build on his work to chronicle the lives of those persons who continue to contribute to its history.
His writing style manifested a love for the English language and reflected an “intuitive feel” for what the love of history can mean to a community. Words flowed logically and smoothly, whether from his pen or through his fingers onto the computer screen.
“If the history of a community is written in the lives of its people—and it is— then Fountain City has a very rich history and very many worthy role models for meeting the challenges of its future,” wrote Tumblin.
The family will receive friends at Northside Christian Church, 4008 Tazewell Pike, Knoxville, Tennessee 37918 on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, from 5–7:00 p.m., with a funeral service at 7 p.m., officiated by Rev. Frits Haverkamp. Family and friends will gather on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at 10:45 a.m. at Lynnhurst Cemetery, 2300 Adair Drive, Knoxville 37918 for an 11 a.m. graveside service.