Joe Gorman: Fountain City scholar and biographer

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

Joseph Bruce Gorman was born in Knoxville on Nov. 6, 1940, the youngest of four children of James D. and Georgia Stanberry Gorman. Some will remember J.D. Gorman as a long-time broker with Fountain City Real Estate and Georgia S. Gorman as a teacher in the Knox County schools. They were members of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City. Joe’s older sisters, Billie Waldrop (CHS 1945), Jimmie Renfro (CHS 1946) and Johnnie Hall (CHS 1954) preceded him at Central High School. The family home was at 3825 Terrace View Drive in Harrill Hills.


After attending Fountain City Elementary School and Smithwood Grammar School, Joe entered Central. He played bass drum in O’Dell Willis’ band for four years, was a member of the Junior Honor Society, a member of the Key Club, delegate to Boys State, a member of the Senior Honor Society and its president during his senior year, and a member of the Student Council. He graduated in 1958.

Joseph B. Gorman Ph.D. Gorman, author of the definitive biography of Sen. Estes Kefauver, represented UT on the nationally-televised GE College Bowl in 1962. (Photographs from the Susan W. Ward Collection)

He then entered the University of Tennessee where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history and was inducted into two honorary fraternities, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Eta Sigma. He was also in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.

Too often we associate the 1960s with “excess, hallucinogens and rock and roll,” but those years represented much more than that. During that time, segments of corporate America, like General Electric, were effectively promoting “the brightest and best” of our young adults.

In 1962, four UT students, Anne C. Dempster, Harold M. Wimberly Jr., David L. Rubin and Gorman, were chosen from nearly 200 applicants to represent the university in the GE College Bowl competition, a highlight of Sunday afternoon television.

There was spirited competition on campus for the four positions. Gorman emerged as a member and was chosen captain of the four-person team. Prior to the first contest, the team members prepared themselves by group study of over 6,000 possible questions for some 75 hours total. Then they held practice sessions with faculty members from the English, classical literature, art, history, physics, political science, economics, philosophy and music departments.

The team won the first three rounds. Local fans were irate and deluged the television station with complaints when the fourth round of competition with St. Olaf College (Minnesota) was pre-empted by a news conference with astronaut Scott Carpenter. The UT team won and the fifth and final match was scheduled with the University of Rochester in New York City. It was preceded by a parade down Gay Street in the three buses chartered so that many of their fans could accompany them to New York.

UT’s final exams occurred between the fourth and fifth rounds. The Rochester team was fresh enough and good enough to win, but Tennessee still placed with only four other four-time winners out of the 140 schools to appear on the GE program. They had dramatized UT’s competitive ability in academic matters, and the story captivated Knox County for several months.

After completing his master’s degree, Gorman taught history for three years in a Fairfax County, Virginia, high school, but his interest in still more education led him to apply to Harvard University. Gorman was accepted in the doctoral program and received his doctorate in history in 1970. He won the East Tennessee Historical Society’s prestigious McClung Award for the outstanding paper of the year, “The Early Career of Estes Kefauver,” which was printed in the 1970 “Journal of East Tennessee History.” His expanded dissertation was published in book form by the Oxford University Press with the title “Kefauver: A Political Biography” (1971).

Home of the J.D. Gorman Family. The Gormans lived on Terrace View Drive in Harrill Hills while all four of the children attended Central High School.

When the author asked Bill Eigelsbach, the person responsible for the Kefauver Collection as a Special Collections librarian at UT, “Who wrote the definitive biography of Sen. Kefauver?” He replied, “Dr. Joseph Gorman, of course.” Obviously, his book stood the test of time.

Gorman’s very readable biography traces Kefauver (1903-1963) from his roots in Madisonville (Monroe County) to Washington, D.C. He was the “Man in the Coonskin Cap” who battled the notorious “Boss” Crump organization to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948. He led the Senate crime investigation and co-sponsored the landmark Kefauver-Harris Act of 1962, which established vitally needed standards for pharmaceutical use and safety.

Kefauver was Adlai Stevenson’s vice-presidential running mate in the 1956 presidential race when the ticket lost to war hero Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. Kefauver had won stunning re-election victories to the Senate in 1954, and he won again in 1960. At the height of his career, when he died unexpectedly in 1963, he had chaired the powerful Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee since 1957.

In 1972, Gorman became a specialist in American Government for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, where he did research and writing on subjects posed by members of Congress. His chief hobby was in real estate development in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, where the family lived was comparable to his wife’s successful career in real estate sales.

Sadly, after a brave battle with cancer, Gorman passed away at only 45 years of age on Nov. 30, 1985, in George Washington University Hospital near his home. He was survived by his wife of 22 years, Bette Stubbs Gorman, a native of Oak Ridge, and their two daughters, Elizabeth Ann and Jennifer Alice.

Jim Tumblin, retired optometrist and active historian, writes a monthly series on Fountain City for KnoxTNToday.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *