Thomas Howard McNeese, 86, of Hixson, died with his family surrounding him after a long illness, on Sunday, November 16, 2008.
The following tells a small part of the life he lived but certainly not all. He was a generous, kind, and humble man who enriched the lives of everyone who knew him. The world is a somber place for his loss, and a better place for his having been here.
Howard was born in the Baileyton community of Greene County, Tn. on December 6, 1921, where he is still known as “Babe” for his love for baseball. He attended Greene County schools and received his high school diploma in 1940.
Howard joined and served in the United States Army with the 98th Infantry Division during World War II in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.
From 1949 to 1951 he attended The University of Tennessee at Knoxville earning his B.S. degree in Education with his major in Math and Minor in Physical Sciences. He graduated with honors and was accepted for membership in Phi Delta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi.
Immediately he began studies for his masters degree (1951-55) while teaching school in Oak Ridge, Tn., and Greene County Baileyton High School. He earned his M.S. Degree in School Administration and Supervision. The summer of 1955 Howard did Advanced Graduate Study at the University of Colorado and continued Advanced Graduate Study at UTK.
From 1956 until 1979, Howard campaigned and was elected Superintendent of Greene County Schools by a vote of the people. He defeated the incumbent and was re-elected without opposition candidates in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976.
He achieved much during his tenure, which included consolidating the total number of schools from 59 to 18 and along with the Greeneville City School System opened a vocational–technical school in 1973. He helped design a curriculum to meet the needs of all children and won the respect of all students, teachers and co-workers.
In 1979, Governor Lamar Alexander appointed him as Tennessee Deputy Commissioner of Education working with the 147 local school systems. He also handled all legislation for the State Department of Education and worked extensively with secondary, post-secondary and higher education institutions until retirement in 1984.
At this time he and his wife, Nancye, moved to Hixson to be close to their children and grandchildren, whom they adored passionately.
Howard then served as president and general manager of Greater Chattanooga Public Television Corporation (Channel 45) from 1984 to 1990.
He received many honors as being listed in Who’s Who in American Education (1965-66), Personalities of the South (1974-77), Dictionary of International Biography (1975-76), and Book of Golden Deeds Awards (1972). Howard held memberships in several educational associations and civic clubs.
He served as a member of Administrative Council of Tennessee Education Association in the 1960s and held membership and served as director of the American Association of School Administrators. Howard was chairman of The Upper East Tennessee Educational Cooperative (1974-79) and represented Superintendents of First Tennessee District as a member of the Executive Committee of the study council (1973-79).
He received many awards for his outstanding contributions to education and educational leadership, most recently nominated to Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame.
Howard was an avid Tennessee Vol fan and had the same seats at Neyland Stadium for over 50 years. He was a baseball player on the Baileyton “Cat Holes” team where he earned the name Babe.
Howard joined the Baileyton Baptist Church in his early youth years and then as a young adult became a member of First Baptist Church Greeneville where he served as a Deacon. When he moved back to Chattanooga, they became members of Central Baptist Church of Hixson where he served as deacon and Sunday School teacher. He was currently a member of Red Bank Baptist Church, the Truth Seekers Sunday School Class and Prime Timers Senior Group.
He was preceded in death by his parents, William and Ella Underhill McNeese; two brothers, Victor and Witten; two sisters, Clara McNeese and Alice Barrett; and his first wife of 25 years, Juanita Gass McNeese.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Nancye Igou Cunningham McNeese; children, Sanford A. Cunningham III, Melanie Cunningham (Ron) Frere; Ronald Houston (Sharon) Cunningham; precious grandchildren, Sanford A. (Dani) Cunningham IV, Courtney Frere (Bryan) Arrington; Ronald E. (Rose) Frere Jr.; Nancye Ann Cunningham (Mike) Bennett, Thomas Dyer (Nicole) Cunningham, Matthew Allen (Amber) Cunningham, Lara Cunningham, Chad Cunningham, Jenna Cunningham and Shane (Jessica) Kelley, Brianna, Krisha, and Marissa Hein; great-grandchildren, James and Jacob Arrington, Ronnie and Joshua Frere, Makayla and Kylee Cunningham, Grace and Cash Bennett, Hope Davis, Levi Kelley and soon-to-be-born Baby Girl Cunningham; other loving family members, Houston and Dortha Igou, Earl and Rosella Gass, Mary Wallace and Deanna Gass; nephews, Phillip McNeese, Tracy Gass, Jeffrey Wallace, Wayne McNeese, Keith McNeese and Taylor Elrod; nieces, Cathy Lefsky, Allison Burns, Lamanda Wallace, Becky Ricker and Marian Maxwell; cousins, Connie Curtis, Harold and Patsy Underhill, Lowry and Elizabeth Underhill; faithful friends, Eva Sams, Jane Bryan, and Judith Anderson; and all staff at Greene County Schools and Tennessee Department of Education.
Services for Howard will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the North Chapel with Rev. Bill Harvey and Rev. Vince Dean officiating. Burial will follow in Hamilton Memorial Gardens with Sandy Cunningham, Ronnie Frere, Tommy, Matthew and Chad Cunningham, Shane Kelley, USMC, Bryan Arrington, Mike Bennett and Taylor Elrod serving as pallbearers.
Honorary pallbearers are Sunday School teachers Sonny Griffin and Ed Mitchell and members of the “Truth Seekers” couples class of Red Bank Baptist Church, Houston Igou, Tommy Cox, Jimmy Smithson, Ben Hankins, Walter Alley, Tom Garland, John Sansom, Brother Bob Medaris, R.A. Sharp, Bobby Mashburn, Vince Dean, Bob Batson, and the Saturday morning Hardees’s Coffee Bunch who are Ed Mitchell, Rodney Aslinger, Jimmy Hudson, Carl Sharp, Gary Hoover, and the late Dick Carter; all members of the Greene County School System and the Tennessee Department of Education.
The family will receive friends from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. on Friday, and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday at the funeral home.
The family expresses their thankfulness to Dr. Mark Heinsohn and staff, Dr. Sibagi Shome, Dr. David Salerno, Dr. Charles Portera, Jr., Memorial Home Health and Hospice of Chattanooga.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Red Bank Baptist Church Library or Hospice of Chattanooga.
Arrangements are by the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist.
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