Goodbye Dad

My Father

The following has nothing to do with organizing, except to remind all to share funeral wishes before it’s too late.  My dad, Joe McKenry, is now gone and this past week I did his planning for him.  It was an honor.  For those who were not at our Celebration Service I would like to share my words from Friday…

“We are here to celebrate not morn. Speaking tonight seemed like a good idea while waiting for the “red eye” at 1:30 am at LAX last Sunday morning. Besides the obvious reasons this is difficult, I know mother has great anxiety I might say something inappropriate. After all I am my dad’s son and still mom’s baby even at 51.

I am so thankful for that “royal wedding” in September of 1940 as the princess of one of Knoxville’s prominate Baptist ministers married the soon to be King of Chickens of East Tennessee. I loved the story of how soon after they married they lived in New London Connecticut as dad was in the service. Like many newlyweds money was tight and work was hard. The dishes had been piling up and after a long day of work, mother came home to find dad trying to help. The week’s dishes were soaking in the bathtub. After that they decided she would manage the kitchen.

I remember those snow days, when I was a kid we would all ride our horses in the field beside our home. Or dad would pull all my friends on top of the frozen street in a small row boat behind his old Ford tractor. What fun we had at the football games when we would take the boat to Neyland Stadium. Then there were the holidays when we gathered around the table and enjoyed Mother’s delicious meals. He loved every minute and every bit of mom’s cooking.

When I graduated from college I joined the family business. It was the early 80’s and with Jody and Betsy living next door, all of us working together, I really thought we were the Ewing’s of Knoxville. The only difference was the chicken money was nothing like the oil money on Dallas! Like the Ewing’s we all worked, played, and argued together: and loved each other in our own way.

Dad was a people’s person people person. We would go out to eat, and mom and I would always wonder how long it would take to get to the car? If he did not know someone, that would not stop him. Almost every time he would walk up to a stranger and say “Don’t I know you” and soon he did!

I can remember lunches at Regas. Dad would get so upset if someone was a bit shy and not engage in conversation. There was one person I recall – whose name you would know – that just did not speak. It was dad’s missions to go out of his way each day to engage him and eventually not only did this person speak to us he joined us most days for lunch.

Then there were the 2 most influential men in dad’s life. 60 years ago he spent the day with Billy Graham. To hear that story it was just like dad spent a day in heaven. The other man was, of course, Colonel Sanders. As a kid I was so proud to know my dad knew someone on television. The colonel even came to dinner with I was in the 4th grade. Dad always enjoyed sharing those 2 experiences. Even while trying to recover from his strokes this year at Patricia Neal, those 2 men were often the topic of conversation.

I am going to miss him recounting so many funny experiences. The last I would like to share he told 2 years ago when Maxine, Newton, Jennifer and Stuart visited. At a deacon’s retreat a certain pastor was frustrated that some were suggesting the sermons be just a little shorter. Dad explained to his minister friend in his own home spun way, “Now I love cherry pie, but only a piece at a time. If I eat a whole pie I will get sick!”


Well tonight I think we are going to want more than one piece of pie as we remember the greatest dad, most loving husband, and best friend to so many. What a life we are celebrating. Mother, Betsy, Jody – who left us 2 years ago – and I would like to thank you all for being a special part of dad’s life.”

Thank you to Dick Anderson, Judge Cliff Shirley, Sam Venable, Dick Williams, Chaplin Brad Hood, Dr. William Shields, Tennessee National Guard, Mary Elanor Pickle, and Jennifer Asbury for being a part of this weekend.

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