Temple ending 6 decades of public service

Apr. 07, 2014 @ 09:45 AM

 County Commissioner Jimmie Temple is not running for his seat in the county for the first time since 1966.

The 85-year-old is convalescing after recent surgeries, and decided not to seek re-election. He’s among the longest serving commissioners in the state.

His fellow commissioner, Ben Clabo, actually has a few months longer on commission than Temple because he was appointed to a seat a few months before the pair of them won their first election.

Temple can look back with pride on accomplishments on the commission that span almost 50 years. During that time, he’s helped oversee the county’s growth and its direction, starting with a push to bring the area a full-service hospital.

The county had clinics and good physicians, but it didn’t have a true hospital with specialists and other services.

That was the issue that he ran on for his first election, and getting one here remains one of his proudest accomplishments. “We needed one,” he said.

He’s helped oversee the addition of a minor league baseball stadium in the county and the construction of an airport, but even those huge projects weren’t the toughest thing he faced.

“The landfill was the most difficult,” he said. “I have people who still won’t talk to me over it.”

Clabo is likely one of the few people who can fully understand what Temple has meant to the commission, having served just as long and seen all the same debates.

“There’s been some ups and downs, but we stayed in there and we didn’t give up,” Temple said.

The two of them can look back at accomplishments that include getting accreditation for the schools, paving of the county roads, development of new industrial parks and more than the two can rattle off in one sitting.

“Jimmie’s always been a great commissioner, and he’s always been for improvements for Sevier County,” Clabo said.

County historian Caroll McMahan said Temple has been one of the county’s most visible leaders for more than six decades, starting when he served as mayor of Sevierville before he ran for county commission.

“What impresses me more than anything is his love for Sevierville and Sevier County and its people,” McMahan said. “I think he’s done everything he’s done out of that love for his home and the people that lived there.”

When they first took office, the commission was even larger than its current 25 members, and it met just once every three months.

But they already had one of the powers Temple has enjoyed the most: They were justices of the peace, meaning they could perform weddings.

He and his family estimate he performed upwards of 25,000 ceremonies over the years. Temple has become famous for providing the service for free. At one time, he’d do it in his family’s old feed store. Later, he’d do it in his house just a short walk from the courthouse.

He can still recall when Judge Ray Reagan gave him the copy of the civil ceremony he’s been using for years, shortly before the judge’s death.

“I carried it until it was just threads,” Temple said.