A day of heavy losses

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

Some days are happy, and some are just OK. Some days are filled with excitement, and others are blah.

And some days are just sad.

Monday was a sad day as I learned of the deaths of two of my favorite people from two iconic Knoxville families: Lynn Duncan and Bill Regas.

Lynn was the wife of retired U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan. Congressman Duncan is also a favorite of mine, but conversations with Lynn were always family centered. We shared some connections beyond journalist and politician’s spouse with our children, and we always enjoyed comparing notes. When daughter Whitney married my favorite Young Life leader, Jason Brown, we had even more to talk about.

When grandchildren were added to her family, Lynn told me two things: “Once you get grandchildren, you will never run out of things to write about.” And “Grandchildren are the best things in the world.”

I can tell you unequivocally that Lynn was my friend. How can I be so sure? Because she told me she was, and you always knew where you stood with Lynn.

Lynn Duncan with her husband, retired Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr.

I saw Lynn as the proverbial lioness when it came to the people she loved. She was a smart businesswoman and a force for change and good in her own right. Family, however, was always first.

I didn’t get to share much of Lynn’s struggle in the past few years, but she was often on my prayer list. The last time I saw her, she told me she was happiest when she was surrounded by her family. “They know how to take me!” she joked.

And they loved her, as all the tributes from her husband and children show. That’s a life well-lived.

It’s interesting that Congressman Duncan met his future wife when she worked at Regas Restaurant, the iconic “home” of Bill Regas, who died Monday morning at age 92. If you know anything about Knoxville restaurants, the local culinary scene and hospitality, you have heard the name Bill Regas.

The history of Regas Restaurant is a long one that started before Bill and his sister Frankie took over in 1953. Many native Knoxvillians have a Regas story, and the restaurant and its dedication to good food and excellent service gave birth to many chefs and restaurant managers that took what they learned from Bill, Gus, Frankie and, in the next generation, Grady Regas, all across the city, county, state and country.

My friend Bill Regas and me at a Christmas event

I loved Regas (and Grady’s Goodtimes!), but Bill was more than the sum of his life’s work. His kindness, gentle nature and true Southern gentleman’s demeanor always made you feel that you were the most important and interesting person he had met that day. Bill made you feel better for having seen him and been able to talk for a few minutes. He always asked me about my chef son, Brett, and seemed completely interested in where his love of restaurants and cuisine was taking him.

I remember telling Bill at one point – when Brett was working unimaginable hours as a new chef in Seattle – that I had no idea how much restaurant folks really worked. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” I said.

Bill smiled and leaned in as if he were ready to share a great secret. “No, but if you love people, it’s the best job in the world.”

People, he said, not food.

And, not to dismiss all his successes in the food industry and his impact on the Knoxville restaurant world, that is what I will miss the most about Bill Regas: his true love for his friends and family.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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