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Weekly 150

Jim Alexander (Part I)

The Family, the Commissioner, the Insurer

Posted 10/1/19

First and foremost thank you to my friend, Keith Priestley, for helping me with this story. I had an idea to do a feature on Jim Alexander but had very little to work with other than a few notes from …

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Weekly 150

Jim Alexander (Part I)

The Family, the Commissioner, the Insurer


First and foremost thank you to my friend, Keith Priestley, for helping me with this story. I had an idea to do a feature on Jim Alexander but had very little to work with other than a few notes from the archives. After foraging through some on-line searches, I discovered the working relationship between Jim and Keith. So who better to ask than his former business partner. Within 24 hours, I had a stack of information and enough research for at least two weeks of articles.

My research usually focuses around just the individual I want to write about, but I soon learned a great deal about Jim Alexander’s family. From his father, Marvin, the doctor, to his first cousin the pool owner, Samuel Monroe “Roe” Alexander (who was the grandson of James Monroe McKenzie).

The Alexander family moved to Tennessee in 1838. Evan Pinckney and Elizabeth Berryhill Alexander left Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and settled in the Blooming Grove community. They had eleven children, two of which were twins: Susan and Samuel (1839).

Samuel married Emily Wray in 1862. They had ten children, six of whom died early in life. The four surviving children were Guy, Harry Lee, E. Marvin and Belle.

E. Marvin was born December 1878. He graduated from the University of Tennessee School of Medicine in 1900. He married Lillis McElroy. The couple eloped from Center Point, Texas to McKenzie in 1904. Dr. Marvin Alexander practiced medicine for over 40 years in McKenzie; for 30 years the medical practice included brothers Marvin and Harry. In 1949, Marvin was forced to retire shortly before his death in August of 1949.

Dr. Harry Alexander practiced medicine in McKenzie starting in 1903. In 1935, two years before his death, he continued his practice with his son Samuel Wray Alexander. They built a new office on Main Street (later Dr. Holmes’ office) next to the Post Office (currently the Gordon Browning Museum).

James (Jim) Henry Alexander, born January 2, 1922, was one of four children born to Marvin and Lillis. His siblings were Lody Clifton, William Marvin and Emily Kate. He graduated from McKenzie High School where he was president of his senior class and editor of the high school yearbook.

He attend Bethel College for two years before transferring to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He received his business administration degree in 1943 at UT Knoxville.

In the midst of World War II, young Jim felt it necessary to serve his country. He joined the United States Navy shortly after graduation. He was commissioned as a lieutenant and served as the commanding officer of LC1-194. His tour of duty took him overseas for 21 months where he was involved in three invasions.

In 1945, the Navy officer married Lola Chesnut of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Whom he met at Bethel College. They later had three children; Anne Alexander, Jean Melton and James Alexander, Jr. and four grandchildren.

With the war over, he left the Navy and opened a successful insurance agency in McKenzie. Alexander, originally partnered with his cousin, Robert Black in 1946.

Being a central figure in state political circles, Jim was president of the Frank Clement Foundation, Secretary of the Tennessee State Board of Elections, and was a delegate to the National Democratic Conventions several times. He served as statewide campaign manager for former Governor Frank Clement in 1962 and senatorial campaign manager in 1964. Alexander was elected to the office of State Treasurer for Tennessee by the State Legislature for two terms.

In 1967, he was appointed to a four-year term as commissioner of the Industrial Development under the administration of Governor Buford Ellington. When Governor Winfield Dunn took office, he requested Alexander continue his work for the state as commissioner.

Alexander was instrumental in the locating of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in McKenzie. He also helped with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant locating to Union City. The Union City plant provided over 1,900 jobs before closing in 2011. At its inception, the Goodyear project was the largest in the southeast.

He was a member of the governor’s commission of Tort Reform and was a founding member of the Civil Justice Reform, Inc. of Tennessee.

In 1979, Alexander brought on Keith Priestley as a partner in his insurance agency. Priestley, who is the community president for McKenzie Banking Company, partnered with Alexander for eight years before acquiring full ownership.

In 2001, Jim Alexander Insurance was sold to AMA Insurance. Priestley had merged Jim Alexander Insurance, Finch-Owen Insurance (Gleason) and Argo Bros. Insurance (Trezevant) and sold his interest to the national insurance group.

Even though Alexander was limiting his day-to-day activity as an insurance agent, he was not done. Next week I will discuss more of his accomplishments and provide more stories about the family.

Jason R. Martin

B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS

Councilman, Ward II

Executive Chairman, McKenzie 150th Celebration

E: jmartin@mckenziebanner.com  P: 731.352.3323

Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.


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