​ Tennessee lost one of its greatest legends today. John Jay Hooker, Tennessean of the Year 2015, passed away in Nashville at the age of 85.

I won’t even attempt to describe his incredible life. A simple internet search will give you all the details of his varied business interests and his colorful legal and political career, from working with the Kennedy family to his chain of fried chicken restaurants that he owned with Minnie Pearl. That is all public record. Instead, I’d like to speak personally about the man who became a dear friend.

I had the honor to work very closely with John Jay throughout his battle against retention elections for judges in Tennessee. He believed they were unconstitutional. He was by far the biggest champion for Constitutional rights that I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and he would gladly remind anyone and everyone that his great-great grandfather William Blount signed the United States Constitution and convened the constitutional convention that formed the state of Tennessee. Whether or not you agreed with his political stance, you would certainly be enthralled by his passion and his fiery lectures which he managed to deliver with all the manners and charm of the consummate Southern Gentleman.

To be sure, he demanded excellence. Since I used to practice law myself, he would grill me about the meaning of every word, every idea, every point of his arguments. I was often exhausted because he insisted on starting work at 5 a.m. every morning, instantly ready to begin dictating letters, memos and Court pleadings. (He very politely declined when I offered to teach him to type.) He gave me his pocket sized Constitution and said he would buy another one for himself (he carried it with him daily). It was well worn, dog-eared, underlined and dearly loved by John Jay. I still carry it with me today. The notes and questions written in the margins will forever remind me of his brilliant legal mind.

He loved to take me out on long lunches, to show me the “real Nashville” as he would say. The lunches would tend to last about two hours because he seemed to know everyone in town and everyone wanted to come shake his hand.

His final crusade began last year when he was diagnosed with cancer. He began to lobby for a “death with dignity” law to be passed in Tennessee. He told me that he wanted to fight for the constitutional rights for his beloved citizens of Tennessee and when he could no longer fight then he wanted to leave the ring with dignity. To be honest, I didn’t believe that such a legend as John Jay would ever die. And in many ways, he hasn’t. He lives on in the legacy of those that he has inspired. He lives on in his copy of the Constitution that I carry.

Most of the pictures you will see of him today and in the future will be pictures of John Jay the politician in suit and tie and sometimes his favorite white hat. But I will share with you my favorite personal picture of him. He’s eating ribs and corn on the cob at Swett’s in Nashville and talking with me about his next legal maneuver. Rest easy, John Jay. Those of us you left behind will continue to carry the torch of justice. I know that right now you are probably hunkered over a big slab of ribs and talking to your great-great-granddaddy about Constitutional theory.

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