Fairbanks, James Wendell “Skipper”

Local Sports Legend Was Longtime Teacher, Coach, And Referee

  • Thursday, September 2, 2021
Skipper Fairbanks
Skipper Fairbanks

On the morning of August 28, 2021, James Wendell “Skipper” Fairbanks was joyfully reunited in Heaven with Carolyn, his beloved wife of 53 years.

Skipper was born on June 13, 1934 to Buster and Inez Fairbanks and was the oldest of seven children. While a student at Red Bank High School, he excelled in football, baseball, and boxing. He was a five-time Golden Gloves Champion and three-time Frye Institute Champion.  As a senior, he was voted “Most Athletic” and “Most Charming” and received the Rye Bell Coaches Award. He graduated from Red Bank High School in 1952 and enrolled in the University of Miami, Florida on a boxing scholarship. While at Miami, he won the George Gray Outstanding Boxer Award in 1953. He later enrolled at the University of Chattanooga, and while there, he met Carolyn Gilliam, and they married on April 29, 1956. They had a loving marriage for 53 years until her death on August 23, 2009.

While attending school at the UC, Skipper also served as an assistant football coach at Notre Dame High School in 1956. He graduated from the UC in 1957 with a Bachelor degree of Education and then earned his Masters degree in Educational Psychology in 1961. While a student at the UC, Skipper vowed to God that once he completed college, he would spend the rest of his life impacting young men and women in the Red Bank community.

He began teaching science at Red Bank High School and was the head baseball and boxing coach and also served as an assistant football coach there in 1957. He then moved to Bridgeport, Alabama to teach science and was the head football coach at Bridgeport High School. His team had an undefeated season, and Skipper was named the Sequatchie Valley Coach of the Year in 1958.  

Skipper and Carolyn had three daughters, Jamie, Wendy, and Meg. Despite Skipper’s busy schedule, he enjoyed nightly walks with his young daughters. One of Skipper’s greatest joys was coaching the Red Bank United Methodist women’s softball team, on which all three of his daughters played. The team may not have been the best, but the years were filled with fun and laughter. Skipper was the original “girl dad.”

In February 1959, Skipper received a judicial appointment as a United States Federal Probation and Parole Officer. He became the officer in charge of the Chattanooga office and retired in 1987. Skipper quickly returned to his love of teaching and coaching at Red Bank Middle School in August of 1987. He taught science and was the head football and baseball coach for twenty years. He was named the Hamilton County Athletic Conference football Coach of the Year three times. He retired in 2007 due to health reasons.

Skipper began the Red Bank Dixie Youth baseball program in 1962, and the 11/12 baseball field was named the Fairbanks Field in his honor in 1963. He spent countless hours umpiring, coaching, and preparing the fields while also serving as Director for numerous tournaments held there. The 11/12 Red Bank All-Star team won the state tournament in 1964. One of Skipper’s greatest joys was hosting and being runner-up in the 1976 World Series. He served as Director of the Program until his passing.  In April of 2021, the Red Bank City Commission dedicated the Red Bank Dixie Youth baseball park in his honor and named it The James Wendell “Skipper” Fairbanks Recreational Park.

Skipper was a long-time boxing coach from 1961 until his death. He worked with thousands of young boys and girls over sixty years. He thoroughly enjoyed hosting bouts at the Henry Luken Boxing Facility. Without Alfred O’Dell and Jackie Godwin being in his corner, he would not have been able to coach for so many years. 

Skipper was a TSSAA football referee for forty-two years. He worked thirty state playoffs and officiated the final 3A state game in 2001 at Vanderbilt University. Over the years, Skipper enjoyed officiating football games with his brothers, Jay, Randy, and Bill, along with his son-in-law, Mark Harvey.

Skipper was a member of the Red Bank United Methodist Church for sixty-three years. He had taught the 3rd-5th grade “Gooder” Sunday School class since 1959. He was the Staff Parish Relation chairman twice, and he served on the Scholarship, Council on Ministries, and Evangelism committees for many years.

Skipper received numerous awards over the years, including: the Red Bank Jaycees Outstanding Young Man Award in 1960, the United States Jaycees Distinguished Service Award in 1966, the Highland Sertoma Service to Mankind Award and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce Sportsman of the Year Award in 1973. He was inducted into the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia Hall of Fame in 1984, won the Red Bank Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year Award in 1997, and the Guy Francis Best of Preps Award in 1999. In 2001, Skipper was inducted into the Red Bank High School Hall of Fame to commemorate his years of dedication to young people in the community. In 2002, he was inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, in which he was a proud board member. He won the AF Bridges Award in 2002 and the Walt Lauter Award in 2010. Also in 2010, Skipper received the Liberty Bell Award from the Chattanooga Bar Association.

Before Skipper began having back problems, he enjoyed playing handball and tennis, as well as running. He and Carolyn thoroughly enjoyed their yearly cruises. He took pride in his days at Erlanger’s Cardiac Rehab, where he would take biscuits on Fridays. He loved holidays with family and Saturday morning breakfast at Lillie Mae’s with his three daughters. He also looked forward to his Sunday ice cream dates with his girls. He enjoyed fishing, going to his neighborhood pool, watching Atlanta Braves baseball and UT football. He also was a season ticket holder for UTC football. He loved attending his yearly high school reunions. He also enjoyed gathering for the Fairbanks family Christmas party each year. What he loved the most was doting on Carolyn, and he always made every occasion special for her.

Skipper was preceded in death by his devoted wife, Carolyn, his parents, his brothers, Ray, Jay, and Bill, a sister, Freda, and his beloved son-in-law, Mark Harvey.

He is survived by his three daughters, Jamie Harvey, Wendy (Bret) Lyness, and Meg (Chip) O’Neal. (Meg sadly passed away August 30, 2021.) His greatest joy was being “Booden-Booden” to his five grandchildren, Kell (Laurie) Harvey, Drew Lyness, Blair (Jeremy) Ballard, Ben (Carolyn) O’Neal, and Bailey (Paul) McGinnis. Skipper and Carolyn were always deeply invested in their grandchildren’s lives. He had eight great-grandchildren, Thomas Mark Harvey; Logan and Collins McGinnis; Bryan, Emma, Cooper, Caleb, and Kate Ballard. He was looking forward to the birth of his ninth great-grandchild, who is due in February 2022. Skipper is also survived by his sister, Frankie Smith, his brother, Randy (Marty) Fairbanks, his sisters-in-law, Jacque Fairbanks and Darla Fairbanks, along with many cousins, nieces and nephews.

Due to the fact that COVID has deeply affected Skipper and his family, the funeral and burial will be private on Sunday at 2. The service will be recorded and uploaded afterwards. Visitation will be held on Friday, Sept.17, from 5-9 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Red Bank Dixie Youth 11/12 Fairbanks Field. In case of rain, the visitation for both days will be located in the Red Bank High School Susan Ingram Thurman Gymnasium.

Flowers may be sent to the Henry Luken Boxing Facility behind Red Bank High School on September 17 at 640 Morrison Springs Road, Chattanooga, Tn. 37415. Memorials may be made to the Fairbanks-Harvey Memorial Scholarship Fund in care of Jamie Harvey, 2409 Ashmore Avenue, Chattanooga, Tn. 37415.  They may also be made to Red Bank United Methodist Church, 3800 Dayton Blvd., Chattanooga, Tn. 37415.

Skipper lived by his favorite Bible verse his entire life, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

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