Hensley Motor Service: Early Fountain City meeting place

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

Staley Hensley (1905-1950) along with his brother, Bearl, ran the Hensley Motor Service across from the Fountain City Bank (now First Horizon) on North Broadway. Few families have a longer history in the suburb. For instance, when Houston Hensley entered Central High School in 2010, he represented the fourth generation in a direct line of Hensleys to attend that school. W. Staley Hensley (CHS Class of 1924), Thomas B. Hensley (CHS 1950) and Michael E. Hensley (CHS 1973) preceded him.

Not only do the Hensleys represent their alma mater well, they also have a laudatory record of service to their community. Staley was a director of Fountain City Bank, a charter member of the Fountain City Lions Club, a supporter of the Fountain City Recreation Center. a member of Bright Hope Masonic Lodge 557, active in the Central High School Alumni, a founder of the Fountain City Sportsmen’s Club and a leader at Central Baptist Church. His son and grandson have followed in his footsteps in their service to the community.

Staley Hensley

Staley had been hospitalized at St. Mary’s two weeks before returning home to prepare for the holidays when he expired at his home on Dec. 27, 1950, at only 45 years of age. After service at his church, he was interred at Lynnhurst Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Charlotte Basel Hensley (1908-1995), a daughter, Jean, and sons Tom and William.

Thomas B. “Tommy” Hensley was born on July 30, 1932. He attended Fountain City Elementary School and entered Central in 1946. He showed excellent leadership skills, played heads-up football and was elected co-captain with fellow lineman John Bohannon for his senior year. Tommy was also in the Hi-Y from 1948-1950, vice-president of his senior class and voted Best Sport that year.

He enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on a football scholarship and played one year there, then transferred to the University of Tennessee for the 1952 and 1953 seasons. A Knoxville News Sentinel “Sports Brief” prior to his junior year said, “Tommy Hensley, age 20, 6-foot, 190-pound junior from Knoxville, lettered last year as a defensive tackle. His performances on offense during the spring increased his potential value to the team. (He) has good speed and is a conscientious worker ranked with the top tackle on the squad.”

Former teammate and later UT Vol coach Johnny Majors paid this tribute to Hensley, “When I was a shy, insecure young freshman, I remember Tommy Hensley being friendly and kind to me off the football field. He was rough and tough on the football field. … Tommy helped my confidence by being considerate and friendly to me. I have always appreciated him immensely because of this.”

In the 1950s, coach Robert R. Neyland did not permit married men to receive athletic scholarships. For Tommy Hensley love won out. He opted not to play football and married his long-time best friend Johnnie Belle Cook at the Church of the Holy Ghost on June 6, 1953. After graduating in 1955 with a degree in marketing, Tommy took over management of Hensley Motor Service, established by his father, and also the property management role.

In 1955 a local football official, Greg Benson, stopped by the service station and encouraged Tommy to accompany him to observe him officiate a scrimmage game at Central. He became “hooked” on officiating and soon was working high school games. Then in 1963 Bill Luttrell, Gus Manning and Bob Woodruff helped him break into Southeastern Conference officiating.

After working college games for four years, he decided to write to the National Football League to apply for a position there. The NFL sent Charles Berry, one of their scouts to the Memphis State vs. Tulsa game in Memphis to interview him and observe him during the game. By chance he and Johnnie Belle were on the same Memphis to Atlanta flight as the NFL scout as they left Memphis. They had a long discussion on the plane that ended with Berry’s statement, “Just keep working hard, that’s the only way to make it.”

Tommy was invited to the NFL’s pre-season meeting the following year. No one there seemed to know much about Tommy Hensley except that he had a beautiful wife. He always gave Johnnie Belle credit for getting him the job as head linesman from 1967-1971 and as umpire from 1972-1987.

His service as an official at Super Bowl XIX (Jan. 20, 1985) was his prized memory. Each year’s Super Bowl officials are the highest-rated at each of the seven positions. That game featured the famous shoot-out between two legendary quarterbacks, Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins and Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers. Although both threw for more than 300 yards that day, Montana completed 24 of 35 passes and the 49ers won 38 to 16. Since the game was one of the most watched in history with an estimated 85.5 million television viewers, an umpire wearing #19, Central High School’s own Tommy Hensley, was often seen in the middle of the action.

Although his officiating duties required 20 straight weekends beginning each December, Hensley served two years as business manager at McGhee Tyson Airport (1974-76). He also developed and managed the Fountain Village Shopping Center at Hillcrest and Broadway (1976), the White Store and Whiteway Variety Store property at Essary and Broadway (1981) and was national accounts director for United Trucking Service for five years in the 1980s.

He was active in his community and in his church. A member of the Fountain City Park Commission, an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a leader in the CHS Class of 1950 Alumni and a charter member of the Church of the Good Shepherd. He was inducted into the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame (1996) and posthumously to the Central High School Wall of Fame (2009).

Thomas B. Hensley passed away on Oct. 30, 1994, survived by his wife of 41 years and their four children, Thomas Jr., Mike, Missy and Tracy, all CHS graduates.

Jim Tumblin, retired optometrist and active historian, writes a monthly series called “Fountain City: Places That Made a Difference” for KnoxTNToday.com.

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