JOE BIDDLE: Jim Fyke died fighting

James Harold Fyke_420087

James Harold Fyke. James Harold. Fyke. Fykey.

Take your pick. Mix and match. He would answer to any and all.

An estimated 500 people came to Christ Church Saturday to pay final respects to the man who gave Nashville and Tennessee some of the best parks and recreation outlets you can find anywhere.

Fyke died at home Tuesday. He was 78.

Fykey was a fixer. He was a listening post. He was a rare answer man with no ego.

Jenny Hannon was new to Nashville when she was hired as Executive Director of the Nashville Sports Council. She was an Indiana graduate.

She remembers her first meeting with Fyke.

“Our beginning was a little rocky,’’ she recalled during Fyke’s funeral. “He told me I was mumbling. I was talking too fast. He couldn’t understand me.’’

Hannon learned to speak Fykey. They became the best of friends and she found a mentor.

“I quickly learned to be successful in the Sports Council I needed to hitch my wagon to Jim Fyke,’’ Hannon said.

Fyke’s funeral drew everyone and anyone who knew him and worked for him.

Four of the five Nashville mayors Fyke served under were present. Congressman Jim Cooper was there. Former Metro Councilmen attended. Dr. Bill Frist was there.

Fykey knew almost everyone who was anyone. His passion for sports allowed him into that world. He helped Larry Schmittou acquire a minor league team to play at Fort Negley, a former softball complex where a new Greer Stadium became home to the Nashville Sounds.

Former Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton saw something he liked in Fyke. “It was the smartest hire I ever made when I made Jim Fyke the Metro Parks Director,’’ Fulton had been quoted as saying.

Like Hannon, former Mayor Phil Bredesen soon got to know Fyke up close.

Bredesen ran into Fyke when Bredesen was riding his horse near the Steeplechase. Bredesen crossed the highway and found himself and his horse on the Metro Parks Harpeth Hills Golf Course.

It just so happened Fyke and his usual weekend foursome was playing when his boss cut across the golf course.

Fyke used his ability to make a possible uncomfortable scene into one that was avoided when Fyke suggested a route Bredesen could take to go back across the road without riding on the golf course.

Bredesen wound up taking Fyke with him when Bredesen became Tennessee’s Governor. Fyke would later become state commissioner of Environment and Conservation from 2005-11. He was in charge of 111 state parks and a number of state-owned golf courses.

“He truly loved what he did with the parks,’’ Bredesen said Saturday.

Fyke didn’t cater to people who thought they were the bomb in business and life.

Bredesen and Fyke were having lunch one day at McCabe’s Pub. There was a blow-hard sitting at a nearby table where he was talking in a loud voice to those at his table.

Bredesen said Fyke went over to the table and asked Mr. Braggadocios if Fyke could borrow his cell phone, that the Mayor called him and,”wanted me to call him,’’ Bredesen said.

It was Fyke’s way to put people in their place.

He grew up in Old Hickory, a blue-collar town that was home to the DuPont plant. He graduated from DuPont High School in the late ’50s. He was an outstanding basketball player. Fyke had a passion for all sports.

Boots Scott looked up to Fyke, who was older.

“He never forgot his roots, where he came from,’’ Scott said.

Scott was with Fyke at a major league game when a foul ball came into the stands.

“James Harold ran as fast as he could to get that foul ball that landed in front of some women. He got that ball and turned around and gave it to a young kid,’’ Scott said. “That’s the kind of person Jim Fyke was.’’

The last part of Fyke’s life became a battle against a deadly form of melanoma. He didn’t back down, taking 180 doses of radiation over months. It went away, or so doctors thought. It returned in deadly form.

His wife of 24 years, Becky, never left his side. He was in Vanderbilt Hospital more than 40 straight days.

Two of his friends and I recently visited Fykey in a hospital room about the size of a broom closet. He didn’t complain. He finally went home where Hospice was called days before he died.

Fykey didn’t beat cancer. He just ran out of time.Donations can be made to the James H. Fyke Municipal Amateur Championship Scholarship Fund c/o Janet Frazier, Metro Parks and Recreation Dept., 511 Oman Street, Nashville, TN. 37203.Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at

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