(Note: The story below is based heavily on coverage published in The Greeneville Sun regarding the July 29 death of alumnus, former Tusculum College trustee, and generous College friend Thomas Gray Hull ’50. The College thanks the Sun for use of the material.)
Hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues, former employees, and fellow church members came together Friday afternoon, Aug. 1, to celebrate the life of the late Thomas Gray Hull, and reflect on his impact on their own lives.
Hull, a retired U.S. district judge who served on the federal bench at Greeneville from 1983-2006, died Tuesday morning, July 29, at 82 after several months of sharply declining health. His life was celebrated Friday, Aug. 1, at Asbury United Methodist Church, of which he was an active lifelong member. Among those present at the service was U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a longtime friend.
Before being named to the federal bench, Hull had served as legal counsel to then-Gov. Alexander from 1979-81.
Hull’s son, Tusculum College Trustee Brandon Hull, his daughter, Leslie Hull, and retired U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins of Rogersville, a close friend for many years, spoke at what was termed in the bulletin “A Service of Thanksgiving and Celebration.”
Also offering remarks were the Rev. Jeannie Higgins, minister of discipleship of Asbury UM Church and a cousin of Judge Hull, and the Rev. David Woody, Asbury UM senior pastor.
The late federal judge was remembered warmly and repeatedly as a Christian of strong, persevering faith in God, a man with a deep and loving commitment to his family, and a person who loved and enjoyed music and poetry and managed to include both in a busy life.There was also praise for his professional accomplishments, especially his persistent, ultimately successful efforts over a period of years to see the new James H. Quillen United States Courthouse built, in the face of major obstacles.
The new courthouse was dedicated in December 2001 at a ceremony here attended by then-U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard H. Baker Jr., then-U.S. Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, then-U.S. Rep. Jenkins, and retired U.S. Rep. Quillen, who is now deceased.
Brandon Hull recalled that, since childhood, he had always thought of his father as “larger than life.”
Though he did not speak at the memorial service, Dr. Russell Nichols, interim president of Tusculum College, issued a statement expressing sadness at Judge Hull’s death and appreciation for his contributions to the College over the years.
“Our entire Tusculum College community is deeply saddened by the loss of Judge Hull, a distinguished alumnus, emeritus trustee, community ambassador, and true friend,” Dr. Nichols wrote.
“Judge Hull’s service to his alma mater was exemplary, including about a decade on the Board of Trustees beginning in 1979.
“Included among his many honors were the Distinguished Service Award, presented on the eve of his 80th birthday, and the designation of ‘The Honorable Thomas G. Hull ’50 classroom” in the new Thomas J. Garland Library.
“We are proud that his son, Brandon, currently serves on the board to perpetuate the good work of Judge Hull for Tusculum College.”
In Jenkins’ remarks, he also emphasized Judge Hull’s accomplishments, and stressed that the former judge was definitely “the driving force behind this great courthouse.”
Jenkins added that, in his view, Judge Hull’s greatest quality was “human resilience,” a reference to the fact that, as Jenkins noted, he had persevered in his life and spirit despite the tragic losses of a son and namesake at age 12, of a daughter and her unborn child at age 32, and of his wife of 40 years, Joan Brandon Hull, in 1995.
“Tom Hull endured, and Tom Hull Kept the faith,” Jenkins said.
Remembering her father, Leslie Hull cited in her comments what she said were Judge Hull’s strong faith, his love for his family, and his love for music and poetry.
Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If,” a favorite of the late federal judge, was reproduced in full on the service program.
Brandon and Leslie Hull also stressed their love and appreciation for Judge Hull’s second wife, Helge Woerz Hull, whom he married in 1999.
In Rev. Higgins’ comments, she drew on years of family association with the late judge as well as many years of association with him at Asbury Church, and Rev. Woody praised him as a person who “gave us a life that followed the law of God and the law of the land.”
Scripture passages were read by two of Judge Hull’s granddaughters, Leslie Claire Welsch and Meredith Hull.
The service Friday strongly emphasized music, including congregational singing of two familiar hymns, “Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”; a harp presentation by Eliizabeth Farr; and solos by Cindy Sams and Robert Bradley, including “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Peace Like A River.”
A formal military burial at GreeneLawn Memory Gardens followed the service at the church.
Numerous friends and former colleagues of the late U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Hull recalled with warmth and respect their memories of Hull, who died Tuesday morning.
Greeneville Sun Publisher John M. Jones, a longtime friend of Judge Hull and his frequent ally in civic and economic development-related projects over the years, emphasized Hull’s strong civic spirit and called his death “a loss to the community.”
“Tom Hull was a good man in every sense of the word,” Jones said. “He was an outstanding citizen of this community.
“You could always count on him to stand for what was in the best interest of Greeneville and Greene County.”
Referring to Hull’s support for local economic development prior to assuming the federal judgeship in 1983, Jones noted that “He could always be counted on to help when we had an industrial prospect or any other problem.”
Former U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins, reached Tuesday afternoon by telephone at his farm near Rogersville, said he was saddened to hear of Judge Hull’s passing.
Jenkins, who was a state circuit judge before serving 10 years as the First District’s congressman, said he visited Hull last week in Greeneville.
“I’m certainly sorry to hear about Tom Hull’s death. He was a great friend of mine, and some of the best memories I have are of time spent with Tom Hull.”
Jenkins said Hull “was a person who made a real contribution to this state and to this country.
“He served us well as a World War II veteran, as a legislator, and a federal judge. He was an astute businessman, but I think, beyond all those things, he was a great human being.”
Jenkins went on to say, “Tom had endured a lot of sad times, in the deaths of his son, Tommy, his daughter, Amy, and his wife, Jo Ann. Through it all he demonstrated a resiliency and a faith in the Almighty that was unsurpassed.
“I certainly extend to his wife and his family my deepest sympathy.”
Howard H. Baker Jr., who served as U.S. ambassador to Japan after service as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and long service as U.S. Senator from Tennessee, commented from his Huntsville, Tenn., home, where he was celebrating his wife’s birthday.
Then-U.S. Sen. Baker had nominated Hull for the federal judgeship to which he was named in 1983 by then-President Reagan.
In an e-mailed statement, Baker said, “Judge Tom Hull was not only a distinguished federal jurist, but in many ways he was the very essence of the East Tennessee pioneer spirit.
“He was straightforward, dependable, and my good friend. I shall miss him.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., reached at his Washington, D.C., office, said he, too, was “sorry to hear about Judge Hull. He brings back a lot of good memories with me.”
Sen. Alexander added, “He was a great friend.”
Alexander explained that, when he was elected governor in 1978, the state had experienced a pardon and parole scandal under the previous administration that had eroded confidence in state government.
“It was an extraordinary time, and I needed to ask some men and women to make some extraordinary steps,” the former governor recalled.
Alexander actually took office early, in part because of concerns that his predecessor, then-Gov. Ray Blanton, would issue large numbers of pardons on the eve of the inauguration.
“I was looking for a way to restore confidence,” Alexander told the Sun, “so I asked Judge Hull to resign his position as circuit judge and come to work with me in the governor’s office,” as legal counsel.
At that time, Hull had served as circuit judge for the 3rd Judicial District since 1972. He resigned “at my request” in 1979, Alexander said. “He helped us get started on a straight course.” The senator said Hull had the maturity and judgment needed to help guide a very young staff, and “a lot of experience in state government.”
But most important, Alexander said, was Hull’s “reputation for integrity,” and that integrity itself, which made Hull “very popular with the legislators, and with our young staff.”
Alexander said Judge Hull “not only knew the law, he knew the legislature. He was an enormous help, not only in restoring confidence in the governor’s office, but in helping me create a successful term of office as governor.”
Alexander also recalled traveling to Washington in the early 1980s to join with then-Sen. Baker as they together “strongly made a case” for Judge Hull’s appointment as U.S. District Judge. That meeting with then-U.S. Attorney General William French Smith helped convince President Reagan to make the appointment that led to his subsequent confirmation by the U.S. Senate as a federal judge, Alexander said.
U.S. Rep. David Davis, R-1st, of Johnson City, reached by the Sun, said he mourned Hull’s passing, and provided a written comment.
“Judge Hull was a dedicated public servant known throughout East Tennessee,” Davis stated. “Judge Hull served his country during World War II, was a Tennessee State Representative, and a state and federal judge.” Davis said Hull was passionate about “everything he did, whether it was serving as Chief Clerk of the Tennessee General Assembly or as the campaign manager for James H. Quillen’s first campaign for the U. S. Congress.”
The congressman added, “A true family man and astute businessman, Judge Hull will be greatly missed in East Tennessee. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.” Also among those who commented on the passing of Judge Hull was Circuit Judge Tom Wright, who worked as Hull’s law clerk in the 1980s.
“He was absolutely my mentor,” Judge Wright said of Judge Hull. “I’m deeply saddened by the loss because he meant so much to me and my family.”
Wright described Hull as “the most influential person professionally” in his life.
“He was probably the most influential person, after my mother and father, personally as well,” Judge Wright said. “I would not be where I am (today) without Judge Hull.”
Judge Wright recalled that, in 1985, Judge Hull had given him his first job in the legal profession, as his law clerk.
Wright noted that at one point, because of retirements and illnesses among the federal judges in the Eastern District of Tennessee, Judge Hull was practically the only judge working in the district.
After working for a year-and-a-half as Judge Hull’s law clerk, Wright said, he moved to Chattanooga and practiced law for six years.
“I already knew the (federal) judges there because of Judge Hull,” he recalled. “I can’t tell you how many doors Tom Hull opened for me.”
Judge Wright subsequently returned to Greeneville, where he worked for Federal Defender Services.
After being elected General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge here, Wright said, he tried to use things he learned from Judge Hull about how to run court. “I certainly learned something about how to administer a docket and run court.”
He described Judge Hull as being “very efficient” in operating his court. “He was very insistent on professionalism,” Judge Wright said.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Greeneville business leader Kent Bewley said of Judge Hull, “He was a good man.”
“He was good to his family, good to his church, and good to the community. He made a very strong contribution to this community. He will be missed.”
Bewley noted that his late father, Roswell Bewley, and Hull had been close friends and business partners for many years. In addition, he said, the Hull and Bewley families had attended Asbury United Methodist Church together for many years.
Bewley recalled that he had known Judge Hull for about five decades.
“Both our families also have been longtime supporters of Holston United Methodist Home for Children,” Bewley said.
“Judge Hull had a major impact on this community,” he added, “and he will be missed.”
Terry Leonard, president of Leonard Associates LLC and a longtime friend and fellow church member of Judge Hull, recalled on Tuesday afternoon that he and Hull had worked and worshiped together for many years.
“He was a great citizen of Greeneville,” Leonard said. “It’s a big loss for us.”
Leonard said Judge Hull had played a major role over the years, often behind the scenes, in leading economic development activities here. “We worked together quite a bit on economic development matters,” Leonard said.
He recalled that he and Judge Hull had “had lunch almost every Thursday” for many years. “He was always a lot of fun,” Leonard said.
Judge Hull, Leonard said, “almost never missed a Sunday” at Asbury United Methodist Church in Greeneville. “We worked on a lot of church projects together over the years.”
Former Greeneville Mayor G. Thomas Love said he and Judge Hull were close friends for many years.
Love said that, when he was mayor, he could always count on Hull for advice.
“He gave me a lot of good advice when he was in Gov. Alexander’s cabinet in Nashville, and I was the mayor,” Love said.
He added, “Judge Hull was a good Christian family man who served us well in this county and will certainly be missed.”
Love, a fellow member of Asbury United Methodist Church, also noted, “He always helped Holston United Methodist Home for Children and was a dedicated member of his church.”
Rick Tipton, division manager for the Northeastern Division of U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee,recalled on Tuesday that he had spent 14 years as Judge Hull’s courtroom deputy before assuming his current position.
“He was a great man,” Tipton said of Hull.
“He taught me a lot that has helped me in my new job as division manger. This is tough for me because I spent a lot of time with him.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman, who served with Hull in U.S. District Court here from 1995 until Hull’s retirement in 2006, said the former judge had “a terrific influence” on his life. Inman recalled that, when he became a trial lawyer in 1971, he tried some of his first cases in front of Hull, who was then a state Circuit Judge in the Third Judicial District of Tennessee. “He had a definite effect on how I look at the law and how I tried lawsuits,” Inman recalled.
Inman said that, later, Hull was the one who recommended to U.S. Sen. Alexander that Inman be appointed as Chancellor of the Third Judicial District.
Moreover, Inman said, there is no doubt that Hull was responsible for his being named federal Magistrate.
“There’s a whole lot of people that owe him a great deal, not the least of which is me,” Inman said.
Inman also gave Hull the credit for the fact that the James H. Quillen United States Courthouse was built in Greeneville, calling the new courthouse “The House That Hull Built” through much persistence.
“He was a remarkable man,” Inman summed up.
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer, who succeeded Hull, recalled their 35-year friendship while serving in state government and practicing law together.
Greer said in an interview Tuesday that he had feelings of both sadness and pride.
“I’m very sad, as is, I think, the entire court community,” Greer said.
“While I’m very sad at his passing, I’m also very proud of the record Tom leaves behind.
“He devoted his entire life to serving this community, his state, and his country,” Greer said.
“He certainly made an impact on this court that really can’t be measured,” Greer said.
In addition to former Judge Hull’s efforts to have a new federal courthouse built in Greeneville, Hull also instituted a number of practices in U.S. District Court here that made the process of resolving cases more efficient and just, Greer said.
“I’ll always be grateful for Tom Hull, for his friendship and for the support and assistance he gave me down through the years.”
Senior U.S. District Judge R. Alan Edgar, of Chattanooga, said by telephone from Michigan on Tuesday afternoon that he was saddened to learn of Judge Hull’s death.
He noted that he had known Judge Hull as a jurist since 1984. Both Judge Edgar and Judge Hull served terms as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
“I was proud to have served with him,” Judge Edgar said, describing Judge Hull as “a self-made man who loved the people of Upper East Tennessee.”
Judge Edgar said Judge Hull had been an effective jurist. “He had a sense of what justice is,” Judge Edgar said.