Larger-than-life Nashville political figure John Jay Hooker Jr., who spent his last days fighting to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Tennessee, died on Sunday January 24 2016 at 85.
Hooker had brilliant successes early in life as an attorney. Tapped in 1958 to prosecute the impeachment of a Chattanooga judge accused of accepting bribes from racketeers, he fell into the orbit of Robert Kennedy, who was investigating the Teamsters union. Hooker later worked as special counsel to Kennedy after he became U.S. attorney general, even living in Kennedy’s house for a time.
Hooker was one of the original investors in Hospital Corporation of America, a chairman of STP Corp., part-owner and publisher of the Nashville Banner, and briefly chairman of wire service United Press International.
He was also a socialite once named to an international list of the best dressed men in the world.
Hooker was a serious Democratic contender for governor in 1966 and the party’s nominee for governor in the 1970 and 1998 races. Many in Nashville remember him for the spectacular success and sudden failure of his Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken franchise. The company’s demise was used against him in the 1970 campaign, and Hooker was bothered for the rest of his life by the idea that some people thought fraud played a role in the company’s downfall.
Hooker, who had aspirations to become president, always blamed President Richard Nixon for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s scrutiny of his business.
After failing in his 1966 gubernatorial bid, Mr. Hooker and his brother, Henry, became active entrepreneurial attorneys, working with clients to form some of Nashville’s iconic businesses, including Hospital Corporation of America and LIN Broadcasting.
His marriage to Tish Fort did not survive his commitment to STP, which had required him to live in Miami; they divorced in 1975.
He married Paula Lovell, who was a television producer and journalist, in 1976. They had one child, Lovell. They were divorced.
In 1979, Mr. Hooker partnered with Brownlee Currey and Irby Simpkins to buy his old nemesis, The Nashville Banner, which was going to be sold or closed as part of the deal Gannett, Inc. reached to purchase The Tennessean.
Mr. Hooker became publisher of The Banner, but the relationship with Currey and Simpkins deteriorated into a very public lawsuit and ended after two years.
Mr. Hooker was born into the law, and he loved to remind audiences that his great-great-grandfather William Blount, who was a signatory to the U.S. Constitution, convened the constitutional convention that formed the state of Tennessee. Thomas Jefferson considered the constitution that resulted from that convention to be best of any of the state constitutions.
Mr. Hooker was born Aug. 24, 1930, in Nashville to John Jay Hooker Sr., one of Nashville’s best-known attorneys, and Darthula Williamson Hooker. Mr. Hooker graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy in 1948, and The University of the South in Sewanee in 1952.
After finishing at Sewanee, he served two years in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps as an investigator, and then attended Vanderbilt University Law School. He was a member of the law school’s celebrated class of 1957.
Mr. Hooker joined his father’s law firm, Hooker, Keeble, Dodson, and Harris, one of the most prominent law firms in Tennessee. n 1959, Mr. Hooker married Eugenia Wimberly “Tish” Fort, daughter of Rufus E. and Agnes Stokes Fort, a partnership that became a key aspect of his political career. Ms. Fort came from one of Nashville’s most prominent families; her grandfather Dr. Rufus E. Fort was a co-founder of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, which was the parent company of WSM radio and its Grand Ole Opry program.
The couple had three children, daughters Dara and Kendall, and son John Blount.