Dr. Jim Tumblin: ‘An eye for treasure’

Sandra ClarkFountain City, Let's Talk

Family and friends of Dr. J.C. “Jim” Tumblin filled the sanctuary of Northside Christian Church on June 14 for the funeral of a much-loved Fountain City icon. Burial will be today (06/15) at 10:45 a.m. at Lynnhurst Cemetery on Adair Drive.


I’ve known Dr. Tumblin for so long that I can’t remember when we met. He’s just always been there – as a writer of stories for first The Shopper and for the past five years for KnoxTNToday.com.

His best book was “Fountain City: People Who Made a Difference,” published in 2016. Jim took it back to John Adair and his own ancestor W.A.A. Conner and even the guy who planted the cedars on Cedar Lane.

The Tumblin brothers (from left) Richard, Jim and John

His pastor, the Rev. Frits Haverkamp, brought an insightful message at Jim’s funeral. Jim was a man of science, an eye doctor who perfected tools to help parents correct learning disabilities. But his hobby was history.

Haverkamp said each of Jim’s stories was a mini-biography. “He had an eye for treasure.” And he valued people. Jim lost his wife, Peggy, in 2006. He continued to live in their home until just recently. “He had 60 years of living” in that house, Haverkamp said. “Sixty years of paper and a story about each sheet.” And when the women went to help him pack and move, they said he had to touch each sheet of paper.

Jim was touching his research notes and remembering the person he had written about, said the preacher. He was also processing the memories he and Peggy had made in that house and the transition he was making to move to an apartment. Jim was 95, but he was not ready to go. “He had more articles to write; more people to hug.”

Jim Tumblin in U.S. Navy during WWII

Few people knew that Jim wrote many of those articles while sitting with his mother, Grace Conner Tumblin, (1900-2005) at Shannondale nursing home. He visited her daily for seven years until her death.

Nephew John Mark Tumblin remembered Jim as a young man who loved adventures. Mark and Jim camped out and boated on the Tellico River the day before it was flooded for another TVA dam. They explored areas that would soon be underwater and perhaps gathered some artifacts.

Mark Tumblin said during Jim’s final illness he held Jim’s hand and they prayed. Mark then said, “Remember that secret we kept about that day at Tellico?” And Jim winked, “What secret?”

“He wasn’t about to tell and I won’t either. You can ask Jim someday.”

Jim Tumblin was a founding member of Northside Christian Church and an elder (1962-92). During his career, he was president of both the Tennessee Optometric Association (1962-63) and the American Optometric Association (1972-73). He was a founder of the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable; a long-time board member of Fountain City Town Hall. He loved music (Boots Randolph) and Ernest Hemingway.

“They say it’s a shame Jim and Peggy didn’t have children,” Mark Tumblin said. “But they have hundreds. You are all their children. You’re just not named Tumblin.”

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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